At the Orange Bowl, Michigan's physical offense will be put to the test against Georgia's hard-nosed defense. Miles Macklin/Daily. Buy this photo.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Donning freshly-minted College Football Playoff gear, Josh Gattis could hardly contain his excitement. 

“This is going to be a heavyweight matchup,” Michigan’s third-year offensive coordinator said Monday. “… It’s going to be a train wreck inside. I mean, it’s two smash-mouth teams kind of going up against each other.” 

Indeed it is. Michigan’s clash with Georgia at the Orange Bowl on New Year’s Eve pits strength against strength. The Wolverines’ offense, predicated on relentless physicality, will wage war in the trenches with a top-ranked Bulldogs’ defense. 

Georgia is teeming with NFL prospects. In October, pro scouts told Yahoo Sports that a whopping 17 different Bulldogs’ defenders are “draftable.” That talent has parlayed into a suffocating defensive unit, one that allows just 9.5 points per contest — the lowest figure in the nation. 

For the most part, no one has conquered them. Alabama, the top seed in the College Football Playoff, managed to do so in the SEC Championship Game, pouring on 41 points en route to a victory. That’s 24 points more than the next-highest total that Georgia has surrendered this year. 

Gattis, maintaining admiration, hesitated to concede that the Crimson Tide revealed a blueprint for the Wolverines to follow come Friday. 

“If it only happens one game a year, it obviously didn’t work too well for too many other people,” Gattis said. 

Rather than mimicking Alabama’s game plan, Michigan will play to its strengths and stick with the play style that has spurred this remarkable season. 

It all starts up front. 

“Physicality is the brand of football we play here,” junior receiver Mike Sainristil, the most-refined blocker amongst the receiving corps, said. “That’s just the motto we have on this offense. PSP — physical, smart, precise. As you see, the first word is physical. That’s just how we play football here. That’s what we want to do. … And that’s how we’re attacking this game.” 

Everything that Michigan achieves on offense is grounded in its victories along the line of scrimmage. 

Take the Wolverines’ penchant for explosive plays, for example. This season, they have generated 17 plays of 50 yards or more, the most in all of college football. That success is a credit to Michigan’s arsenal of playmakers — like sophomore running back Blake Corum, freshman running back Donovan Edwards and sophomore receiver Roman Wilson. Gattis was quick to note that they account for “some of the most dynamic players in all of the country.” 

At the same time, though, their explosive nature stems from success in the trenches, where Michigan’s offensive line captured the 2021 Joe Moore award.  

“The explosiveness comes after the physicality,” Sainristil said. 

That manifests itself in a myriad of ways. It’s the offensive line maintaining a clean, firm pocket for junior quarterback Cade McNamara to advance through his progressions and step into a throw. It’s freshman quarterback J.J. McCarthy sprinting 40 yards downfield to notch a crucial block for Corum, ensuring he reached the end zone. It’s the tight ends — whom Gattis lauded as the unit’s “unsung heroes” — securing their blocks on the edge. 

On Georgia’s end, that unique affection for physicality jumps out on film. 

“They run hard mouth, smash mouth football plays,” Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator Dan Lenning said. “They demand some physicality up front, which I know we’re excited to see, and they have the ability to attack you downfield. … It’s going to be a physical football game, which I know we certainly appreciate.” 

Georgia players echoed Lenning’s tune, eagerly anticipating the heavyweight bout set to unfold. 

“At the end of the day, this is pretty much why you play football,” linebacker Quay Walker, the Bulldogs’ fourth-leading tackler, said. “That’s pretty much the name of the game.”

In that vein, both sides recognize the importance of winning that battle. 

“Who’s able to win the line of scrimmage late in the game is going to be the key to who wins the game,” Gattis said.