Talk about hitting the reset button.
No. 3 Georgia didn’t just erase any doubts about their national championship pedigree in a 34-11 blowout against No. 2 Michigan in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl on Friday. The Bulldogs also changed the perception about how that rematch against No. 1 Alabama might flow in the College Football Playoff championship game at Lucas Oil Stadium on Jan. 10.
“I’m so happy for these kids,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said on the ESPN telecast afterward. “They fought their tails off and answered a million questions about our team boucing back and how they played.”
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The national championship game should be a lot closer than the 41-24 blowout in the SEC championship game on Dec. 4, especially if Georgia flashes the same offense they did in the first half against the Wolverines.
That started with quarterback Stetson Bennett, who silenced any talk about whether he should be benched in favor of JT Daniels. Bennett finished 20 of 30 passing for 310 yards and three TDs.
Bennett was on point in the first quarter, when he hit 8 of 8 passes for 83 yards and led the Bulldogs to back-to-back TD drives. Bennett found tight end Brock Bowers for a 9-yard TD on the game’s first drive. That hot start set up a halfback pass from Kenny McIntosh to Adonai Mitchell for Georgia’s second touchdown.
Georgia’s offense had chunk plays of 20 yards or more in each of its first five drives, and Bennett’s 57-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Burton with 1:38 left in the first half pushed the lead to 27-3. Bennett even added a 20-yard scramble, and nine different players caught a pass. It was a brilliant performance coming off the shaky start against the Crimson Tide.
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At that point, the game was decided. It was another sleepy SEC semifinal smackdown. Michigan’s defense, which allowed 16.1 points per game and featured Heisman Trophy finalist Aidan Hutchinson, had no answers before cosmetic time in the fourth quarter. Bennett added the topper with a 39-yard TD pass to James Cook with 11:11 remaining in the fourth quarter.
If it’s defense you wanted, then Georgia served up a reminder that the five-star, studded unit put the Alabama game in the rear-view mirror. That was evident when All-American defensive tackle Jordan Davis tracked down Michigan running back Blake Corum for a 1-yard loss. Derion Kendrick picked off McNamara twice. Nakobe Dean had a sack and a forced fumble. The Dawgs got their groove back.
Michigan had 13 rushing attempts for 29 yards in the first half and 84 rushing yards for the game. The only touchdown came when freshman J.J. McCarthy found Andrel Anthony for a 35-yard TD with 4:25 left.
Georgia had too much speed. Too much size. Too much five-star talent.
The second half was a formality in which the fast-forward button was pressed. Now coach Kirby Smart gets another swing at Alabama in the CFP championship game. He made it clear by turning down the obligatory Gatorade bath at the end of the victory against the Wolverines that his Bulldogs have unfinished business.
The Crimson Tide, of course, are back in the championship game for the sixth time in eight years after running through Cincinnati 27-6 in the first semifinal at the Cotton Bowl semifinal.
Will the rematch be different? After all, Bryce Young carved Georgia for 421 yards and three TDs in the SEC championship game, and the Crimson Tide were the underdogs the first time around.
Alabama remains that psychological hurdle for Georgia, one that comes with seven straight victories in the series. That includes three SEC championship games and the 26-23 overtime thriller in the CFP championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Jan. 8, 2018.
Is there anything different enough to suggest the rematch would be different? It’s not unprecedented. Florida beat Florida State 52-20 in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2, 1997 for a national title after losing to the Seminoles 24-21 in the regular season. Alabama beat LSU 21-0 in the BCS championship on Jan. 9, 2012 after losing 9-6 in the regular season.
Alabama won’t have star receiver John Metchie III, who suffered a torn ACL in the last matchup. Indianapolis is the most unnatural setting possible for both fan-bases, and keep in mind the Bulldogs led 10-0 in the SEC championship game before things went south. Georgia is favored by 2.5 points in the CFP championship.
The Bulldogs showed enough in the semifinal where 190 rushing yards was overlooked. Bennett is fine. So is the defense. Georgia played like a team that learned from that loss and might just be ready to break the national championship curse that extends back to Herschel Walker and 1980.
That’s what happens when you press the reset button.