Containing Georgia star TE Brock Bowers will be Michigan’s ‘game of chess’

DANIA BEACH, Fla .– The Michigan soccer team have faced their fair share of talented pass catchers this season, most recently against the dynamic Ohio State receiving trio of Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba .

But none had the combination of size and speed like Georgia first-year tight end Brock Bowers. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound All-American has been a mismatch for opponents all season, leading the team by a wide margin in receptions (47), receiving yards (791) and touchdowns (11 ).

Bowers will get a lot of Wolverines attention when the two teams face off in the Orange Bowl on Friday in South Florida.

“Brock is a hell of a player, man,” Michigan defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald said Tuesday. “He’s really dynamic. What they do with him is he really plays all positions. He will play the Z, the Y, the X, the move guy, the down guy. They will give it to him on backhands, screens. It is quite impressive. A tribute to their coaching staff for putting him in positions to affect the game.

“The difference between a tight end and a catcher is that a catcher, you can build certain things to find him, where he’s at, and try to get several guys on him. Tight end, it’s a little more difficult.

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Michigan (12-1) also faced another qualifying tight end Sam LaPorta of Iowa in the Big Ten Championship game. The Wolverines won 42-3, but the 6-foot-4, 249-pounder led the Hawkeyes with six catches for 62 yards.

However, the Bulldogs (12-1) have more weapons around Bowers than Iowa with LaPorta. Receiver Greg Pickens is back in good health and gives quarterback Stetson Bennett a reliable 6-3 / 4 outside target. They also have a formidable running back duo in James Cook and Zamir White.

Georgia are also not afraid to use 13 staffs (one running back, three tight ends). He has two effective blocking tight ends in 6-foot-7, 265-pound Darnell Washington and 6-foot-7, 250-pound John FitzPatrick, allowing offensive coordinator Todd Monken to move Bowers.

“They have very talented guys at every level, guys who can really hurt you at any point in the game,” Macdonald said. “The stress points in our areas and when we play man-to-man, when we put the pressure on, when we don’t, it’s going to be kind of an interesting game of chess throughout the game.”

Bennett said it didn’t take long for him to realize that Bowers was a special talent. The four-star California prospect made six catches, a team-high, in his debut against Clemson and has been at the midpoint of the Georgia offense. He just won his best game of the year, catching 10 passes for 139 yards and one score in the Southeastern Conference Championship loss to Alabama.

“There were a few times he trained in the summer, and we had these boxes of plio, and you would see him jumping up there,” Bennett said. “But you don’t know if he’s just a weird athlete and (if) he’ll be able to handle things quickly enough to play this year. Then over time you see that he’s an abnormal athlete and can process things pretty quickly as well.

“Everyone we recruit into the specialist positions is athletic and talented enough to do what he’s done. I think where he shines the most is how slowly the game goes for him and how smart he is in football.

Macdonald will be tasked with formulating a game plan to try and slow down Bowers, who ran a verified 4.55-second 40-yard sprint in high school and posted a 40-inch vertical. Defensive backs aren’t usually big enough to cover it one-on-one, while linebackers aren’t usually fast enough.

“Right away you can see this guy is different,” Monken said on Monday. “He only knows this way of working. All he did every day was work hard. He will continue to develop his skills. It probably has more reach than you might think. We knew he had the ability to run after catch. We saw it on tape. They used him in the backfield when he got out of high school, but he’s got a bit more range than we thought, and he continued to develop as a road runner. But he works terribly hard at his craft. It is important to him. He doesn’t say much, he just works.

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