MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – After the game clock had finally ticked down to double zeroes Friday night at Hard Rock Stadium and Georgia’s 34-11 win over Michigan was official, Kirby Smart’s players sought to give him a Gatorade bath.

The Bulldogs’ coach was having none of it. He avoided the dunk and scolded those that tried to give it to him.

“I was wanting a real shower and not a Gatorade bath,” Smart explained after the College Football Playoff semifinal victory. “Because I want to get focused on Alabama. They have a five- or six-hour head start. To be honest, I’m not interested in celebrating that. We’ll look back on that win, and that’ll be great. But we’re focused on the task ahead.”

That’d be another matchup with Alabama (13-1) in the national championship. The No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide defeated No. 4 Cincinnati 27-6 on Friday afternoon in the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas.

The Bulldogs (13-1) played the Tide in the CFP finals Jan. 1, 2018, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and lost 26-23 in overtime. Georgia also lost to Bama 41-24 in the SEC Championship game at the Benz one month ago Saturday.

Now the burgeoning SEC rivals will meet again Jan. 10 in the 2021 CFP Championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis (8 p.m., ESPN).

For Georgia, it could represent The Great Do Over or the football equivalent of beating one’s head against a wall. The Bulldogs have lost their past seven games against Alabama.

As dominant as Friday night’s win before 66,839 spectators was, it had to be particularly satisfying for Georgia’s senior quarterback Stetson Bennett. He was named the Orange Bowl’s offensive MVP after passing for 310 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions and nary a misstep.

“This game is all about how well you play,” said Bennett, a fifth-year senior and former walk-on from Blackshear. “I didn’t go out there and play well today in spite of people. I came out there and played hard and worked hard throughout the last few weeks because my teammates needed me to do that and we needed to win.

The No. 3 Bulldogs (13-1) won a College Football Playoff semifinal for the second time under Smart and improved to 2-1 all time against Michigan (12-2), which came in as the Big Ten champion.

Georgia senior cornerback Derion Kendrick was named the Orange Bowl’s outstanding defensive player. A Clemson transfer who twice played in the playoff before joining the Bulldogs, Kendrick had two interceptions and finished with five tackles, including a tackle for loss.

Kendrick also had a tough outing the last time out against Alabama, which threw for more than 400 yards against Georgia.

“As a football player, you’re always ready to go out there regardless of what game it is,” Kendrick said. “We’re ready to go regardless who the opponent is. It just so happens it’s Alabama, who beat us. We’ve got to go back and clean up some things we did.”

The Orange Bowl was decided fairly early for the Bulldogs. They jumped on Michigan quickly, scoring touchdowns on their first two possessions of the game and on five of their first six before the first-half clock ran out on them at midfield.

At that point, Bennett had completed 16 of 22 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns. His scoring tosses went to Jermaine Burton for 57 yards and to Brock Bowers for nine yards, and he had 53- and 35-yard completions in the opening half. Bennett added added a key run in the first quarter in which he evaded the pressure of Heisman Trophy finalist Aidan Hutchinson from the left and for a 20-yard gain.

Bennett’s most satisfying moment may have come at the 11:11 mark of the game. That’s when he hit James Cook with his third touchdown pass of the game, a 39-yarder that put the score out of reach at 34-3. It also put Bennett over 300 yards for the game.

Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) runs away from Michigan Wolverines defensive lineman Julius Welschof (96) for a gain during the second quarter in the 2021 College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium, Friday, in Miami Gardens, Fl. (Hyosub Shin /


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“I mean, as a leader, Stetson doesn’t let all that negativity go to his head. For real,” Cook said. “He ain’t got no social media. He carries a flip phone around and he just lets the noise go over his head and plays football. That’s what I love about him.”

It was a pretty good night for Cook as well. A senior running back who grew up seven miles south of Hard Rock Stadium, Cook had 99 yards receiving and 131 total yards on the night.

“My mom, my aunties, my cousins, my stepdad, my girlfriend, my brother -- not Dalvin (of the Minnesota Vikings) because he’s got a game -- they were all here supporting me tonight,” Cook said. “I’m just happy we’re going to be playing another game, just getting another win. I wasn’t going to be satisfied unless we did.”

Meanwhile, Michigan, one of the best pass-rushing teams in the country, finished with zero sacks.

“Got to give them credit,” Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh said. “They executed well. Game plan was good and we weren’t able to keep pace.”

Leading 27-3 at halftime, the Bulldogs avoided Michigan’s biggest bullet on the Wolverines’ first possession of the third quarter. Kendrick picked up his second interception of the game when he picked off Michigan’s Cade McNamara in the Georgia end zone at the 9:57 mark. That would be the Wolverines’ last meaningful threat.

It was another great night for Georgia’s defense, which was left with some doubts with the loss to Alabama four weeks ago. The Bulldogs stopped Michigan short on fourth-and-goal from their 6 with seven minutes to play. It was the third time on the night that Georgia’s offense was able to take over on downs.

Averaging 452 yards and 37.7 points per game, the Wolverines had 290 yards and three points, respectively, when Georgia sent its starting defenders to the sideline. Almost immediately, Michigan scored its first touchdown of the game on a 35-yard TD pass to Andrei Anthony with 4:25 to play. The Wolverines got a 2-point conversion as well to make the score 34-11.

The Wolverines, who came out on the field before the game in shirts inscripted with “run the damn ball,” were limited to 88 yards on the ground.

“There was a little chip on the shoulders of our defensive guys,” Smart said. “Their offensive coordinator got the Broyles Award over coach (Dan) Lanning, who we think did one hell of a job. Their offensive line got the Joe Moore Award. ... But we’ve got one hell of an offensive line, too.”

Georgia’s win ties the school record for wins in a season. The Bulldogs also had 13 victories in 2017 (13-2) and 2002.

It was the fourth Orange Bowl appearance for Georgia and the third match-up in history with Michigan. The Bulldogs are now 2-1 against the Wolverines playing them for the first time since 1965. They’re now 3-1 in the Orange Bowl, with the last win coming against Missouri in 1960 (14-0).

In their other CFP appearance, the Bulldogs’ defeated No. 2-ranked Oklahoma 54-48 in double overtime of the 2017 Rose Bowl. Georgia lost to Alabama a week later in the national championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, also in overtime, 26-23.

Michigan was making its first appearance in the playoffs. The Wolverines (13-1) won their first Big Ten championship since 2004 this season.

Smart and Harbaugh both were attempting to become the first coaches since Tennessee’s Phillip Fulmer in 1998 to win a national champion for their alma mater. Only Smart still has that opportunity.