Michigan's national title hopes steamrolled by Georgia in Orange Bowl

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Miami Gardens, Fla. — It was never just about getting here, not as far as the Michigan players were concerned. They had set out from before the season to beat Ohio State, win a Big Ten championship and a national championship.

The Wolverines checked off two of those goals. But No. 3 Georgia, had other plans in the Orange Bowl national semifinal Friday night.

Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy, facing, hugs teammate running back Blake Corum after Michigan lost to Georgia, 34-11, to Georgia in the Orange Bowl on Friday at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.

Georgia choked No. 2 Michigan 34-11 after storming to a 17-0 lead at Hard Rock Stadium to advance to the national championship and a rematch with Alabama. The Tide handed the Bulldogs their only loss this season in the Southeastern Conference title game. Georgia, led by its outstanding defense, had been the No. 1 CFP team until that loss.

“They played a heck of a game in all phases,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “I loved the way our guys fought. It wasn’t our best but certainly was theirs. They played extremely well.”

The Bulldogs had touchdown receptions of 57 and 39 yards against Michigan, the latter coming with just more than 11 minutes in the game on a pass from Stetson Bennett to James Cook. Not long after that touchdown, the Georgia fans began chanting, “S E C."

Michigan, unranked in the preseason, finishes 12-2 in Harbaugh’s seventh season. He led the team to the program’s first Big Ten championship since 2004 and finally got a win against Ohio State. But the Wolverines wanted more, namely, a spot at the big table with a chance at the national championship.

“It was a great season,” Harbaugh said. “To me, it’s one of the best seasons in Michigan football history. We were trying to make it greater. But it was still a great season.

“This team won’t be together fully next season. It’s still a beginning for this team. It’ll be anew this year. Start of a new year. (There’s a) ton of resolve with this football team and to me, it feels like a start. Feels like a beginning.”

More: Watch: Highlights from Michigan-Georgia in the Orange Bowl

Cade McNamara, Michigan’s starting quarterback, was 11-of-19 for 106 yards and two interceptions. Backup J.J. McCarthy took over late in the third quarter. Hassan Haskins, who set a single-season rushing touchdown record with 20, had 39 yards on nine carries but was limping in the second half and eventually headed to the locker room with just more than nine minutes left with an apparent ankle injury.

“Obviously, it’s very disappointing right now,” McNamara said. “We gave everything we got, and we got beat tonight. But I think once we give it a little time, we’ll be able to appreciate a lot of the great things we were able to accomplish this season. After a loss, you’re obviously going to take it hard, and we’re a competitive group, but that’s not going to take away from the great things that we had this season, as well.”

Michigan’s points came on a 36-yard field goal by Jake Moody in the second quarter, and with 4:25 left in the game, McCarthy connected with freshman Andrel Anthony on a 35-yard touchdown pass. Michigan added the two-point conversion on a run by A.J. Henning.

McCarthy was 7-of-17 for 131 yards.

“The protection just wasn’t as good as it needed to be, and J.J. gave us more of a chance to escape it, avoid it and run — that was the reasons we made that switch (in quarterbacks),” Harbaugh said.

The Bulldogs entered this game seeking another shot at Alabama. They dominated both sides of the trenches, its defensive line bulldozing the Wolverines’ offensive line, collapsing the pocket for McNamara while shutting down Michigan’s bread-and-butter run game.

It was evident why Georgia was ranked in top three nationally in all the defensive categories. The Bulldogs had four sacks against an offensive line that ranked No. 2 nationally in fewest sacks allowed, and six tackles for loss — Michigan was ranked No. 1 in fewest tackles for loss allowed. The Bulldogs had two interceptions and forced two fumbles, recovering one.

Georgia’s offensive line also had the advantage, Bennett was rarely pressured, and the Wolverines’ defensive backs were outmatched. Michigan’s pass-rush duo of Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo were not as impactful as anticipated. Hutchinson, who set the Michigan single-season sack record with 14, had four tackles including one for loss. Ojabo did not have a tackle or even a line in the box score.

In other words, Michigan never had a chance once George established the 17-0 lead.

The Wolverines looked out of sync from the start and made uncharacteristic mistakes on both sides of the ball, as Georgia flexed its SEC supremacy. Georgia’s massive defensive tackle Jordan Davis said while they had heard so much about Michigan’s offensive line, recently named the Joe Moore Award winner as the best line in the country, the Bulldogs didn’t use that as motivation.

“They totally deserved that. They have a great offensive line,” Davis said of Michigan’s award. “But we just wanted to make sure that we was dominant and physical up front. We wanted to make sure we tested them, gave them a challenge.

“That was our game plan going in, being a physical, more dominant front. It was a battle of the line of scrimmage. That was our goal.”

Georgia built a 27-3 at halftime, but it was over long before that. Michigan mustered 101 yards of offense, while the nation’s 10th-ranked run game, was limited to 29 yards on 13 carries. McNamara was 8-of-12 for 72 yards and an interception.

Michigan opened the second half with a long drive and seemed to be getting something going. A 21-yard gain by tight end Erick All from McNamara on third down was followed by a 19-yard run by Haskins. But after reaching the Georgia 15-yard line, Michigan was penalized for a false start, but McNamara was picked off when receiver Daylen Baldwin stopped running on his route.

A fumble by Blake Corum ended Michigan’s next possession. With less than two minutes left in the third quarter, a missed 45-yard field goal by Georgia was a rare moment of celebration for the Wolverines.

“Our offense was moving the ball there in the second half,” Harbaugh said. "We had those drives, could have converted on two drives before, but got to credit the Georgia defense. They’re a tough team to score on. Our guys kept fighting, the way they always do.”


Twitter: @chengelis