Early thoughts on Michigan football offense vs. Alabama

Nov. 25, 2023; Ann Arbor, Mi., USA;University of Michigan running back Blake Corum (2) celebrates near the end of SaturdayÕs NCAA Division I football game against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Michigan Stadium.
Nov. 25, 2023; Ann Arbor, Mi., USA;University of Michigan running back Blake Corum (2) celebrates near the end of SaturdayÕs NCAA Division I football game against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Michigan Stadium. /
Michigan football will play Alabama in the College Football Playoffs on January 1st. 

A lot of people were somewhat shocked when the College Football Playoff Committee opted to put 12-1 Alabama at #4 rather than 13-0 Florida State. While the Seminoles lost their star quarterback Jordan Travis to injury, the sense was that a 13-0 Power 5 team couldn’t be left out of the playoffs.

Florida State deserved to be in the playoffs. However, any argument that Florida State is better than Alabama or Texas seems completely incorrect. At the end of the day, the committee got it right by putting the four best teams into the playoffs. What that means, is that Michigan football has a very tough semifinal matchup.

In this article, I’m going to give some early thoughts on how Michigan’s offense and Alabama’s defense stack up against each other. Without further ado, let’s take a look.

Michigan Offense vs Alabama Defense

At first look, this is a tough task for the Wolverines. We all know that Alabama is littered with five stars, and it just happens that their strengths play against Michigan’s weaknesses. Alabama has two very good EDGE rushers in Dallas Turner and Chris Braswell. Turner is an All-American and projected first-round pick.

Against a Michigan offensive line that has struggled recently in pass protection, Alabama appears to have an early advantage here. It’s going to be interesting to see what Michigan does to combat Alabama’s EDGE pressure. I would guess that we’ll see the tight ends chip a lot more, but we’ll see.

Looking towards the secondary, Alabama again has the advantage. The Crimson Tide have two projected first-round defensive backs in Kool-Aid McKinstry and Terrion Arnold. Against Michigan wide receivers, who already struggle to create separation, this is not a great recipe for Michigan’s passing attack. I expect Roman Wilson and Cornelius Johnson to struggle.

At the same time, Michigan football has some advantages of its own in the passing game. The Alabama DBs are very physical and aggressive. That can lead to opportunities with the deep ball. Both Roman Wilson and Cornelius Johnson are excellent at getting open deep, and I’d expect Michigan to scheme up some deep routes. If the line can give JJ time, he’ll have chances.

Another advantage for the Wolverines should be the tight end position. While Alabama was able to keep Brock Bowers relatively quiet, he was playing injured. Colston Loveland and AJ Barner are going to have plenty of opportunities in the receiving game, and they’re going to need to have huge games for the Wolverines.

JJ’s scrambling ability will also create opportunities in the passing game for the Wolverines. McCarthy is an elite quarterback when he’s on the run. He’s going to extend plenty of plays and give the Wolverines some extra chances in the passing game. Alabama has the advantage against the pass, but there are areas where Michigan can exploit the Tide.

Looking at the run, teams have been able to gash the Crimson Tide on the ground at times. Auburn rushed for 244 yards while having a nonexistent passing attack. The Tigers, led by former MSU quarterback Payton Thorne, would have beaten the Tide if not for a miraculous 4th & 31 conversion. The Tigers were able to have so much success because of their creativity on the ground.

For Michigan to take advantage of the Tide on the ground, JJ McCarthy is going to have to have a huge day with his legs. The Tide is susceptible to the quarterback run, and it sets up the running backs with better opportunities. The question here, in my opinion, is have the Wolverines been saving JJ’s legs for a game like this? Or is it not a part of their offense?

McCarthy has had very few designed runs on the season despite being a tremendous runner. Michigan is going to need his legs against the Tide. Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards should have opportunities, but the Wolverines are going to need to set up the run; if Michigan’s offense is predictable and the Tide can stack the box, Michigan will lose.

Michigan football has the advantage on the ground, but the coaching staff will have to figure out how to set it up. If we see a game plan like last season against TCU where the staff tried to force the run until the second half, the Tide will be in a great position. Coaching is the x-factor here.

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Overall, Alabama’s defense gets the nod over the Michigan football offense. Their physicality and talent are scary. However, this is not a world-beating defense. Some holes can be exposed, and there will be plenty of opportunities. It’s all going to be up to the coaching staff to exploit them.