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derion kendrick-georgia defense-michigan
December 31, 2021 Miami Gardens, Florida - Georgia defensive back Derion Kendrick (11) holds up a trophy celebrating after they won Orange Bowl over Michigan at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida on Friday, December 31, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Derion Kendrick, Georgia defense find redemption against Michigan: ‘This is what it led to’

Any hope of a Michigan comeback were dashed. For Kendrick and the Georgia defense, the 34-11 win was a redemptive performance.

“Last year I just had to keep my head up, keep grinding,” Kendrick said. “God put me in this spot, University of Georgia gave me a chance, and I just put my head down and kept working, and this is what it led to.”

Kendrick double his interception total this year from two to four in the win over Michigan. The Georgia secondary — gashed against Alabama — kept Michigan out of the endzone when the first-team defense was in the game. The Wolverines didn’t score a touchdown until there was 4:25 left in the fourth quarter.

The defense got pressure, picking up 4.0 sacks. The Michigan running attack finished with just 88 yards. McNamara and JJ McCarthy combined for 237 yards on 36 passing attempts.

This was the defense we saw all season, prior to the debacle against Alabama.

“Shoot, you know, we came in here and wanted to play our game,” defensive tackle Jordan Davis said. “He’s(Kendrick) been here before so he knows how this thing goes. He just got to keep it balanced. He kept his balance, got two takeaways, had an amazing performance.”

The last two College Football Playoff games Kendrick played in, his defense gave up 42 and 49 points. Those were both defeats. The senior defensive back was determined to not let that happen again.

His two interceptions helped Kendrick earn defensive MVP honors, starring on a night where just about every defender had a big game.

“When stuff goes wrong, just being able to pick them up for the next play,” Kendrick said. “Everybody is going to make plays, it’s about what you’re going to do the next play and the next play. I gave up a few plays, but I kept pushing, and you see the results.”

Teammates have always respected Kendrick, in part because of Clemson credentials. He earned All-ACC honors with the Tigers and then earned All-SEC honors with Georgia this year. There’s also a swagger and confidence they speak of when discussing Kendrick.

Smart noted the many championship-level tendencies Kendrick picked up from his team at Clemson and how that allowed for a seamless transition to Georgia. Kendrick was one of three transfer players Georgia brought in this offseason, yet he was the only playing on Friday night.

“He fit right in with our guys, and he’s been a tremendous leader, and I’m really proud of everything,” Smart said. “He’s gotten a lot of the accolades and the things he deserves tonight in the form of interceptions. He hasn’t gotten those awards in the past, but he’s played really well.”

That was certainly the case on Friday night for Georgia. Kendrick was the face of a unit that needed to reestablish itself. The group did that.

And now gets another crack at Alabama and avenging past disappointments.

“We’re ready to go play regardless of who the opponent is, but just so happens it’s Alabama who beat us,” Kendrick said. “We’ve got to go back and clean up on some things we did and just review over the film and just do what we do.”

Derion Kendrick, Kirby Smart, Stetson Bennett discuss win over Michigan

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