Keys for Michigan to Cover vs. Georgia in College Football Playoff Semifinal

Dec 4, 2021; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh lifts the Big Ten Trophy
Dec 4, 2021; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Michigan Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh lifts the Big Ten Trophy / Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

After starting the season unranked, Michigan football is in the College Football Playoff with one of the most impressive campaigns in recent history. The team has a lone blemish on their record to No. 10 Michigan State, but also beat arch rival Ohio State and won the Big Ten Championship, punching a ticket to their first College Football Playoff.

The Wolverines are in for their most difficult test of the season against No. 2 Georgia, long thought as the best team in the country before being knocked from the top spot in the CFP rankings in the SEC Championship against Alabama.

Michigan enters the Orange Bowl as 7.5-point underdogs at WynnBET Sportsbook with a total of 45.5.

Jim Harabugh's team is battle-tested with two likely first round picks on the defensive line and an emerging offense that is finding their stride at the right time, can they pull one more upset and move onto the National Championship?

Let's dive into some keys to the game.

Get Reed's Keys For Every Team in the College Football Playoff:

Hot Start


We saw what would happen to Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennet and the Bulldogs offense if the team falls behind and is forced into a negative game script, struggling to keep up with the Crimson Tide offense.

While Michigan's offense is a far cry from Alabama's, the team has had big scoring outings against quality competition, such as the aforementioned Michigan State and Ohio State games, scoring 30+ in each.

Georgia's defense is the best in the country, no question about it. Top 10 in nearly every metric, and while Cade McNamara has been great as the starting quarterback for the Wolverines, J.J. McCarthy may be the key as the backup quarterback.

McCarthy is part of the game script as a rushing threat under center, and the Wolverines will need to set the edge for him and pick up some chunk yardage to hold off the pass rush.

Michigan is a great rushing team, averaging 5.3 yards per carry and will certainly need the likes of Hassan Haskins, Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards, but I believe the team is going to need to get to the outside instead of being battering rams up the middle.

Against a stout defense in Wisconsin, Michigan struggled to average more than three yards per carry, and rushing up the middle may be hard to come by with 6'6" 330-pound Jordan Davis playing nose tackle, so I expect the Wolverines to look to set the edge and go wide to flip the field.

If Michigan can get ahead early that will allow the pass rush to take over...

Make Georgia Quarterbacks Beat You

Let me start with the quarterback questions. Bennett struggled in the SEC title game, bringing questions if the team should turn back to Week 1 starter J.T. Daniels. Daniels tested positive for COVID-19 earlier in the month, but cleared protocols ahead of the game. It's worth monitoring if Georgia coach Kirby Smart turns back to him if Bennett starts slow in the Orange Bowl.

Georgia's defense is as good as they come, but Michigan is right there as an elite unit this season. Behind Heisman Trophy runner up Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo, the Wolverines are fantastic at rushing the quarterback and putting teams behind the sticks.

The Bulldogs have played from ahead for most of the season, leaning on their rushing attack behind the likes of James Cook and Zamir White, but if Michigan can jump out to a lead and force Bennett to beat them, it can be open season for Hutchinson and Ojabo to get into the backfield.

Michigan needs to avoid making this a slug fest as the Georgia offensive line, which is first in line yards this season, will eventually win out in a rush-heavy affair.

However, if the scoring grows, it can allow defensive coordinator Michigan Mike Macdonald to dial up unique blitzes that he used to overwhelm the likes of Ohio State last month, limiting the explosive Buckeyes offense to 27 points.

It's worth noting that Alabama sacked Bennett three times and picking him off twice in the highest scoring game they played this season. Michigan can pose a similar threat, ranking 12th in defensive success rate and 19th in line yards.

Make this a Shootout

I've alluded to this, but now I'll hammer it home. We have seen Michigan's offense put up big point totals, and they will need to push towards 30 once again to knock off Georgia.

Michigan leans on the run a lot, but nobody rushes or stops the run better than Georgia. That won't work.

The Wolverines are going to need to utilize the likes of McCarthy and edge rushes to get into space and pick up yardage to hold off the pass rush and then open up the passing game.

The Wolverines offense isn't incredibly explosive, but is 24th in success rate and No. 1 at limiting havoc plays (passes defended, forced fumbles, interceptions and tackles for loss divided by total plays). If the offense finds a rhythm, they can drag Georgia into deep waters with their efficient play.

It feels that if this game goes over the total, Michigan will likely win. That means that Bennett will be forced into passing situations and the run game will be neutralized, opening up opportunities for the likes of Hutchinson to cause havoc in the backfield.