Georgia runs over Michigan, faces Alabama for championship

After all the chaos and arguing, after a season of two College Football Playoff first-timers, and just when it looked like some new blood could break through to the top tier of the sport, it’s Georgia and Alabama. Again, and emphatically so.

The third-ranked Bulldogs clobbered No. 2 Michigan, 34-11, at the Orange Bowl in Miami Gardens, Fla. on Friday night to set up a rematch of the SEC title game in next Monday’s national championship game. Georgia will try to win its first national title since the halcyon days of Herschel Walker and 1980, and its coach, former Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, will get a fifth shot at his old boss, Nick Saban.

The first four games against Saban have not gone well for Smart, the latest disappointment coming last month with a 41-24 loss in Atlanta. And Georgia’s greatest disappointment in this rivalry — in which Alabama holds a seven-game win streak dating back to 2008 — came on a second-and-26 in the 2018 title game, when Tua Tagovailoa threw a championship-winning pass to DeVonta Smith.

Last month’s edition, in which Alabama’s Bryce Young proved that Georgia’s vaunted defense was anything but unbeatable, prompted the Wolverines to think they had a chance in their first-ever CFP appearance. How cruelly wrong.

From the game’s very first drive, in which the Dawgs drove down the field and scored on consecutive plays of 7, 16, 35, 7, 2, 2 and 9 yards, this was a complete mismatch of talent.

Georgia defensive lineman Jordan Davis hits Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara during the second half of the Orange Bowl.

Georgia offensive coordinator Todd Monken put together a game plan that neutralized edge-rushers Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo, and maximized tight end Brock Bowers and running back James Cook in the passing game. For now, quarterback Stetson Bennett has silenced the critics, throwing for 307 yards and three touchdowns, exhibiting the cool control of domination.

Bowers put up 55 receiving yards and a touchdown, Cook finished with 109 receiving yards and a touchdown — thanks to Monken taking advantage of a group of Michigan linebackers that couldn’t keep pace.

That level of output required Michigan to keep up. The Wolverines could not.

Their tried-and-true run game met a wall in Georgia’s front seven, which stonewalled Michigan to the tune of 88 rushing yards, the first time all year it was held under 100. Once quarterback Cade McNamara had to make plays — which was early on, since the Wolverines were down 14-0 before the first quarter ended — he found himself in a constantly collapsing pocket with nowhere to escape.

Meanwhile, the Dawgs were piling up points — on a tricky running back pass to go up 14-0, on a 57-yard Bennett-to-Jermaine Burton bomb to make it 27-3 — so easily that Smart lit into his quarterback at halftime for letting the clock run down with a 24-point lead.

Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett celebrates his team’s win over Michigan.

In the second half, there was an even stranger sight: a Georgia punt.

But Michigan’s Blake Corum fumbled the ball away on the ensuing drive, proving that momentum means nothing when a college offense faces a defense packed with NFL talent.

And so again, the playoff featured two games of talent mismatches and fourth quarters lacking in competitiveness — this one featuring the sort of SEC dominance that confirms a reality the rest of the country would like to forget:

In each other, Georgia and Alabama might now have the only opponents in which talent alone doesn’t prove overwhelming enough to win.