Michigan waited years for this opportunity.
When Jim Harbaugh was pried from the NFL to return to his alma mater as the head coach, this was supposed to be in the Wolverines future.
Which makes it a devastating disappointment to come all this way in year seven of the Harbaugh era, only for it to end in a 34-11 blowout against Georgia in the Orange Bowl.
“It’s very disappointing right now,” Michigan quarterback Cade McNamara said. “ I mean, we have everything we got, and we got beat tonight.”
Harbaugh chose to look at the 2021 season as a whole, a season that resulted in the Wolverines’ first Big Ten title since 2004, rather than focus on how the year ended.
“It was a great season,” Harbaugh said. “To me, it’s one of the best seasons in Michigan football history.”
It was clear where the Orange Bowl was going after Georgia jumped to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter with touchdowns coming from two different passers. The first drive was highlighted by a pair of passes from quarterback Stetson Bennett IV to tight end Brock Bowers, one for 35 yards to get to the red zone and another for nine yards for the score. The second drive was a throw on the run from running back Kenny McIntosh to receiver Adonai Mitchell for an 18-yard score.
Every Georgia offensive drive in the first half ended with either a field goal or a touchdown.
“They did a very good job early in the game, first half especially, of extending drives,” Harbaugh said. “They were able to bleed out yards on the perimeter with some of the bubbles and swing routes, then hit the big play.”
McNamera threw for 106 yards for the game, while Bennett threw for 105 yards on just his three touchdown passes.
Freshman quarterback J.J. McCarthy came in later in the second half and threw for 131 yards including a 35-yard touchdown pass to Andrel Anthony in the fourth quarter. He also ran for 24 yards on four carries.
“We know we have two great quarterbacks,” Harbaugh said, “We make no apologies for that. I felt we just weren’t — the protection just wasn’t as good as it needed to be, and J.J. gave us more of a chance to escape it, avoid it and run because that was the reason we made the switch.”
Even though this was the end result of the seventh season of the Harbaugh era, the theme of this year is that this is just the start of things to come for the Wolverines.
”We climbed mountains this season that no one thought we could,” Michigan defensive end Aidan Hutchinson said. “We did some things that nobody expected this Michigan team to do. I think we set the standard for the future of Michigan football and we really helped this program tremendously for the future.”
While this marks the end for Hutchinson, who is expected to be the top pick of the NFL Draft, and senior running back Hassan Haskins, who scored 20 rushing touchdowns this season, the future looks bright for those who return to Ann Arbor for the next season. A handful of young players, including McCarthy stood on the field to watch Georgia celebrate with confetti filling the stage.
“All those young guys, they got this scar tissue now, being in the Playoffs, losing having to feel this,” Hutchinson said. “I know they’re going to bounce back next year and give ‘em hell.”