The Wolverine

January 2022

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 64 of 67

JANUARY 2022 THE WOLVERINE 65 M ichigan already took out college football's best offensive unit in Ohio State. Now the Wolver- ines have the opportunity to eliminate the sport's best defense in Georgia. The Bulldogs defense has been fero- cious and fearsome. It is the nation's best in scoring defense (9.5 points per game). The difference between Georgia and sec- ond (15.0 PPG) is greater than the dif- ference between second and 18th (20.2 PPG). They are also first in yards allowed per play (4.01), second in passer rating allowed (101.86) and third in rushing yards allowed per play (2.61). They have been considered historically great, and at a glance, they do not seem to have any weakness. But there is one. It is not a major one, but it is there. Georgia's defense can be exposed with the long ball. Whereas the Bulldogs are second in 10-plus-yard passes allowed (73), they are tied for 53rd in 40-plus- yard passes surrendered (eight) and tied for 76th in 50-plus-yard passes surren- dered (five). For comparison, they are one of only three teams that have not given up a rushing gain of 40 or more yards (along with Alabama and Wisconsin). Big plays are not going to happen on the ground. But they certainly can through the air. It started to surface in Week 3. South Carolina connected on throws for 36 yards twice and a 61-yard go route in Athens. It popped up again in Week 11. Tennessee wideout Cedric Tillman hauled in catches of 29, 51 and 53 yards against Georgia. Then, in the most important game of the season, with the SEC championship on the line, Alabama exposed it for the world to see. With a Heisman Trophy- winning performance, Crimson Tide quarterback Bryce Young shredded the vaunted Georgia defense by completing 26 of 44 attempts for 421 yards (9.6 yards per attempt), three passing scores and no interceptions thanks to seven 20-plus- yard completions, including ones for 67, 55 and 40 yards. This puts Michigan and Broyles Award- winning offensive coordinator Josh Gattis in a dilemma. The Wolverines' offense is not orchestrated like Alabama's. They have not been constructed to unleash an onslaught of points through the air. Michigan is a running team through and through, led by the nation's best tandem in redshirt sophomore Hassan Haskins (1,288 yards, 4.93 yards per carry, 20 TD) and freshman Blake Corum (939 yards, 6.66 YPC, 11 TD). The Wolverines further built upon that reputation when, in their last two contests vs. Ohio State and Iowa, they racked up 84 total points, 508 rush- ing yards (254.0 per game), 6.77 yards per carry and 10 rushing touchdowns. But Michigan is not going to be able to inflict that type of damage on the ground against Georgia, barring the completely unexpected. Only once have the Bulldogs permitted an opponent to run for more than 150 yards, only twice has a foe ex- ceeded four yards per carry and only three times has the other team reached the end zone on the ground against the Bulldogs. It is much more likely that Michigan's offensive line has a difficult time keeping Georgia's All-America defenders (defen- sive tackle Jordan Davis and linebacker Nakobe Dean) out of the gaps Haskins and Corum will be trying to burst through. It is more likely that Michigan's backs get stuffed quickly. So U-M will need redshirt freshman quarterback Cade McNamara and a dose of freshman J.J. McCarthy to win this one. However, this does not mean that Gattis needs to replicate the Michigan State game plan in which the Wolverines launched a season-high 48 passes com- pared to a season-low 34 runs. MSU's passing defense can be picked apart down by down. Georgia's air defense is much stingier. Rather, Michigan is going to want to pick its spots in the air, much like it did against Wisconsin. If any defense comes close to Georgia's, it is that of the Badgers. They are second in yards allowed per play (4.10), first in rushing yards allowed per play (2.01) and fifth in passer rating al- lowed (109.69). And the Wolverines got very little trac- tion running the ball against the Badgers' terrific front seven (44 carries for 112 yards, 2.55 YPC). But those runs caused Wisconsin's defense to creep closer and closer to the line of scrimmage. At the most opportune moments, McNamara hit Cornelius Johnson for 34 yards off a flea flicker for the first touchdown and found Roman Wilson for 38 yards on third down to set up the second touchdown, while McCarthy dropped a dime to Day- len Baldwin for 56 yards for Michigan's third passing score of the day. That was the recipe for success for Michigan then. And that is what the rec- ipe for success will be against Georgia. U-M should not stray from its offensive identity in the national semifinals. The Wolverines should ride Haskins and Co- rum as much as they can and then use that threat to catch Georgia's secondary by surprise over the top to one of their dangerous receivers. Do that, and Michigan should be one step closer to claiming a national cham- pionship. ❑ INSIDE THE NUMBERS   DREW HALLETT Going Deep Versus Georgia's Defense Staff writer Drew Hallett has covered Michigan athletics since 2013. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @DrewCHallett. Quarterback Cade McNamara and the Wolverines used some big pass plays to beat Wisconsin, and that formula may work against Georgia as well. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL

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