Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines are back in the College Football Playoff. With an undefeated regular season and Big Ten Championship win over Iowa, the Wolverines have earned themselves a New Year’s Day date against Alabama in the Rose Bowl.
Michigan and Bama last met in the 2020 Citrus Bowl. The Wolverines squandered an early 13-7 lead and allowed the Tide to cruise to an easy 35-16 victory.
With the Rose Bowl just a few short weeks away, let’s take an in-depth look at Michigan’s defense vs. Alabama’s offense and how they match up.
Michigan’s DL vs Alabama’s OL
Michigan defensive line starters: DT Kris Jenkins, DT Kenneth Grant, DT Mason Graham, DE Jaylen Harrell, DE Braiden McGregor
Rotation: DT Rayshaun Benny, DT Cam Goode, DE Josaiah Stewart, DE Derrick Moore
PFF Run Defense Grade: 93.2
PFF Pass Rush Grade: 91.0
Matchup Takeaway: You hardly need any form of analysis to tell you the Wolverine defensive line is a scary force for any opponent to have 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.
Mike Elston’s unique four-man edge rotation should also keep the Alabama offensive line on its toes. The unit surrendered 43 sacks in the regular season and the constant change of size and pace presented by Jaylen Harrell and company should cause problems for the Crimson Tide.
Alabama offensive line starters: C Seth McLaughlin, LG Tyler Booker, RG Darrian Dalcourt, LT Kadyn Proctor, RT JC Latham
Sacks allowed: 43
Rushing yards: 2,245
PFF Run Block Grade: 76.4
PFF Pass Block Grade: 72.4
Matchup Takeaway: It was a rough start to the season for the SEC’s heaviest offensive line. Quarterback Jalen Milroe spent far too much time running for his life as the offensive line struggled game after game. Things have improved over the last few weeks, with the Tide preventing a sack for the first time this season back on Nov. 11 against Kentucky. The unit surrendered just two more to finish out a three-game stretch to end the regular season, but was once again exposed against a better pass rush in Georgia which racked up eight tackles for loss and four sacks.
Despite the struggles defending the quarterback, the offensive line has still enjoyed some above-average success running the football, and they will attempt to do the same against Michigan. The Tide rank within the top-50 in several categories, such as rush yards (2,245), yards per game (172.7), and rushing touchdowns (30).
Michigan’s DB vs Alabama’s WR and TE
Michigan’s defensive starters: CB Will Johnson, CB Josh Wallace, CB Mike Sainristil, S Rod Moore, S Makari Paige
Rotation: CB Ja’Den McBurrows, S Quinten Johnson, S Keon Sabb
Pass breakups: 25
Passing YPG Allowed: 152.6
PFF Coverage Grade: 93.1
Matchup Takeaway: If Will Johnson is the team’s best cover corner, Mike Sainristil is the secondary’s Swiss Army Knife. During the game against Ohio State, Sainristil’s 58 snaps were split between slot corner (18), perimeter corner (26), box safety (10), edge rusher (three), and free safety (one).
With elite playmakers at every corner of the Michigan backfield, Jalen Milroe will face the ultimate test against a Michigan team that ranks second in the nation — allowing just 152.6 yards per game.
Alabama’s offensive starters: WR Jermaine Burton, WR Isaiah Bond, TE CJ Dipre, TE Robbie Ouzts
Rotation: WR Kendrick Law, WR Kobe Prentice, TE Amari Niblack,
Receiving yards per game: 228.46
Receiving TDs: 23
PFF Receiving Grade: 79.2
Matchup Takeaway: Part of what makes Alabama’s offense difficult to defend is Milroe’s ability to connect on the deep ball. Michigan’s secondary is the strength of the defense, so the opportunities may be few and far between, making it crucial for the offense to hit on them. Jermaine Burton and Isaiah Bond will be Milroe’s most obvious targets, but the Tide possess a slew of other receivers who can go up and make a catch when needed.
Michigan’s LB vs Alabama’s QB and RB
Michigan’s defensive starters: Junior Colson, Michael Barrett
Rotation: Ernest Hausmann, Jimmy Rolder
PFF Overall Defensive Grade: 95.6
Matchup Takeaway: Michigan’s linebacker philosophy is to take all the double teams off the defensive line. Up to this point, that’s been the case. Even behind the defensive line’s already overwhelming pressure, guys like Junior Colson and Michael Barrett have had the opportunity to shine in run-stopping.
PFF has also taken notice, grading the tandem as one of the best in college football this season. Barrett tops the national list with an overall grade of 89.8.
Alabama’s offensive starters: QB Jalen Milroe, HB Jase McClellan, HB Roydell Williams
Rotation: HB Jamarion Miller
Passing yards per game: 228.46
Rushing yards per game: 172.69
PFF Passing Grade: 81.7
PFF Rushing Grade: 92.0
Matchup Takeaway: Alabama’s offense has shown tremendous improvement throughout the season led by Milroe, who went from being benched to one of the most dangerous offensive threats in the country. The biggest key to stopping Milroe is pressuring him, as Alabama ranks 125th in the country in sacks allowed. According to PFF, Milroe is 35th in ability to make plays under pressure (J.J. McCarthy is fifth), so the key is to get home and finish the play, rather than just get him on the move.
While banged up at the position, if Alabama can find consistency behind its ground game, this could pose a major problem. With a more than acceptable average of 5.1 yards per carry, Roydell Williams will likely serve as the team’s primary tailback if Jase McClellan is unable to go again, as he sat out of the SEC Championship.