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Keys to Victory: Michigan vs. Alabama

What do the Wolverines need to do to beat Alabama and get their first CFP win?

2023 Big Ten Championship - Iowa v Michigan Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images
Adam Childs Adam is a freelance writer for MaizeNBrew and is a lifelong Michigan fan.

The Michigan Wolverines take on the Alabama Crimson Tide this afternoon in the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Rose Bowl. The Wolverines are making their third straight trip to the playoffs, but are still looking for their first win.

They come into the game as a slight favorite, but most experts are still picking the Crimson Tide to beat the Wolverines. The Wolverines have crossed every hurdle thrown at them this year, but what do they need to do to get past the vaunted Crimson Tide?

Here are today’s keys to the game.

1. Contain Jalen Milroe

Quarterback Jalen Milroe was benched to start the year, but has come on strong and is the main reason the Crimson Tide are in the CFP. He has a strong arm and is also dangerous with his legs — Milroe threw for 2,718 yards and 23 touchdowns and also ran for 468 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Milroe has been great at extending plays outside the pocket, and the Wolverines’ biggest challenge will be to keep him from making those big plays. He can be forced into mistakes, but he is extremely confident and is playing his best football right now.

He throws the deep ball as well as anyone in the country and can create a ton of explosive plays. It isn’t going to be easy, but containing Milroe is the biggest key.

2. Sustain drives

The best way to contain Milroe is to keep him off the field. The Wolverines can do that by avoiding three-and-outs and putting together long drives. We have seen them do that a lot this year, and none were as big as their seven-plus-minute drive to put away Ohio State.

The Wolverines can grind out games, and they are going to need to do it again against a very good Alabama defense. For all the talk about Milroe extending plays, J.J. McCarthy can do that, too. He, along with Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards, can help extend drives and keep the Crimson Tide offense on the bench.

3. Get the lead early

The Wolverines need to jump on Alabama and make it play catch up. The Crimson Tide have shown they can come back from deficits this year, but they also haven’t had to do it a lot. They led almost the whole game against Georgia in the SEC title game and did a great job of keeping the Bulldogs at bay.

Getting the lead is also big for the psyche of the Wolverines. In their first playoff game against Georgia, they got down early and were never in it. Last year, they were down to TCU early and were playing from behind the whole game. If they fall behind early, it could start to feel like the last two years all over again.

Punching the Crimson Tide in the mouth to start the game would be huge for momentum throughout the game. The Wolverines can come back from a deficit, but the path to victory would be much easier to get the lead first.