FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The hay is in the barn, as football coaches like to say.
The No. 3-ranked Georgia Bulldogs (12-1) and No. 2 Michigan Wolverines (12-1) wrapped up preparations Thursday for Friday night’s Orange Bowl matchup in the College Football Playoff (7:30 p.m., ESPN). The highlight of the day was the head coaches’ luncheon, a brief outing to Jungle Island and a walk-through at Hard Rock Stadium.
Now the focus moves to the actual matchup, which figures to come down to Georgia’s ability to control the Wolverines’ tremendous edge-rushers and being able slow their run game.
Most everybody can tell you that Michigan’s offense is led by All-American running back Hassan Haskins, who comes in with 1,288 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns. But the Wolverines also feature running back Blake Corum, who has 939 yards rushing himself despite missing two games and most of another.
That run game also is what generates Michigan’s passing game. Thanks to a strong play-action game masterfully executed by quarterback Cade McNamara, the Wolverines lead the nation in plays of 50 or more yards, with 17. Georgia has 12.
So, the key to controlling that explosive nature would seem to be the Bulldogs’ controlling Michigan’s run game. That challenge will fall on the capable backs of Georgia’s defensive line. Jalen Carter, Jordan Davis, Travon Walker and Devonte Wyatt are the main reasons the Bulldogs come into Friday’s game ranked No. 2 in the nation in rushing defense (81.2 ypg).
“They hit really big explosives off of their runs,” Smart said. “… Eye violations, eye control of second-level players is critical. They can make you pay. That is where those explosive plays come from, breakdowns mostly.”
The Bulldogs have allowed only three rushing touchdowns all season, one of which came from Alabama quarterback Bryce Young in the SEC Championship game. The Crimson Tide, with 115, were one of only four teams run for over 100 yards against Georgia this season.
The Bulldogs lead the nation in scoring defense, at 9.5 points per game.
Future looks bright
Smart was asked about young Georgia players who may have asserted themselves during the extra postseason practices. He mentioned a pair of freshman offensive linemen by name.
“There’s been some guys that have done some good things,” Smart said Thursday. “I thought that Micah Morris has really stepped up and played well on the offensive line, both guard and tackle. And Dylan Fairchild has played well, really physical. Both those guys are going to be high-quality, really good football players.”
Fairchild, a 6-foot-5, 300-pound freshman, was a 4-star signee out of West Forsyth High. Morris (6-6, 330) also was a 4-star signee, hailing from Camden County, and was expected to contend for playing time before shoulder surgery sidelined him for the spring.
Smart also mentioned freshman linebackers Smael Mondon and Jamon Dumas-Johnson. Both will be counted on heavily next season, as the Bulldogs are expected to lose their top three inside linebackers from this year’s team.
“Seen a lot of promise out of Smael and ‘Pop’ at linebacker,” Smart said. “Those are guys that we’re counting on for the future, and they’ve gotten a lot better. And then the young DBs got a lot of reps in the last two weeks. They’ve gotten a lot of work all year, mostly as (second-teamers). But they’ve gotten a lot of work here in the last couple weeks of scrimmage and did some things.”
This and that …
Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett has endured more than his share of criticism, especially since the loss in the SEC Championship game. But even after that subpar performance, the senior ranks fourth in the nation in pass efficiency (176.8). Aaron Murray holds the school record for a season in that category at 174.8. … Georgia tight end Brock Bowers needs two receptions to break the school’s single-season reception record. Shannon Mitchell had 47 in 1993. … Georgia leads the nation in red-zone defense. Opponents have advanced inside the Bulldogs’ 20-yard line only 25 times all season, and nine times have come away with no points.
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