CFP Semifinal: #2 Michigan gets blitzed early in Orange Bowl loss to #3 Georgia

12/31/2021

Site: Miami Gardens, Fla. (Hard Rock Stadium)
Event: CFP Semifinal at Capital One Orange Bowl
Score: #3 Georgia 34, #2 Michigan 11
Records: U-M (12-2), Georgia (13-1)
Attendance: 66,839
Next U-M Event: Season completed

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Making its first College Football Playoff appearance and facing Georgia for the first time since 1965, the No. 2-ranked University of Michigan football team fell behind early and could not solve the No. 3 Bulldogs’ nation-leading defense in a 34-11 CFP semifinal loss in the Capital One Orange Bowl on Friday night (Dec. 31) at Hard Rock Stadium.

The Bulldogs scored on their first five drives of the game, getting three touchdowns and two field goals to build a formidable 27-3 lead after 30 minutes of play. Things did not improve much in the second half for the Wolverines, who turned over the ball on their first two possessions after halftime and did not score again until late in the game.

Despite the disappointing end to the year, Michigan finished its remarkable season with a 12-2 overall record for the third 12-win campaign in program history. The Wolverines scored wins over No. 2 Ohio State and No. 15 Iowa en route to claiming the Big Ten Conference championship, and U-M became the first school to make the CFP after being unranked in the Associated Press preseason poll.

Georgia entered the semifinal contest having allowed only 124 points (9.5 per game) all season, and it continued that dominance by limiting Michigan to a season-low 11 points and to 325 total yards, including 88 rushing yards on 27 carries. The Wolverines had been averaging 37.7 points per game (13th in FBS) with the nation’s 10th best rushing attack (223.8 yards per game). The Bulldogs made seven tackles for loss on defense, with four coming on sacks as they continually pressured the U-M quarterbacks against Michigan’s stellar offensive line that entered the game ranked No. 1 in the nation at protecting the QB.

Quarterback J.J. McCarthy came on in relief of Cade McNamara and went 7-of-17 passing for 131 yards — all career highs — including a 35-yard touchdown connection with receiver Andrel Anthony in the fourth quarter. Tight end Erick All had four receptions for 63 yards, and linebacker Josh Ross led the Michigan defense with 11 tackles (four solo).

Georgia wasted little time in putting points on the scoreboard, going 80 yards in seven plays on the game’s opening drive to lead 7-0 just 4:11 into the contest. Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett was 4-of-4 passing for 67 yards during the drive, which was capped by a nine-yard pass play from Bennett to Brock Bowers. Jack Podlesny kicked the extra point. Bowers also had a big 35-yard catch that took the ball to the Michigan 20-yard line.

Michigan moved to the Georgia 41 on its opening possession, but an incomplete pass on fourth-and-4 gave the ball back to the Bulldogs with 7:59 on the clock. James Cook’s 21-yard run advanced Georgia to the Michigan 29, and a halfback pass from Kenny McIntosh found a wide-open Adonai Mitchell in the end zone for an 18-yard score. Podlesny’s PAT made it 14-0 Bulldogs with 4:41 remaining in the quarter.

The Wolverines picked up one first down on McNamara’s six-yard completion to receiver Daylen Baldwin on third-and-5 before a sack, a deflected pass, and another tackle for loss forced a 47-yard punt from Brad Robbins.

Michigan’s heralded defense seemed to gain a little traction during Georgia’s third possession, as defensive end Aidan Hutchinson made a two-yard tackle for loss and the Wolverines stopped the Bulldogs on a long-yardage third-down situation. Georgia did put three more points on the board with Podlesny’s 43-yard field goal that made the score 17-0 with 12:26 left in the half.

The Wolverines answered with three points of their own, as Lou Groza Award winner Jake Moody booted a 36-yard field goal to draw U-M within 17-3 with 7:19 on the clock. The drive covered 57 yards in nine plays, with the biggest chunk coming on a 42-yard pass play from McNamara to receiver Roman Wilson down the right sideline to the Georgia 19.

However, Georgia closed out the half with two more scoring drives and took a 27-3 lead into the halftime break. First, Bennett’s 53-yard completion to Cook on third down moved the ball to the Michigan 15-yard line and set up Podlesny’s 28-yard field goal with 3:50 left in the half. Then Bennett found Jermaine Burton down the right sideline for a 57-yard scoring play with 1:38 remaining.

Georgia piled up 330 yards of offense in the opening half, including 252 through the air, while limiting Michigan to 101 yards, with just 29 rushing yards on 13 carries.

On the opening possession of the second half, Michigan moved the ball to the Georgia 14-yard line but came away with no points after a penalty followed by an interception in the end zone. Bright spots on the drive included a 21-yard McNamara completion to All on third down and a 19-yard rush around the right side by running back Hassan Haskins.

Michigan’s defense pressured Georgia into its first three-and-out of the game, and a 16-yard punt return from A.J. Henning set up U-M at its own 40-yard line. Despite a third straight turnover, this time on a fumble, U-M managed to avoid further damage as Podlesny missed a field goal try from 45 yards. But with just 17 minutes remaining in the game Michigan had not made any headway in reducing the deficit.

Another big catch by All from McCarthy netted 25 yards and gave the Wolverines a first down at the Georgia 45, but U-M ended up turning over the ball on downs. Georgia then completed its scoring, as Bennett found Cook down the left sideline for 39 yards to cap a six-play, 59-yard drive. That gave the Bulldogs a 34-3 lead with 11:11 left in the game.

Michigan threatened on its next possession, as McCarthy found receiver Cornelius Johnson for 11 yards, scrambled for 12 yards, and connected with running back Donovan Edwards for 43 yards down to the Georgia 8. But the drive ended when U-M could not convert on fourth-and-goal from the 5.

After forcing a punt, the Wolverines finally found the end zone with 4:25 left in the game, when Anthony faked out his defender down the left sideline and ended up wide open to take in McCarthy’s throw for a 35-yard TD. U-M successfully went for two, with Henning going in on an end around to bring the score to the final of 34-11.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Michigan’s first CFP appearance resulted in a 34-11 semifinal loss to Georgia in the Capital One Orange Bowl.
» Andrel Anthony scored U-M’s lone touchdown on a 35-yard reception from J.J. McCarthy in the fourth quarter.
» Josh Ross led the Michigan defense with 11 tackles (four solo).
» The Wolverines finish the season with a 12-2 record, marking the third 12-win season in program history.

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