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Comparing Michigan and Alabama’s 2023 PFF grades

Pro Football Focus has the Wolverines grading out higher than the Crimson Tide in several key areas.

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star Grace Hollars/IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK
Matt Hartwell Matt covers all things Michigan football related for Maize n Brew and runs the social media accounts.

College football doesn’t get much better than what we will see at the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day.

Two of Pro Football Focus’ top-graded teams, the Michigan Wolverines (No. 1) and Alabama Crimson Tide (No. 4) will face off against each other during a CFP semifinal matchup that promises to be one for the books.

With a less than a week to go, we took a closer look at how these two powers stack up against each other.

Overall

Alabama - 94.6

Michigan - 95.5

The Crimson Tide finished 12-1 this year, with their lone loss coming against Texas in the second week of the season. They recovered to win their next 11 games, including a narrow 27-24 win over then-No. 1 Georgia in the SEC Championship. PFF has them as a close second to Michigan, with an overall grade of 94.6.

Offense

Alabama - 89.2

Michigan - 90.2

This year’s Bama offense is led by sophomore quarterback Jalen Milroe, who finished sixth in the Heisman voting after racking up 2,718 passing yards, 468 rushing yards and 35 total touchdowns. PFF’s aggregate sees this unit as nearly equal to Michigan’s, with only one point separating the two.

Passing

Alabama - 81.2

Michigan - 86.2

Michigan would likely love to run Blake Corum up the gut 40 times to limit the Tide’s time of possession, but this particular matchup against a somewhat balanced Alabama defense may require J.J. McCarthy to make some key plays through the air.

Pass Blocking

Alabama - 72.5

Michigan - 70.6

The real test for Michigan during the Rose Bowl will be the continued replacement of right guard Zak Zinter. Karsen Barnhart and Trente Jones both held up reasonably well during the Big Ten Championship, with Jones posting an 85.5 pass-blocking grade and a 71.5 PFF run-blocking grade, while Barnhart added a 75.5 pass-blocking grade of his own.

Alabama’s offensive line has some noticeable flaws. The Crimson Tide allowed a sack on roughly 11 percent of their drop backs in 2022 — one of the worst marks in FBS. Only 13 teams had a worse pressure-allowed rate than their own 38.3 percent mark.

Receiving

Alabama - 79.2

Michigan - 70.6

Roman Wilson has had a big year this season for Michigan, hauling in 41 receptions for 662 yards and 11 touchdowns. He’ll need to have another big game in the Rose Bowl if the Wolverines are going to keep their season going.

Despite the pass-catching prowess of Wilson, PFF is giving the nod to Bama here. Jermaine Burton has been a constant deep threat for the Tide this year, showing his ability to serve as the team’s primary deep threat. Alabama has other speedy wideouts as well, including Isaiah Bond and Malik Benson.

Running

Alabama - 92.1

Michigan - 85.3

Alabama had three players record more than 100 carries and at least 450 rushing yards. That element of its offense could prove vital to its success or failure on New Year’s Day.

On the opposite side, the Wolverines boast one of the top running backs in college football. Blake Corum has run for 1,028 yards and leads the nation in rushing touchdowns with 24. Alabama holds the slight edge in this category, but this is a gear that can easily be shifted for Mike Hart and company.

Run Blocking

Alabama - 76.7

Michigan - 73.0

Per PFF, both Alabama (3) and Michigan (12) top the nation in overall run blocking. As a team, the Crimson Tide rank 70th nationally in yards per carry, but big plays are the name of the game for this rushing attack. The Tide are 10th in runs of at least 10 yards and 25th in carries of at least 20 yards.

Defense

Alabama - 93.8

Michigan - 95.6

The Wolverines defense is one of the best, grading out at an impressive 95.6 overall while also maintaining a seasonal average of 90.0-plus in run defense (91.9), pass rush (91.1) and coverage (93.1).

Michigan hasn’t faced too many high-octane offenses this season, but when tested against Penn State and Ohio State, the Wolverines were up to the test. Penn State was held to just 15 points, holding Drew Allar to a 51.4 passing grade, while Kyle McCord had similar difficulty, posting a 59.7 passing grade.

Run Defense

Alabama - 91.3

Michigan - 93.0

Both these teams grade out extremely well against the run, but if there’s an area where Michigan could potentially find an offensive edge, it’s in the run game. The Tide surrendered more than 240 yards rushing to Auburn and have shown they can be outplayed on the ground against better rush attacks on a couple of other occasions this season.

Tackling

Alabama - 90.0

Michigan - 92.2

The Wolverines lead the nation in tackling this season. Last year, Michigan averaged 6.5 missed tackles per game, even tallying 11 against TCU. This year, the Wolverines have turned things around, averaging only 5.2 missed tackles per game, but that won’t mean much if it doesn’t show up in Pasadena.

Pass Rushing

Alabama - 87.6

Michigan - 91.1

You hardly need the grades to tell you this Wolverine pass rush is a scary force for any offensive line to line up against. Mason Graham, Kris Jenkins and Kenneth Grant each earned All-Big Ten honors, capping off an incredible season that saw them combine for 88 total tackles, seven sacks and 17 tackles for loss.

Despite the 91.1 - 87.6 edge to the Wolverines, Alabama also possesses star power along the defensive line with Dallas Turner, the Tide’s star edge rusher. Turner has been Alabama’s biggest disruptor on defense and is second in the SEC with nine sacks.

Coverage

Alabama - 93.0

Michigan - 93.1

With elite playmakers at every corner of the Michigan backfield, Jalen Milroe will face the ultimate challenge against a Michigan team that ranks second in the nation — allowing just 152.6 yards per game.

Both teams are nearly identical per the PFF aggregate, with each topping all of FBS as top two units in coverage this season.

Special Teams

Alabama - 90.2

Michigan - 81.3