Name the motivation, and Georgia used it during Orange Bowl blowout

University of Georgia photo / Georgia inside linebacker Nakobe Dean wraps up Michigan's Blake Corum for a lost-yardage stop during Friday night's 34-11 Orange Bowl win. The Bulldogs will face Alabama for the national championship on Jan. 10.

Georgia entered Friday night's 34-11 dismantling of Michigan in the Orange Bowl as roughly a touchdown favorite, so that wasn't overly new compared to earlier games this season.

Yet there was a different feel for the Bulldogs in their national semifinal against the Big Ten champion.

"This was probably one of the first weeks that nobody was riding us thinking that we were going to just destroy somebody, so we had no pressure," Bulldogs junior inside linebacker Nakobi Dean said late Friday night on a Zoom call. "We always want to play with a chip on our shoulder, and that will be the same way from here on out."

Motivation for Georgia's crushing of the Wolverines came in many forms, with some of the Bulldogs using the conversation that followed the 41-24 loss to Alabama in the Southeastern Conference championship contest on Dec. 4 more than others. No coach, player or position group was spared from the criticism following that outcome in Atlanta, and there was also the fact Georgia had been upstaged by Michigan on the awards landscape.

Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart, who finished a distant fifth to Associated Press coach of the year Jim Harbaugh of the Wolverines, may have led the charge on both fronts.

"Their offensive coordinator (Josh Gattis) was the Broyles Award winner over Coach (Dan) Lanning, who we think did a hell of a job," Smart said. "Their offensive line won the Joe Moore Award, and somebody made that decision who's a lot smarter than me, but we've got a hell of an offensive line, too. I never had questions about this team and its resiliency and its amount of character.

"You can list all the things we did in our last game, and that's all our kids heard about for three weeks, but our focus has been on what we can get better at."

The No. 3 Bulldogs (13-1) will next face No. 1 Alabama (13-1) again on Jan. 10 for the national championship inside Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Georgia's thorough win in Miami was reflected by a 518-325 advantage in total yards. The Wolverines had the touted defensive end tandem of Aidan Hutchinson, the Heisman Trophy runner-up, and David Ojabo, but the Bulldogs went right at them in rushing for 190 yards and 5.5 yards per carry.

Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett was never sacked.

"We practice against good rushers each day," Smart said. "(Tackles) Jamaree (Salyer) and Warren (McClendon) listened to everybody talk about those guys rushing, but they're good pass protectors. When they did give up penetration, Stetson did a good job of avoiding it.

"On the touchdown pass, Stetson did an incredible job of getting the ball out to James (Cook), because their edge rusher came free."

photo AP photo by Lynne Sladky / Georgia football coach Kirby Smart watches as his Bulldogs and Michigan warm up for the Orange Bowl on Friday in Miami Gardens, Fla. Georgia won the College Football Playoff semifinal to earn a rematch of the SEC title game against league champion Alabama, this time with the national championship on the line Jan. 10 in Indianapolis.

When it came to the Orange Bowl's biggest strength-on-strength matchup, Georgia's defensive front overwhelmed Michigan's offensive line, racking up four sacks and limiting the Wolverines to 88 rushing yards and 3.3 per carry.

"We knew they had won the Joe Moore Award, and they were totally deserving of that," Bulldogs senior nose tackle Jordan Davis said. "They had a great offensive line, and we just wanted to make sure that we were dominant and physical up front and that we tested them and gave them a challenge. That was our goal."

No Georgia player received more criticism after the SEC title game than Bennett, who was intercepted twice by the Crimson Tide but threw for 340 yards and three touchdowns and was not on the field when Alabama was racking up 536 total yards. Smart fielded questions throughout December on why JT Daniels wasn't starting, while Bennett repeatedly heard he was not a championship-caliber quarterback.

Bennett responded by completing 21 of 31 passes for 310 yards and three touchdowns while also rushing three times for 32 yards. More importantly, he guided an offense that racked up 330 yards on 36 first-half plays as the Bulldogs built a 27-3 lead.

"This game is all about how well you play, and I didn't go out there and play well to spite people," Bennett said. "I came out there and played well and worked hard throughout the weeks we had off because my teammates needed me to do that and we needed that to win."

Said Cook: "As the leader of our offense, Stetson doesn't let that negativity go to his head. He carries a flip phone around. He stays off social media, and he lets the noise go over his head and just plays football. That's what we all love about him."

Now Georgia has an opponent and an opportunity that require no additional motivating factors. A victory over the Tide would end a six-game series losing streak, produce the first 14-win season in program history and result in the school's first national title since 1980.

"The job is not finished," Dean said. "We didn't do everything we did this season just to win the Orange Bowl."

And the remaining foe?

"The past is history," Davis said, "but the future is mystery."

photo AP photo by Lynne Sladky / Georgia running back Kenny McIntosh throws a touchdown pass against Michigan during the first half of the Orange Bowl semifinal Friday night in Miami Gardens, Fla.

Call questioned

The most questionable call in Cook's eyes Friday was the 18-yard touchdown pass that fellow running back Kenny McIntosh threw to Adonai Mitchell to cap Georgia's second offensive possession that staked the Bulldogs to a 14-0 lead.

"He didn't throw a good pass this whole week," a smiling Cook said. "When it came to the game and Coach (Todd) Monken called that, I was like, 'Oh Lord, I know he's not fixing to call this thing, because he hasn't thrown a good pass this whole week.'

"That was a good pass. I was stunned by that one."

Odds and ends

A win over Alabama would give Georgia's senior class its 45th victory in four seasons, making it the winningest four-year class in program history. The 2005, '18 and '20 classes won 44 games. ... Smart on Orange Bowl defensive MVP Derion Kendrick: "I've never been around a kid who is so attentive in meetings at the corner position. A lot of them think, 'I've just got to go play man,' but he tunes in, and he's a competitor." ... Freshman tight end Brock Bowers set a school standard with his 12th touchdown reception to cap Georgia's first possession, breaking the mark of 11 set by Terrence Edwards in 2002. ... Smart on Bowers nursing a shoulder injury the past few weeks: "He wanted to get back in later tonight, but we didn't let him. He'll be fine."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.