Nolan Smith #4 of the Georgia Bulldogs forces a fumble by Cade McNamara #12 of the Michigan Wolverines in the fourth quarter in the Capital One Orange Bowl for the College Football Playoff semifinal game at Hard Rock Stadium on Dec. 31, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Florida. Smith led Georgia with 8 tackles. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images/TNS)

Report card: Georgia delivers sweet performance in Orange Bowl 34-11 win over Michigan

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Georgia football got a sour taste out of its mouth at the Orange Bowl on Friday night.

The Bulldogs took a bite out of the Michigan Wolverines, exiting their CFP Semifinal with a 34-11 victory and date with Alabama in the CFP Championship Game in Indianapolis on Jan. 10.

RELATED: Georgia puts the squeeze on Michigan in Orange Bowl CFP Semifinal

“Our players bought into the plan,” said UGA coach Kirby Smart, who has now delivered two national title games appearances in the past five years while locking down a fifth-straight Top 10 finish.

“We came out from the very start and executed,” Smart said. “Defensively and offensively, we had a really great opening drive and I thought that set the tone for the game.”

RELATED: Stetson Bennett discusses why he delivered in Orange Bowl

The Bulldogs scored on their first five possessions, building a 27-3 lead by halftime.

Here’s a quick review and grading of the Georgia position groups:


Stetson Bennett completed his first 9 passes en route to a 21-of-31 passing performance that netted 310 yards and 3 touchdowns to win Offensive MVP honors. Bennett also used his feet, scrambling for 32 yards on 3 carries. Bennett’s best throw of the night came on a 53-yard pass to James Cook, but there were others that impressed, particularly in the short game. Smart made sure everyone knew he was upset about Bennett’s clock management at the end of the first half, and an intentional grounding was another item to work on.

WATCH: Kirby Smart puts the heat on Stetson Bennett, gives him earful


Former South Florida high school stars James Cook and Kenny McIntosh stole the show. Cook caught passes of 53 and 39 yards, while McIntosh threw an 18-yard TD pass. Cook totaled 131 total yards, rushing for 32, while McIntosh had 3 catches for 32 yards. Zamir White continues to get the bulk of the work from Dell McGee, 12 carries, 54 yards. Daijun Edwards (4-38) and Kendall Milton (7-21) cleaned up.


Tight end Brock Bowers gets grouped in, and he got things kick-started with the opening TD and 6 catches for 68 yards and an incredible leaping, finger-tip grab on an overthrown ball. Kearis Jackson had a highlight catch, as well, showing a vertical leap not seen before on a 23-yard grab. George Pickens’ only grab came with a Michigan defender draped all over him. Jermaine Burton showed his deep skills by adjusting mid-route on a ball, leaving the defender in his wake. Smart also talked up the receivers’ open-field blocking.

RELATED: Brock Bowers exits Orange Bowl with injury, Kirby Smart updates


The Georgia offensive line took care of business, blowing open holes and keeping Bennett clean most all night. Jamaree Salyer handled Michigan Heisman Trophy runner-up Aidan Hutchinson, limiting the projected No. 1 overall pick to just one TFL. The Wolverines failed to get a sack and had just two QB Hurries while UGA rushed for 190 yards on 35 carries (5.4 per attempt). Salyer had a facemask, but that could be attributed to the rough play that was necessary in the trenches. Sedrick Van Pran had no issues at center after reports he had missed practice time on account of COVID-related protocol.


The Bulldogs stars rose to the occasion from the opening drive when Jalen Carter triggered a turnover on downs by putting the heat on Cade McNamara to lead to an incompletion. Jordan Davis reminded everyone of his burst, chasing down speeding UM tailback Blake Corum. Travon Walker served UM notice that things wouldn’t get better in the second half, recording a sack to start the third quarter. Michigan’s O-Line was named the best in the country by the Joe Moore Award, but Georgia embarrassed the group, holding the Wolverines to 88 yards rushing on 27 carries. Nolan Smith had a team-high 8 tackles and a forced fumble


Nakobe Dean showed why he’s a projected first-round NFL draft pick with 7 tackles, and 2 tackles for loss, while Quay Walker likely improved his pro stock by dropping Michigan ball carries in the open field with lights-out tackling. Robert Beal Jr. got into the act with the first sack of the game and 4 stops. Football is a matchup game, and Michigan’s tight ends and backs couldn’t escape or break the tackles of Georgia’s elite linebacking corps.


Derion Kendrick became the first UGA player to have a multi-interception game since Richard LeCounte, his two interceptions earning him Defensive MVP honors. Kendrick also had 5 tackles. Safety Lewis Cine had 5 tackles against the team he said he nearly signed with out of high school. Christopher Smith appeared to overcome the knee injury that slowed him against Alabama, but he was ejected for targeting during a Kendrick interception return in the first half. Michigan hit on two pass plays longer than 40 yards in addition to a 35-yard TD strike.

RELATED: Clemson transfer Derion Kendrick finds redemption at Georgia


This will be an area Smart will continue to harp on, as he hasn’t felt Georgia has been elite with its return game this season. Kenny McIntosh had just 14 yards on the opening kick return, and Kearis Jackson’s kick return went for 11 yards. All-American punter Jake Camarda booted twice, hitting a 54-yarder and a 37-yarder. Jack Podlesny hit field goals of 43 and 28 yards but he missed a 45-yard attempt in the third quarter.


Smart and his staff deserve high praise for getting the team re-engaged after a staggering loss to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game. Georgia looked strong and confident, and most importantly bought into the game plan and one another. The Xs and the Os were never in doubt, as Todd Monken schemed up the first two touchdown drives, Bennett never needing to come off his first read. The defensive staff, with Oregon head coach Dan Lanning still calling the plays, looked a step ahead of Michigan all night. It almost looked too easy for the Bulldogs at times because of the crackerjack preparation that went into the game plan.


Georgia football could not have responded better, recapturing its swagger with the decisive win over an overmatched Michigan football team. Benett and Kendrick were worthy of MVP honors on offense and defense, but James Cook and Nolan Smith could have just as easily been named the respective MVPs. Smart turned his coaches loose on this one, an UGA will have to maintain that aggressive mindset against Alabama on Jan. 10 in Indianapolis.

NextBegin collecting your souvenirs with the Orange Bowl field edition …
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