5 things to know about Georgia’s return to CFP Championship game – The Atlanta Journal Constitution

The 34-11 win over the Wolverines got the No. 3 Bulldogs (13-1) back into the College Football Playoff Championship game against No. 1-ranked Alabama (13-1), which is all Smart wanted. Everything that happened to get Georgia to that rematch, he said, won’t have anything to do with what happens in Indianapolis on Jan. 10 (8 p.m., ESPN).

That’s where Smart expected his Bulldogs to be. That they already lost “five or six hours” of preparation time to the Crimson Tide (13-1) — which beat Cincinnati 27-6 in a Cotton Bowl game that kicked off four hours before his — was thoroughly annoying to Smart.

But he said he never doubted that the Bulldogs would play well Friday.

“I really never had questions about this team,” Smart said of the Bulldogs bouncing back since that 41-24 loss to Bama on Dec. 4. “The resiliency, the bounce-back, the amount of character, I’ve seen it all year. We didn’t play well, and we turned the ball over and didn’t get any turnovers and played poor in the red area. You can list all the things we did in the last game. That’s all our kids have heard about for three weeks.

“Our focus has been on, ‘OK, what can we get better at, where can we turn our energy? Because it does no good to look backwards. It only does good to look forward and who was our opponent.”

No. 3 Georgia was up 14-0 on Michigan so fast that Alabama was still dancing around under crimson-and-white confetti at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Bulldogs were ahead 24-3 by halftime, didn’t punt until midway through the fourth quarter and didn’t give up a touchdown until they had sidelined their defensive starters with 4:25 remaining in the game.

Alabama’s win also was one-sided, but in a different way than usual. Instead of throwing the ball all over the yard, the Crimson Tide kept the ball on the ground, and senior running back Brian Robinson obliged with 204 yards on 26 carries.

“We love it when B-Rob gets rolling,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “We knew we’d have to run the ball with this 3-3 stuff that (Cincinnati) does. I’m really proud of B-Rob.”

Now the Bulldogs will get a second crack at the Tide after losing to them one month ago and seven times in a row, dating to 2008.

“I feel like we got better over the last three weeks,” junior linebacker Nakobe Dean said. “It’s just the work we put in, focusing in on ourselves and focusing in on our opponent. We know we’ve got to get better in every facet of the game in these next two weeks and just keep working.”

McIntosh on the mark

Nobody was happier to see running back Kenny McIntosh throw a touchdown than his backfield mate James Cook. But Cook had to razz his buddy about it a little at first.

McIntosh passed to wide receiver Adonai “A.D.” Mitchell for an 18-yard TD off a toss sweep right with 4:41 remaining in the first quarter. The trick play gave the Bulldogs’ a 14-0 lead.

It was the first TD pass by a Georgia running back since Thomas Brown threw one to quarterback Joe Tereshinski against Florida in 2005.

Nobody was more shocked to see it happen Friday than Cook. All of Georgia’s backs rehearsed the play in practice this week in Miami.

“I mean, this whole week he didn’t throw a good pass,” Cook said with a laugh. “When it came to the game and coach Monken called that, I was like, ‘hold on, I know he ain’t gonna call this now, ‘cause he didn’t throw a good pass all week.’ But he threw it, and that was a good pass. I was stunned.”

Both players, playing in their hometown Friday, had good games. Cook finished with 131 total yards and a touchdown on a 39-yard pass reception, and McIntosh finished with 51 all-purpose yards on two runs, three catches and a kickoff return.

Junior Zamir White was the Bulldogs’ leading rusher, with 54 yards on 12 carries. The Bulldogs totaled 190 yards on the ground.

Bowers banged up

Tight end Brock Bowers had four catches for 49 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter, then two for 19 the rest of the way. So what happened?

Turns out, the freshman is hurt. Turns out, he’s been hurt.

“Yeah, he’s had a shoulder (injury) for a couple weeks,” Smart said Friday. “We’ve had him practicing in a black (signifying non-contact) jersey, limiting his contact some. But he’s a tough dude, man. He’s a warrior. He wanted to get back in tonight, and we just didn’t let him. But he should be fine.”

Nevertheless, Bowers was in the game long enough to become the leading pass catcher in Georgia history at his position. With six receptions for 56 yards against Michigan on Friday, Bowers now has 53 for 847 yards for the Bulldogs this season. That’s four more catches than tight end Shannon Mitchell had in 1993.

Bowers also hauled in another touchdown, a 9-yarder that staked Georgia to a 7-0 lead just 4:11 into the came. That gives him 12 TD receptions for the season, which is one more than Terrence Edwards had as the Bulldogs’ all-time leader in 2002. Including a rushing touchdown against Vanderbilt, Bowers leads Georgia with 13 touchdowns this season.

‘DK’ making plays

Friday was the first chance to hear from senior cornerback Derion Kendrick. A first-year transfer from Rock Hill, S.C., Kendrick had five tackles to go with a pair of interceptions to be named the Orange Bowl’s MVP.

Kendrick was a late addition to Georgia’s roster, not joining the team until June. He was dismissed from Clemson before spring practice but wasn’t allowed to enroll at Georgia until he resolved some legal issues that arose in Rock Hill in March. Ultimately, Kendrick entered a pretrial intervention program and had gun and marijuana possession charges expunged from his record.

“I just had to keep my head up, keep grinding,” said Kendrick, who is playing in his fourth consecutive College Football Playoff, including three with Clemson. “God put me in this spot. The 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 has started all 14 games for the Bulldogs. With the exception of the Alabama game a month ago and one or two plays Friday, his work has been mostly exemplary.

He’s been a savior for Georgia’s young, inexperienced secondary, and Smart knows it.

“I’ll tell you something about this man right here, DK; there is not a player on our team that prepares harder than he does,” Smart said. “He comes to practice every day, gives great effort, takes notes in meetings. I’ve never been around a kid that is so attentive in meetings at the corner position. A lot of them just think, ‘I’ve got to go play, man.’ DK tunes in, and he’s a competitor. There’s never a walk-through that he’s not focused and locked in. He set a great example for our other players.”

Kendrick hopes to further redeem himself with a better performance the second time around against Alabama.

“We’re ready to go play regardless of who the opponent is, but it 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.”

Pickens makes an appearance

Georgia split end George Pickens made a tough third-down catch for a nine-yard gain and a first down early in the second quarter. It was the junior’s only reception of the game and he was not targeted again.

The lack of production was a disappointment considering the enormous potential that Pickens bring to the field every time he plays. However, coming back only eight months after an ACL reconstruction and getting sidelined for a week surrounding Christmas break because of COVID-19 protocols certainly didn’t help Pickens’ cause.

Pickens now has four catches for 55 yards in three games since returning for the last game of the regular season.

Getting more out of the Hoover, Ala., native against the Crimson Tide in 10 days could be crucial to the Bulldogs having a better offensive outing the second time around.

Superlative seniors

With the win over Michigan, Georgia’s seniors improve to 44-8 as a class. That ties for the most wins by a senior class, joining the 2005, 2018 and 2020 teams. They’ll need a win over No. 1 Alabama to win the most in school history.

Also, Georgia became only the third team in school history to win a record 13 games in a year, joining the 2002 (13-1) and 2017 squads (13-2). The Bulldogs have now won 17 of their past 18 games. They had won 16 in a row when Alabama knocked them off in the SEC Championship game Dec. 4.