Three Big Questions: Michigan's Offense vs. Georgia's Defense
Do we hear "puncher's chance"?
Georgia’s defense was impenetrable, allowing no more than 17 points in a game during the regular season. Only four of their 12 opponents topped 300 total yards and none surpassed 400.
Then Alabama posted 41 points and 536 yards to steal the SEC championship from what had been the nation’s unquestioned #1 team. On the one hand, that was Alabama, a football team that’s notoriously difficult to mimic in talent and execution. On the other hand, it’s something, and that’s better than nothing.
Just like we did earlier this week, let’s attempt to answer three looming questions, this time on how Michigan’s offense matches up with UGA’s defense.
Can Michigan Run The Dang Ball?
If Michigan can’t run the ball, they’ll be — to use a technical term — extremely boned. The Wolverines have improved over the course of the season against high-level rushing defenses, culminating in crushing performances to beat Ohio State and Iowa.
Georgia’s defense is a different beast, however, and the memory of Michigan struggling to move the ball on Wisconsin (and, yes, Rutgers) lingers despite the offense’s evident progress in the months since. Encouragingly, that progress has coincided with a shift in approach, as Josh Gattis has called more even distribution of gap and zone blocking schemes after leaning hard on the former early in the year:
When you remove their considerable number of sacks from the equation, Georgia’s run defense looks pliable — to a very limited extent. Aside from Kentucky, every top-55 SP+ rushing offense at least got in the neighborhood of four yards per carry. Despite that baseline, none of them surpassed 4.7 YPC:
Alabama went almost entirely zone in their SEC title game upset and scraped out a respectable 4.4 YPC. The team that hit the highest mark, Florida, had the most even mix of gap and zone rushing schemes. While their success was sporadic, they managed to get some real movement on the Bulldogs front and lock their linemen onto second-level defenders:
Michigan is the best running team Georgia has faced. Georgia has the best rush defense Michigan has faced. Michigan grinds out ~5 YPC against good defenses. Georgia’s opponents grind out ~4 YPC if they have a passable offense. It seems logical to expect the Wolverines to land in that 4-5 YPC range; reaching the higher end of it would be quite helpful.
Will Georgia Generate Consistent Pressure?
Georgia produced 43 sacks in 13 games, besting Michigan’s 34 even though the Wolverines had two players post double-digit sacks while nobody on UGA had more than five. The Bulldogs have played their last four FBS games without their best edge rusher, Adam Anderson, after he was charged with sexual assault.
While this entirely comes down to the Alabama game with Heisman winner Bryce Young escaping pressure, which may be irrelevant to Michigan and Cade McNamara, what limited sample we have shows Georgia has pressured the quarterback at the same rate without Anderson but haven’t converted that heat into as many sacks:
With Anderson, Georgia’s percentage of pressures converted to sacks (P2S%) was 30.0; without him, thanks to that Alabama game, it’s slipped to 7.8%. They’re still, however, getting heat on the quarterback on over a third of opponent dropbacks.