Michigan football vs Alabama: Matchups and Misconceptions in the Rose Bowl

Digging into some of the matchups and misconceptions for Michigan football vs. Alabama in the Rose Bowl.

Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh waves at fans after the Wolverines' 26-0 win over Iowa in the
Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh waves at fans after the Wolverines' 26-0 win over Iowa in the / Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK
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How Michigan Matches up with Bama

Look, this isn't going to be an easy game for the Wolverines. But it's the playoffs. These are (allegedly) the best four teams in the country and there are no easy games. Michigan learned this the hard way last year against TCU. Bama is a great team, but the Wolverines match up a lot better than anyone is willing to give them credit for.

Michigan Offense vs Alabama Defense

Defensively, Alabama does two things schematically that I want to highlight. First, they play a two-gap run scheme with their defensive line. Essentially what this means is they are putting a lot of pressure on their defensive linemen to shut down the run game by themselves. So far this season, they've been susceptible to runs between the tackles and quarterback runs to the perimeter. What does Michigan excel in? Runs between the tackles and the quarterback runs to the perimeter. Alabama is great at shutting down outside zone and sweep plays and this is a large part of why they really shut down Georgia's run game. However, that's not something that Michigan football really does and I think they've got a really good chance to run the ball in this matchup.

In the secondary, Alabama plays a lot of what is called match coverage. This is something that Nick Saban and Bill Belichek invented. While there are a ton of nuances to it if you want to know more -- I'll keep it really simple. All you need to know is that it's a complex coverage scheme that adapts itself during the play to best cover whatever the offense is trying to do. Almost every NFL team and elite college defense runs it to some extent, but it takes smart and talented players and a lot of time to master.

You add this scheme to the talent that Alabama has, particularly at the cornerback position, and it's hard to throw the ball to the outside or deep on them. Teams that have had success at this generally have elite big-bodied wide receivers, which Michigan doesn't. However, where they are vulnerable in the passing game is when you can get a good receiving tight end or running back matched up against a linebacker in coverage. This is where Michigan excels compared to a lot of other teams. Guys like Donovan Edwards, AJ Barner, and Colston Loveland (who Nick Saban specifically mentioned could be a problem) will all be able to get favorable matchups. Michigan will also need to use pre-snap motions to take advantage of Alabama coverage rules to create favorable matchups for their receivers. It'll be hard to throw the ball a lot, but Michigan will find ways to do it during the game.

Michigan Defense vs Alabama Offense

Alabama might not have some of the elite skill position players they've had on past national championship teams, but they still have a lot of talent. They also have a very big offensive line and the one guy everyone is taking about -- quarterback Jalen Milroe.

Milroe finished in the top 10 of Heisman voting this year and has big play ability. He really likes to take deep shots, and when they're not there, take off and run. This is going to be the biggest test for Michigan. In order to keep Milroe from running the ball, you'll need to either take guys away from the pass rush or pass coverage. I think that Michigan can handle Alabama's run game with their defensive line well enough, but you have to keep Alabama from making too many big plays in the passing game.

The one weakness with Milroe is that he often holds onto the ball too long, overlooking open recievers underneathe while waiting for deep shots to open up down field. He also likes to take off to the outside as opposed to up the middle. Michigan is going to have to get pressure on him early, disguise coverages, and play very disciplined with their rushing lanes to keep him from making big plays with his legs.

Everyone is talking about how Michigan hasn't played a quarterback like Milroe all year, which is true. However, it doesn't mean that Michigan football isn't up to the challenge. Jesse Minter comes from the Baltimore Ravens who had the NFL version of Jalen Milroe in Lamar Jackson. I expect Michigan to have a lot of answers on how to slow down Alabama's offense.

This will be a tough game for Michigan, but a great opportunity. If the last three years of Michigan football were a film franchise there would be no better ending to the trilogy than Michigan doing what everyone says they can't -- beating the best the SEC has to offer en route to a national championship.

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