The Michigan Wolverines are five days away from facing the Alabama Crimson Tide in the semifinals of the College Football Playoffs. Arguments can be made this is the best team they have faced this year (with Ohio State the only other real team to consider).
However, without a doubt, the Crimson Tide have the best quarterback both on the ground and as a passer the Wolverines have faced this season. With several other blue chip athletes across the board, Alabama has a few guys who can turn this game on it’s head. Let’s break some of them down.
Quarterback Jalen Milroe
If you want a very in-depth film breakdown of Jalen Milroe’s abilities, I encourage you to take a dive into Andrew Bailey’s piece here. But a more modest breakdown will be done here.
Milroe is an outstanding athlete. Michigan coaches have said over the last few weeks he has legit 4.3 speed. He has a cannon of an arm, but is one of the biggest boom or bust players we have seen in college football in quite some time.
Under pressure, Milroe is particularly keen to make mistakes — interceptions, sacks, fumbles, circus plays. But if he’s kept clean, he’ll find one of his athletic receivers to make a play. The perfect example of that was the final play of the dramatic win over Auburn:
Auburn sent a 2 man rush on Jalen Milroe late TD lmaooo pic.twitter.com/tqHxRQJBOn— Alex (@Dubs408) November 26, 2023
Michigan has put pressure on opposing quarterbacks all season long, but have not gotten home very much. They also have not faced someone as fleet-footed as Milroe out of the pocket. He ran for 12 touchdowns this season and had two games with more than 100 rushing yards — wins over Auburn and LSU.
If the Wolverines can’t keep him under pressure and in the pocket, Milroe could have a huge day and cause a lot of problems for what has been an elite Michigan defense.
Wide Receiver Jermaine Burton
If Milroe is looking downfield, he’s probably targeting Jermaine Burton. He has been to two SEC powerhouses in his collegiate career — starting at Georgia, and then transferring to Bama.
He’s averaging 22.2 yards per receptions, good enough for third in college football
Jalen Milroe ➡️ Jermaine Burton— 247Sports (@247Sports) September 10, 2023
Alabama takes its first lead over Texas pic.twitter.com/PfnWzQRfxd
If he’s not contained, Burton could have a massive performance. In two of the last three games, Burton has had more than 100 yards, and he’s found the end zone in each of the last three contests.
Mike Sainristil and Will Johnson did a great job containing Marvin Harrison Jr. While Burton is not at that level, he’s Alabama’s best playmaking wide receiver and can flip momentum in an instant.
Edge Dallas Turner
The Michigan offensive line has struggled over the last couple games in keeping J.J. McCarthy upright. Sherrone Moore essentially ran the ball for the whole second half against Penn State because of the pressure their top-ranked pass rush was putting on their quarterback.
Right tackle Karsen Barnhart has been up and down this year, but now he will shift to right guard following the injury to Zak Zinter. McCarthy was sacked a season-high four times in the Big Ten Championship, and Michigan will need to see improvement from the entire line to win the game.
Enter Dallas Turner, Alabama’s 6-foot-4, 242-pound edge rusher who finished second in the SEC with nine sacks and two forced fumbles. The junior also has 50 pressures this season, a 19 percent win rate, and an 88.7 pass rush grade, per PFF.
Many project him as one of the top pass rushers off the board in the 2024 NFL Draft. A great performance against Michigan could add a lot to his already impressive resume.
This Alabama pass rush is just about as good as what the Wolverines saw from Penn State earlier this season. Offensive line play at the tackle spots is going to be extremely important.