We’re five days away from Georgia meeting Michigan for the first time in over 56 years and for just the third time ever. The stakes couldn’t be much higher in this the rubber match. Last week, we looked at the quarterbacks. Today, we examine the talent disparity on offense as a whole.
Football is a game of matchups, and while opposing offenses aren’t on the field at the same time, it’s useful to compare them side by side. I’ve gone through the tapes of these two teams’ biggest game of the year (Georgia vs. Bama, Michigan vs. Ohio State) and found Michigan played 19 players on offense versus Georgia’s 18. Wolverine quarterbacks J.J. McCarthy and Cade McNamara can be looked at as one, though, making for an even 18 a piece. Georgia played six wide receivers throughout the course of that game, whereas Michigan played just five. In lieu of a sixth wideout, Harbaugh employs jumbo tackle Trente Jones, on average about 10 snaps per game. Georgia’s sixth receiver, Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint, plays more than twice as much but has a significantly lesser impact, so, if you’ll allow it, I compared these two.
The tale of the tape gives Michigan an advantage in just four positions: center, halfback nos. 1 and 2, and jumbo tackle Trente Jones over sixth wideout Rosemy-Jacksaint. That means Georgia has the advantage in a whopping 13 matchups (excluding the negligible 0.1 advantage A.J. Henning has over Kearis Jackson). The significance of a nearly 7:2 advantage on paper is drastic to be sure. If you average the year’s Pro Football Focus grade for each of these players, Georgia, there too, has a decisive net four-point edge per player.
But what about Ohio State? Weren’t the Buckeyes more talented than Michigan and yet lost 42-27 in convincing fashion? Certainly. In fact, it was probably very similar to the advantage Georgia enjoys heading into the Orange Bowl. But the Michigan coaches and players did a wonderful job in returning this team — this program — to its roots. As a result, they had their eyes toward The Game the entire year. I’m reminded of the Bo Schembechler era (1969-1989). It’s well documented the program’s no. 1 priority year in, year out was to beat Ohio State, which might account for Bo’s winning record against his archrival. Contrariwise, it might also explain why Bo was a dismal 5-12 in bowl games. Can Michigan match the intensity and production it got a month ago against the Buckeyes against a team not named Ohio State? Kudos to Michigan for winning the B1G Championship Game, but Iowa and Georgia are not in the same stratosphere. Yet, based on what we know so far, Michigan doesn’t have to play its best game to advance, but it will need to come somewhat close to duplicating that stellar offensive performance against OSU for the Wolverines’ magical season to continue.
Stats that jump off the page
Georgia’s starting, five-star tailback Zamir White is about as competent in pass blocking as I am at holding back an avalanche. White’s paltry grade of 10.2 is by far the worst of the 222 grades assigned these 37 offensive players. Coincidentally, the next worse is Blake Corum’s pass blocking grade of 37.2. As bad as that is, it’s still close to four times better. Kirby Smart must be aware of this because he’s only asked White to pass block an incredible 13 times in as many games. White tried his hand at protecting Stetson Bennett four times against Alabama in the SEC Championship Game and got a fat F, that is, a grade of 0.0. He failed every time. There’s a small window of opportunity here for Michigan, but one it has to take advantage of. Michigan’s dynamic rush end duo has seven strip sacks on the year. Ojabo did it five times and Aidan Hutchinson added two more. This, of course, does not include Ojabo’s strip sack of Michigan State’s Payton Thorne back in October, which was recovered by Hutchinson in the end zone, egregiously overturned by a much more than dubious replay review. Not that Michigan won’t, but each time it rushes Bennett, it has to do it as if this were the rare occasion White’s back there protecting. With Georgia having the edge in personnel in so many categories, a strip sack/recovery would go a long way to bridge gaps and potentially change the game’s outcome.
Production that’s hard to see
Sticking with White, another cause for concern for Bulldogs is his overall performance. Excluding his four-carry, 83-yard effort against FCS Charleston Southern, White is averaging just 4.84 yards per carry, which is 132nd-best among FBS tailbacks. If you’re expecting White to make up for it catching passes out of the backfield, don’t hold your breath. His 10.5 yards per reception (on just six catches) is better than Haskins’ (7.3 YPC) and Corum’s (6.5 YPC), but not as good as Donovan Edwards’ 12.7 average on 17 catches. By the time the Orange Bowl kicks off, White’s best overall grade will have come nearly 12 weeks prior against Auburn — a team that was ranked at the time but ended the season on a four-game skid and needed its win over FCS Alabama State just to be bowl eligible. Against FBS Alabama, White had his second-worst performance of the season. Fortunately for Georgia, it has weapons all over the place and isn’t exactly dependent on White. Still, it would be nice if the Dawgs could get more production out of their star-laden tailback.
Tight ends for days
They love their tight ends at Georgia, and Michigan will probably grow sick of seeing them by night’s end. Georgia features two tight ends virtually half the time, and why wouldn’t you if you had two of the top 12 performers at the position in the country? Against Bama, freshman Brock Bowers led all receivers with 139 yards on 10 catches, including this beaut for 31 yards. It was quality over quantity for Darnell Washington and John FitzPatrick, who each had a catch, a touchdown and a 22-yarder, respectively.
Michigan plays as many tight ends, but not nearly as effectively. Michigan’s first-stringer Erick All has shown flashes of brilliance. His 47-yard touchdown against Penn State certainly saved Michigan’s season, but his overall production is more aligned with Georgia’s third-stringer. The calls for backup JT Daniels have never been louder. It would behoove Smart to exploit the most lopsided comparison of position groups (Georgia +24.5) to make Bennett’s job easier and alleviate some of the pressure he might be feeling. A productive day from the tight ends combined with a serviceable ground game may prove all that’s necessary for the Bulldogs to reach the title game for the second time in the playoff’s eight-year history.
Games aren’t won on paper, but Georgia has to feel good about this matchup with Michigan. If the Dawgs contain Michigan’s run game, they should be poised to advance. That might be easier said than done, though. No one has as formidable a two-headed monster as has Michigan in Haskins and Corum. Both will need huge days if the Wolverines are going to pull the upset. But these are teams led by great defense, something we want to look at in depth in our next installment.
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