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Where Michigan’s offense needs to improve before the Rose Bowl

December is an important month of improvement for the Wolverines before a huge game against Alabama.

NCAA Football: Big Ten Football Championship-Michigan at Iowa Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports

When Michigan beat Iowa 26-0 on Dec. 2, they not only won their third consecutive Big Ten Championship, but they also punched their ticket to the College Football Playoff.

A CFP semifinal tilt against Alabama at the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day awaits the Wolverines. This is a long layoff for any team, and what both programs do in the month of December will greatly impact what happens when they face off on Jan. 1.

Michigan’s not only studying Alabama’s film, but they’re also aware of what they need to improve upon fundamentally in the weeks leading up to the Rose Bowl.

In Michigan’s win over Iowa, albeit with a shutout and masterpiece on defense, things weren’t always smooth sailing for the offense against an elite Iowa defense. Michigan’s offense averaged 3.3 yards per play, their lowest total in a game since 2014. There were pass protection issues as well and quarterback J.J. McCarthy was sacked four times.

“Uncharacteristically we had some drops and uncharacteristically we had some protection issues and things that we’ll work on,” head coach Jim Harbaugh said after beating Iowa.

The test against Iowa, who ranks No. 5 in total defense, came at a good time for Michigan. Alabama’s defense is a darn good one as well, ranking No. 18 in total defense.

“We had dropped passes, pass pro. There’s just things we can clean up, but we have a month now,” Corum said on Dec. 2. “We have a month to get guys healthy. We have a month to watch a lot of film. We have a month to practice a lot. We have time. We can’t waste our time, but we have time.”

More than half the month of December has rolled along since Corum’s comments and the Rose Bowl will kick off in the blink of an eye. Attention to detail is key for the Michigan offense on a minute-by-minute basis.

Finding more cohesion along the offensive line will also loom large this month. When right guard Zak Zinter went down with a season ending leg injury against Ohio State it moved lineman Karsen Barnhart from right tackle to right guard with Trente Jones becoming the starting right tackle. It wasn’t a surprise that the line looked like a work in progress against Iowa. Replacing someone like Zinter, who was named a unanimous First Team All-American, isn’t easy. Better cohesion will be necessary from the Michigan line as Alabama linebacker Dallas Turner is great at generating pressure. Turner was named SEC Player of the Year and tallied 50 total tackles (14.5 for loss) with nine sacks and two forced fumbles.

Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy’s production will be a major factor against Alabama. McCarthy was at less than 100 percent for the final stretch of Michigan’s regular season after he appeared to roll his ankle against Penn State in November. McCarthy even said things were “a little rough” health wise against Maryland. McCarthy was 12-of-23 in that game for 141 yards with an interception. McCarthy would bounce back admirably in Michigan’s 30-24 win over Ohio State the following week, going 16-of-20 for 148 yards with one touchdown. McCarthy’s stat line his most recent outing (Iowa) was 22-of-30 for 147 yards. The month of December could do McCarthy wonders in getting healthy. Now it’ll be up to Michigan’s offensive line to keep him upright.

A final area in which Michigan will greatly benefit in preparation of the Rose Bowl involves their head coach being on the sideline. Jim Harbaugh was suspended by The Big Ten for games against Penn State, Maryland and Ohio State in light of alleged sign stealing by former Michigan analyst Connor Stalions. Harbaugh returned for the Big Ten championship game and noise surrounding the allegations has greatly dissipated for the time being. Harbaugh’s back to doing what he does on gamedays — bringing his aura and energy to a team that should be all the more charged up because of it. Not only on game days, but throughout practices and preparation as well.