Georgia flattens Michigan, leaving only you-know-who in its path

Georgia Bulldogs running back Kenny McIntosh (6) celebrates with Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) after a trick play where Georgia Bulldogs wide receiver Adonai Mitchell (5), caught a pass from McIntosh for a touchdown in the first quarter of the 2021 College Football Playoff Semifinal between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Michigan Wolverines at the Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

caption arrowCaption
Georgia Bulldogs running back Kenny McIntosh (6) celebrates with Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) after a trick play where Georgia Bulldogs wide receiver Adonai Mitchell (5), caught a pass from McIntosh for a touchdown in the first quarter of the 2021 College Football Playoff Semifinal between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Michigan Wolverines at the Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Two boxes remain unticked on Kirby Smart’s to-do list. In his sixth year on the job, he hasn’t yet beaten Alabama, nor has he won a national championship. His Georgia Bulldogs came close to doing both Jan. 8, 2018. Here they are again – one game from a title, one game against guess who.

Four years since losing the College Football Playoff final in a game they didn’t trail until the final snap of overtime, the Bulldogs get to try again. Michigan was supposed to stand as a sizable obstacle to the latest installment of teacher against star pupil, but Georgia made the Big Ten champs look like … well, insert the name of a middling SEC team here. Final score: Georgia 34, Michigan 11.

ExploreMore from the AJC on Georgia's victory

On New Year’s Eve not far from South Beach, Georgia needed seven plays to seize a lasting lead. The touchdown came on a pass to Brock Bowers, the freshman tight end who might well be the best among these gifted Bulldogs. It was delivered by Stetson Bennett, once a walk-on and still seen as the wrong starting choice by a sizable number of this team’s fans.

Bennett’s first-half stats: 16 completions on 22 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns. Georgia led 27-3 at halftime. Imagine what the margin might have been had dumb ol’ Smart wised up and handed the job to JT Daniels.

Yes, that’s a joke. But this Orange Bowl, in which Michigan was the higher seed, became a laugher within a half-hour of kickoff. The Bulldogs didn’t punt until midway through the third quarter. Their first five possessions went touchdown, touchdown, field goal, field goal, touchdown.

Their sixth saw them mismanage the clock at half’s end, leading to a full and frank discussion between Smart and Bennett – the former did 95 percent of the talking – after time expired. (Smart was partially culpable. He had a timeout that went unused.) But this is splitting hairs. By then Georgia had more than enough points to win. The Wolverines didn’t score a touchdown until 4:26 remained.

Said Smart: “We came out from the very start and executed. We had a great opening drive, and that set the tone for the game.”

caption arrowCaption
Georgia Bulldogs running back James Cook (4) completes a 53-yard pass in the second quarter of the 2021 College Football Playoff semifinal between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Michigan Wolverines at the Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Georgia Bulldogs running back James Cook (4) completes a 53-yard pass in the second quarter of the 2021 College Football Playoff semifinal between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Michigan Wolverines at the Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

caption arrowCaption
Georgia Bulldogs running back James Cook (4) completes a 53-yard pass in the second quarter of the 2021 College Football Playoff semifinal between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Michigan Wolverines at the Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis said the Orange Bowl’s line of scrimmage would be “a train wreck.” His side became the wreckee. Georgia’s offensive line pushed the Wolverines’ defense backward. The Bulldogs’ defenders, coming off a shoddy showing against Alabama in the SEC Championship game, unleashed a month’s worth of frustration on the maize and blue. Derion Kendrick had two interceptions. Nakobe Dean went sideline to sideline, bringing havoc wherever he roamed. Jordan Davis ran down a ballcarrier he outweighed by 150 pounds.

Kenny McIntosh, a running back by trade, threw a touchdown pass to Adonai Mitchell. James Cook, a running back by trade, caught four passes for 109 yards. Said Cook of McIntosh’s lovely delivery: “This whole week, he didn’t throw a good pass (in practice) ... I was stunned by that one. I can’t believe (coordinator Todd Monken) even called it. But he threw a good one there.”

Bennett, who’s not supposed to be a big-time quarterback, threw for 310 yards and ran for 32 more in what was supposed to be a big-time game, though Georgia’s all-around excellence rendered the second half superfluous. Said Smart, speaking of his quarterback: “He performed at a really high level. It’s amazing to have a guy of his age who can block out the noise.”

Said Cook: “Stetson is a leader. He doesn’t let negativity get to him. ... He doesn’t go on social media. He has a flip phone.”

Said Bennett: “I didn’t go out to play well in spite of people. As far as a statement, that’s my goal every week, to play like that.”

caption arrowCaption
Georgia Bulldogs running back Kenny McIntosh (6) throws a 18-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Adonai Mitchell (not pictured) during the first quarter against the Michigan Wolverines in the 2021 College Football Playoff semifinal at the Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium, Friday, in Miami Gardens, Fl. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Georgia Bulldogs running back Kenny McIntosh (6) throws a 18-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Adonai Mitchell (not pictured) during the first quarter against the Michigan Wolverines in the 2021 College Football Playoff semifinal at the Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium, Friday, in Miami Gardens, Fl. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

caption arrowCaption
Georgia Bulldogs running back Kenny McIntosh (6) throws a 18-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Adonai Mitchell (not pictured) during the first quarter against the Michigan Wolverines in the 2021 College Football Playoff semifinal at the Orange Bowl at Hard Rock Stadium, Friday, in Miami Gardens, Fl. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

This game was reminiscent of another staged in this stadium. On Jan. 7, 2013, Alabama played Notre Dame for the BCS title. The Fighting Irish arrived at their biggest game in a generation unbeaten. The stadium in Miami Gardens was awash with Notre Dame fans. Their enthusiasm was doused early. Four seconds into the second quarter, Alabama led 21-0. The Crimson Tide would win 42-14.

That stands among the games – Florida over Ohio State in January 2007 is another – we sportswriter types cite when noting the difference between the SEC’s best teams and challengers from other environs. Michigan is a fine team. Georgia is a superb team. The Orange Bowl never was in doubt. Alabama in Indianapolis will be rather different.

Which isn’t to suggest that Georgia can’t win in Indy. A superb team can win anywhere against anybody. Bama, though, isn’t anybody. It’s the final step on the Bulldogs’ climb to greatness.

Near the end, Smart chastised his players for attempting to dump Gatorade on him. The job, he reminded them, isn’t quite done. Georgia’s goal isn’t to be the second-best team in the land. There’s still business to do.

We always knew Smart would have to beat Nick Saban for Smart’s program to eclipse his mentor’s. Here’s Georgia’s fourth chance in five years. About time for the Bulldogs to win one of these, isn’t it?

Georgia 34, Michigan 11

About the Author

Editors' Picks