Michigan Football: Coach’s Corner — What May Happen — Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Michigan Wolverines
This Saturday the featured national game is the evening course of Alabama versus Michigan. This game pits the all time football leader against the team currently at the top of the heap. There is no documentation needed to assess the current Alabama program. This is a team that collects and coaches top-level talent in a league that has dominated recent national title awards.
This game is not a cut and dried affair, that is, there are many variables that could cause a mix of possible results. Michigan in most corners is about a two-touchdown underdog. This spread is not unreasonable, and some would say generous to Michigan. The result could range from a slight Michigan upset to a total blowout if Michigan falters and Alabama plays its best.
One variable is constant for all teams, the first game of the season. First games can be strange: turnovers, penalties, weird goings-on, and so many uncertainties from players that the coaches are eager to assess. The first week can be a splendid time for upsets or a monster disappointment.
Each year teams have new, unproven players stepping into starting roles; both teams have newcomers, Alabama’s are just more talented. But even the most talented newbies can have unexpected results, one way or another.
Because of inconsistencies and unknowns, it becomes harder to predict with certainty match-ups, the basis for determining game predictions.
Still, there is plenty in this mix to present a reasonable analysis of what may happen Saturday.
Michigan will not roll over and the preparation has been intense for the Wolverines. There is the natural psychological asset of being a big underdog, but talent will trump that about every time. Eventually execution and talent beat heart and effort as the more talented team can physically wear down an underdog.
Alabama has great speed on defense and the linebackers are what the fans should focus on. The three trench guys will attempt to let the linebacker’s flow and scrape to make tackles for short gains. As mentioned in earlier articles, Alabama likes to show a cover two that is not really a cover two. The coverages are disguised and sophisticated. Alabama will zone blitz and put intense pressure on any offense.
The Michigan offense will zone block and pull a man to try and gain an advantage on the outside read. The edge will be critical on short yardage situations for Michigan. Go back to last year when defenses stuffed Michigan’s efforts up the middle and Denard or Fitz had to dip outside to score. Alabama will prepare heavily against this option. To score meaningful points on Alabama a team will likely need to be very proficient at passing. Note that last year Alabama stuffed LSU and LSU could not mount any type of successful passing attack. Part of that was good Bama defense and part of this was the nature of LSU’s offense.
A time-honored strategy for underdogs is to shorten the game by ball control. No doubt Michigan would love this to happen, but saying and doing can be different. A trick and misdirection here and there may help, but eventually this will be a big boy game where running the ball the best provides a great advantage.
In the running game Ricky Barnum will have his hands full, and it will be possible but difficult for Michigan’s pulling linemen to get ahead of the fast Bama linebackers. Michigan has enough weapons and dangerous scrambling ability to make something happen in the play action game. But if the Wolverines get behind the linebackers may live in the UM backfield.The Alabama defense will have as mission one holding contain on Denard Robinson, and a talented 3-4 defense can provide support on both sides. To break a big play the defensive end and flowing linebacker will both need to be controlled. Space from the broken play may be valuable for Denard.
To run the ball Michigan will need to pass the ball with enough efficiency to keep the linebackers honest and prevent the safeties from focusing solely on the Michigan running game. So, a very good balance of some success on the ground could lead to success in the air. The Michigan receivers are capable of keeping the chains moving if enough protection is provided and Denard’s reads and throws are accurate.
Underdogs always have a few tricks, but so does Alabama. The key is which team will hit the trick, or even be provided the opportunity to give it a shot.
Alabama may not resort to any trick unless there is a clear need. There is no secret as to the Alabama game plan: run the power game and pick good spots for the play action game. Alabama’s offensive line is not a myth and will line up tight ends and h-backs to gain an advantage. If the safeties or linebackers overreact or line up improperly Alabama can run some nice play action drags and tight ends down the seams.
Coach Mattison will need to roll some dice, and the biggest roll might be the positioning and use of Kovacs. Again, this might result in a stop, or a big Alabama play. But Alabama will run at Michigan’s front seven. The defense will face adversity and cannot give in. Every time Alabama is held to a field goal, a small victory has ben obtained by the Wolverines. Effort and preparation help, but eventually this comes down to raw, naked power.
Alabama can really create a running alley with its line and power scheme, either through lining up for smash mouth play or placing a back in motion to gain a numbers advantage at the point of attack. Again, there is nothing fancy: here comes our big back can you stop him?Some have downplayed Alabama’s ability to pass. This is flat wrong, AJ McCarron is very good, a nice manager of the game, and getting better, his receivers are talented, and defenses have trouble playing Alabama straight up and adjust to stop the power run. And here we go, the play action game, or even just straight drop back passing. Make no mistake Alabama can provide a major hurt on Michigan with its passing game.
Alabama would prefer to hit on all offensive cylinders: power run, counters, play action, and drop back. Success in all areas makes game planning difficult for future opponents.
Both teams are well coached, play hard, and have intense pride. Alabama is expecting things play out to script and Michigan is hoping there can be some flies in the game ointment. Michigan was outstanding last year in creating turnovers, frequently on special teams. It is this variable that could help even the playing field. On the other hand, Denard Robinson, as intense as he is, cannot be a turnover machine and take any chance of victory away. Denard can handle the pressure and will lead. His feet AND his arm are the key to Michigan’s chances. For Denard’s feet and arm to make trouble for Alabama the offensive line must play a stellar game and the running backs need to squeeze out every inch possible.
Can Michigan win? Yes. Are they likely to win? No. But this is a showcase game and a loss to the defending national champs, while a bitter thought, is not terminal. One thing for certain: there is no better measuring stick for current progress and future needs for improvement. To get to the level of Alabama there is no easy way, that is evident.
So strap them up, turn them loose, and see what happens. There is nothing else left to do at this stage.
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Written by GBMWolverine Staff
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