MIAMI GARDENS — With one overwhelming half at the Orange Bowl, No. 3 Georgia showed that a humbling loss to Alabama did not break the Bulldogs.
It might have made them stronger.
Stetson Bennett threw three touchdown passes, Nakobe Dean led an angry defense and Georgia returned to its dominant ways, beating No. 2 Michigan 34-11 on Friday night to advance to the College Football Playoff championship game.
“Answered a million questions about our team, bouncing back and how you played,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “We’ve got a lot of high-character guys on this team, and they played their tail off today.”
Georgia (13-1) earned a rematch with SEC nemesis Alabama (13-1) in the title game Jan. 10 in Indianapolis.
It was 27 days previously the Crimson Tide rolled through the Bulldogs 41-24, shattering Georgia’s air of invincibility after a 12-0 regular season in which it was hardly challenged.
“All our guys did was work,” Smart said about how the Bulldogs responded to the loss and three weeks of being asked what went wrong.
Georgia became the first team in the eight-season history of the College Football Playoff to score on each of its first five possessions and led 27-3 at halftime of the semifinal game.
“We knew we were better than what we showed that last game,” Bennett said.
Michigan (12-2) entered its first playoff appearance off a milestone season, having ended a long drought against rival Ohio State on the way to winning the Big Ten.
Georgia scored touchdowns the first two times it had the ball, moving it at will against Heisman Trophy runnerup defensive end Aidan Hutchinson and the Michigan defense.
Bennett found freshman tight end Brock Bowers for an 8-yard touchdown pass to cap an 80-yard opening drive.
“That set the tone for the game,” Smart said.
Georgia grabbed a two-touchdown lead, hitting Michigan with some of the trickery the Wolverines have used so well. Tailback Kenny McIntosh swept to the right and let loose a perfect pass to Adonai Mitchell for an 18-yard touchdown that made it 14-0 less than five minutes into the game.
The Wolverines had rolled to their first Big Ten championship since 2004 without trailing by as many as seven points this season.
“I mean, we gave everything we got, and we got beat tonight,” quarterback Cade McNamara said. “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.”
The Bulldogs tacked on field goals on their next two possessions, and Bennett connected on a 57-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Burton streaking down the sideline to make it 27-3 with 1:38 left in the half.
And that was was pretty much that. The Bulldogs outgained the Wolverines 330-101 in the first 30 minutes.
“I thought our (defensive) front controlled the line of scrimmage. I thought our offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage,” Smart said. “That’s a total team effort.”
––– By RALPH D. RUSSO
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