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Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker (44) during the Bulldogs' game with Missouri in Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga., on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021. (Photo by Tony Walsh)
Tony Walsh

David Pollack explains how Georgia’s pass rush will determine outcome of Michigan game

Georgia’s pass rush was a key reason why the Bulldogs seemed like the best team in the country prior to the SEC championship game. The Bulldogs notched 41.0 sacks in the first 12 games of the season.

But against Alabama, Georgia couldn’t touch Alabama’s Bryce Young. His elusiveness, along with improved play from Alabama’s offensive line, led to Young throwing for 421 yards. Georgia finished the game with zero sacks, the first time it happened all season.

“For Georgia, they had guys in position to get Bryce Young on the ground and they were very unsuccessful,” ESPN’s David Pollack said on a Zoom call with reporters on Thursday. “So when you get to Cade McNamara, can you get him on the ground?”

That is what Pollack sees as the most crucial part of this College Football Playoff matchup. Can Georgia’s pass rush, which operates very differently from that of Michigan, sack Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara?

“Can Cade McNamara, and I think he can, he’s got some ability to break tackles and make throws with people closing in on him,” Pollack asked? “That’s what you have to be able to do to take advantage of Georgia’s secondary.”

The secondary had been a concern for Georgia all season. But the pass rush had usually been able to bail the group out. While Michigan is reliant on edge rushers Aidan Hutchinson and David Ojabo to sack the quarterback, it’s more of a group effort from Georgia. The Bulldogs have nine players with at least 2.0 sacks. But Nakobe Dean leads the team with 5.0, and he plays as an off-ball linebacker for the Bulldogs.

Defensive coordinator Dan Lanning recognizes that the Bulldogs have to get creative with their pressures, in part because of their personnel. Pollack added that while Hutchinson and Ojabo are high NFL draft picks, only sophomore defensive tackle Jalen Carter has that same kind of natural upside.

Related: Georgia football offensive tackle Jamaree Salyer on facing Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson: ‘I want his best’

“(It has) certainly been a point of emphasis for us moving forward and something we want to be able to take advantage of in this game,” Lanning said. “They’re a good offensive line. They do a good job protecting the quarterback, so we have to try to find unique ways to create that pass rush.”

Michigan’s offensive line won the Joe Moore Award this season, which is given to the nation’s top offensive line. No Power 5 team gave up fewer sacks this season than the Wolverines, though some of that is helped by the fact that Michigan ranks outside the top-100 in pass attempts per game.

“As a whole, they have a good offensive unit, offensive line unit, and just I think those guys are very physical up front,” defensive end Travon Walker said. “They try to play -- well, they do try physical, and we just have to attack them, do things that they haven’t seen before or just strain more than they strain.”

While Michigan wants to establish the run, Pollack says he’d be surprised if that is what it does consistently against Georgia given the Bulldogs have Jordan Davis in the middle of the defense. Alabama’s best rushing plays came on scrambles by Young, just another area where the Alabama quarterback bested the Georgia defense.

The College GameDay analyst expects for Michigan to take to the air to the move the ball, as they did against Michigan State. The Wolverines scored 33 points in that game but it also was their lone loss of the regular season.

Michigan will face a hungry Georgia defense, eager to prove that the Alabama game was an aberration. The group was humbled by the effort and will look to make life miserable for McNamara and back-up quarterback JJ McCarthy.

Travon Walker stresses importance of Georgia pass rush

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