clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Film Study: Breaking down the dynamic mobility of Jalen Milroe and how Michigan can stop it

The Wolverines will have their work cut out for them.

2023 SEC Championship - Georgia v Alabama Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe is a fascinating player. A quarterback who on any given play can look like a future Hall of Famer or someone who is three incompletions away from the transfer portal. Given his enigmatic capabilities, it tracks that Milroe is one of the few players in recent memory who has been benched and finished in the top six in the Heisman Trophy voting in the same season.

When it was announced that the Michigan Wolverines would face the Tide in the College Football Playoff (CFP), my first thought wasn’t head coach Nick Saban or this talented Alabama defense. It was Milroe. What makes him so dangerous? How did he go from getting benched for a lacrosse player to receiving first-place Heisman votes?

Let’s skip the narrative speculation and the SEC rhetoric; Milroe’s season fundamentally changed when he – and his offensive coordinator Tommy Rees – embraced who he was as a player. Milroe isn’t a West Coast quarterback who dissects teams with accuracy and precision. No, he is a dynamic athlete with a rocket launcher for an arm. Think, less elusive Braxton Miller with a better deep ball.

Once Milroe’s mobility became a staple of Alabama’s game plan, the Tide ripped off 11 straight wins and now enter the CFP as one of the most popular four seeds since… Alabama in 2018 when the Tide snuck in and ultimately won it all.

To understand Milroe’s ascension and how teams have defended him, I went to the film. I studied every single Jalen Milroe run from six games this season to try and grasp the Alabama quarterback’s mobility at a granular level and understand how Michigan can slow him down.

This isn’t an exhaustive film study, but for a fair analysis, I broke down Milroe’s two least prolific as a runner (Texas A&M, Arkansas), his two most prolific games as a runner (LSU, Auburn), and the two marquee games (Texas, Alabama) that have drastically swung the narratives surrounding him.

Let’s check the tape.

Game 6 - Texas A&M

Milroe: Eight carries for -31 yards (sacked six times; longest rush: 12 yards)

Texas A&M primarily kept seven defenders in the box and attacked Milroe with an aggressive style. The Aggies would deploy five, six, or even seven-man pressures – almost always with twists and stunts – and would often keep a spy to the opposite side of the blitz. Even when A&M didn’t blitz, defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin would mix up his looks with simulated pressures to confuse the offensive line and Milroe.

Offensively, there were never any gaping holes for Alabama’s rushing attack and Milroe was only tabbed once as a designed runner – a zone-read that went for a loss of one in the first quarter. Milroe ran the ball seven other times out of structure with six resulting in sacks and one ending with a 12-yard gain.

On Milroe’s only positive run, the Aggies lost contain when their edge got too far upfield and opened an escape route through the left-side B-gap. While Milroe was reluctant to run to his left in this game due to a frequent spy’s presence, he did not hesitate when this opportunity presented itself.

Most of A&M’s success in this game came from gap integrity and backside pursuit. Milroe is excellent at avoiding first defenders and the Aggies countered by forcing the dynamic quarterback back into a swarm of tacklers. One particular play for A&M stood out because it is one of Michigan’s favorites against mobile quarterbacks: nickel blitz or as former Michigan defensive backs coach Vance Bedford calls it, “Lightning.”

Texas A&M ran a version of this play several times, but two times in particular the Aggies ran this to great success. The first big lightning call resulted in a forced fumble from Milroe’s blindside on a massive shot that left the quarterback in visible pain. The second came on a critical third-down call late that forced Milroe into a hidden quarterback spy.

Milroe never has a chance on this one. Texas A&M lines up with a light five-man box and the nickel only tips his hand once Milroe’s leg goes up for the silent count. The offensive line doesn’t communicate and frankly, I’m not sure if the left tackle Proctor ever saw the blitzer. Without any added protection, the blitzer runs free for a defender’s dream of a quarterback sack. The Tide were fortunate to recover the fumble but were rudely reminded of the thunder that follows lightning.

This next pressure is a beautiful play design by Durkin. A&M walks up five defenders (three down, two standing on the edge) – all showing rush – to the line of scrimmage and the nickel flies up from Milroe’s throwing side to join them just before the ball is snapped. At the snap, the nickel crowds the outside linebacker on the perimeter, and after two steps upfield, the nickel shoots to the outside and the linebacker twists into the A-gap to draw the attention of the running back.

The nickel is left unblocked and forces Milroe to his left directly into the unblocked edge spy linebacker who had been camping out on the far side of the line of scrimmage.

As it pertains to Michigan: Texas A&M’s front seven is the most similar to Michigan’s of any of these teams. The unit is constantly moving and twisting and pressures come from everywhere. These lightning blitzes will be thrown at Milroe multiple times in the Rose Bowl and expect Mike Sainristil – fresh off two forced fumbles in the Big Ten Championship game – to be one of the primary blitzers. When Michigan chooses to spy, it is paramount that the linebackers or edges remain disciplined and sharp with angles. One bad angle and Milroe can leave an entire unit reeling.

Lastly, former Michigan defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin might have gotten a phone call from Ann Arbor once Michigan knew its CFP opponent.

Game 7 - Arkansas

Milroe: 11 carries for -19 yards, one touchdown (sacked five times; longest rush: seven yards)

This was one of the weirdest games of the college football season. After an initial three-and-out, Arkansas started moving the ball up and down the field, while Alabama’s offense was stuck in neutral. However, on the ensuing two drives, the Razorbacks stalled out in the red zone and had to settle for a pair of field goals.

The Tide responded with a 24-point run and led 24-6 with 7:47 remaining in the third quarter. Alabama wouldn’t score again and with 11 minutes remaining in the fourth, it was a three-point game. Alabama would hang on to win, 24-21, but this wasn’t an inspiring performance for the Tide’s offense.

Of Alabama’s 12 possessions, seven ended in punts and four were three-and-outs. Rees had no clue how to get Milroe into any kind of rhythm and did him no favors as a runner. Milroe only had three designed runs called for him all game:

  1. A sloppy quarterback counter where it seemed like the linemen were counting their steps like inexperienced ballroom dancers –a gain of zero yards.
  2. Tush push, a one-yard touchdown.
  3. A designed quarterback draw that resulted in a sack.

The Razorbacks threw a few different looks at the Tide but mostly seemed content rushing three or four – with very little movement – and isolating Alabama’s left tackle Proctor on an island. Why was Arkansas content with this strategy? Because edge Landon Jackson racked up 3.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles-for-loss on that island against Proctor. Jackson is a solid player (6.5 sacks, 13.5 tackles-for-loss on the season), but Proctor made him look like Von Miller.

However, when Arkansas did blitz, the Razorbacks borrowed a similar strategy from the Aggies a week earlier and blitzed from the outside. Except Arkansas dialed up the pressure with its outside linebackers and safeties instead of corners.

Facing a second-and-eight in the middle of the field, Alabama lines up with 11-personnel and Arkansas gives a Cover 1 look. The Razorbacks line up a safety over the slot receiver, but when the slot shifts, the safety passes him off and moves laterally into the box to align five yards off, on the outside shoulder of the H-back.

Now, perhaps he was going to blitz regardless, but once the receiver shifts, the safety has the green light. At the snap, the slot receiver comes back in motion for a fake handoff, but this slow-developing play only further seals the fate of the offense. The safety checks the returning receiver for the ball and then powers straight ahead for Milroe. Simultaneously, Proctor got blown by again – this time from someone other than Jackson – and the two collide at the quarterback.

But even as inconsistent as Alabama’s offensive line was in this game when the team needed it the most, Milroe improvised and made a play.

On the Tide’s final possession, they needed to drain the final five minutes off the clock and avoid giving the Razorbacks one more shot at an upset. Facing a third-and-three, Rees put the ball in Milroe’s hands.

Alabama comes out with four receivers, split two-by-two, and the running back to the boundary. Arkansas counters with a seven-man pressure look and the free safety only six yards off the line of scrimmage. Before the snap, Milroe sends his running back in exit-motion to the field and this forces the defense to scramble. When the ball is snapped, the Razorbacks drop eight and only bring three defenders.

Everything in the back end is covered and the front is bending but not breaking. However, getting impatient, Arkansas’s defensive end (No. 7) makes a crucial mistake – he surrenders the edge. The end tries to counter to the inside, Milroe sees it, the end then spins, but it is too late. The secondary comes crashing down in pursuit, but Milroe picks up four yards and the eventual game-ending drive continues.

As it pertains to Michigan: The Wolverines will have one-on-one opportunities against Proctor on the left side and can throw numerous talented rushers at him. Proctor has improved during the season, but starting in the Rose Bowl for a true freshman against this Michigan front is a tall task. Furthermore, edge defenders have to hold the edge. To mitigate the impact of a dynamic athlete of Milroe’s caliber, discipline has to be maintained from whistle to whistle especially on third down.

Game 9 - LSU

Milroe: 20 carries for 155 yards, and four touchdowns (sacked twice; longest rush: 23 yards)

Watching LSU’s defense in this game was a lot like watching Iowa’s offense. The unit refused to adapt to its opponent and the execution was sloppy at best. The Tigers committed to running a ton of man-to-man coverage and refused to adjust no matter how many times Milroe exploited it.

This stubbornness at least partially explains why LSU was the No. 92-ranked rushing defense in college football this season and the worst rushing defense Alabama faced in these six games. Apart from Chattanooga, this was Alabama’s best day on the ground of the season and almost 100 yards better than any other FBS opponent it faced.

LSU’s defensive front is athletic and explosive but is super inconsistent play-to-play and tends to wear down throughout the game. The secondary was done no favors with the amount of man coverage the Tigers deployed and the linebackers played with as much instinct as a house cat in the ocean. Rees must have been salivating when he saw this defense on tape.

Of Milroe’s 20 rush attempts, 10 were by design – the most of any of these games – and the Tide expanded the running menu for their quarterback. In preceding games, we have seen plenty of quarterback counters, zone reads, and draws. But in this game, Rees dialed up those familiar favorites and also mixed in pin-and-pulls, bluff zones, and a more fluent RPO triple-option. Furthermore, this is one of the first games we saw Milroe’s legs utilized consistently outside of the red zone.

This play should look familiar to Michigan fans. The Wolverines have been running variations of bluff plays for the last three seasons. A “bluff” is exactly what it sounds like. Usually, a player comes in motion as a lead blocker, and instead of blocking the first man down the line – typically the edge – he bluffs that block and moves on to the next defender.

The logic is that given their positioning, the edge will not be able to adjust in time and make a play on the ball carrier, so why waste a blocking resource on a player incapable of making a play? Especially, if the edge is a hard-crashing rusher and voluntarily removes himself from the play.

Alabama adds a wrinkle into this concept with a crack-back blocker. Wide receiver Jermaine Burton goes in motion first and aligns tight to the formation at the snap, he is going to seal off the edge defender after the bluff. When the ball is snapped, the H-back bluffs the edge defender and seals off the safety to create an alley along the boundary for Milroe to scamper to the end zone. LSU’s front didn’t even know what hit them.

The Tide loves this concept into the boundary because of the leverage it creates. Throughout the regular season, the vast majority of Milroe’s designed runs were into the boundary to give this young team a schematic blocking advantage. Alabama also took advantage of this defensive matchup to improve some of its favorite concepts that hadn’t clicked yet.

Leading up to this game, Alabama’s counter scheme was clunky. The timing was off, Milroe would get impatient, and most of the time, one of the key blocks was missed. But on this occasion against a bad LSU front, the Tide finally found some success.

Of course, Alabama lines up with a formation into the boundary and is going to run in that direction with Milroe. At the snap, LSU’s backside edge bites on the run-fake and this allows Milroe to evade his pursuit and frees up his pulling guard and tackle to find some work.

The pulling guard immediately seals off the play-side edge and the tackle wipes out the linebacker. From an offensive line standpoint, this was masterful counter-blocking execution. However, the execution on the perimeter left a lot to be desired.

The wide receiver and the tight end both target the same defender and leave the corner unblocked. Furthermore, both of them miss the block on the same defender and he joins the corner in forcing Milroe out after a short gain.

This play stands out as an overwhelming positive regardless of how many yards Milroe gained because the execution on the line looked immensely better.

As it pertains to Michigan: Michigan must be prepared for formations and plays into the boundary. It’s hard to take too much of this and apply it to the Wolverines because of the starkly different defensive philosophies, but it is a reminder that Milroe is capable of single-handedly taking over a game.

Game 12 - Auburn

Milroe: 18 carries for 107 yards (sacked one time; longest rush: 37 yards)

From the opening kick, the Tigers had a decisive game plan for Alabama. Auburn was going to rarely use a quarterback spy and only blitz on occasion. The Tigers never seemed interested in setting a hard edge, and instead, invited Milroe to run.

The Tigers determined that by primarily dropping seven players into coverage and playing zone, they could eliminate the big pass play and mitigate any long scramble attempts from Milroe. For all but two plays, this strategy proved to be a winning formula. However, on those two plays, Auburn allowed a touchdown right before the end of the first half and again at the end of the game to seal defeat.

Rees never had a definitive counter for Auburn’s strategy and – including a backed-up goal line quarterback sneak – there were only four (three of which were high-red zone calls, all into the boundary) designed QB runs called for Milroe. Combined, the four plays resulted in one yard (O-N-E). One run was called into a ten-man box and even for Michigan standards that seems too bold.

Although it emphatically failed, Alabama loves this counter concept and will run it against Michigan. Rees’s favorite designed run with Milroe is zone-read, so he sets up this counter as his play off the play (apologies for split-screen Saban GIF)

Firstly, Milroe moves the tight end close to the line of scrimmage like a H-back. The tight end is going to be the kick-out blocker on this play; however, when the tight end shifts, this brings 10 (!!) Tigers within five yards of the line of scrimmage.

At the snap, Milroe fakes the zone-read, and the running back becomes the lead blocker into the boundary. A cool concept, but Auburn sniffs it out immediately. Auburn’s linebacker plows through the Alabama running back and the corner and safety basically reverse duo-block the tight end before the corner moves to the next level to force a loss of two yards.

But where Milroe did have continued success in this game, was out of structure. This is where he is at his most dangerous. Alabama aligns with its formation into the boundary and Auburn counters with a five-man blitz with a stunt from the field side. The intricacies of the blitz are not important for our purposes, but what is, the looping linebacker loses contain and the defense behind him is playing man-to-man.

Milroe escapes around the blitzing player to his right and sprints down the sideline for a massive 37-yard gain. Auburn’s corner (No. 4 — top of the screen near the 40-yard line) could have limited this gain to ten yards but didn’t want to get his jersey dirty. Guess which corner also gave up the game-winning miracle touchdown?

As it pertains to Michigan: Michigan will not have to worry about half-assed efforts from its secondary, but again, will have to prepare for copious amounts of formations into the boundary. Furthermore, Michigan will mix up coverages during this game and must be disciplined with its pass rush especially when in man-to-man defense. With these formations, Michigan’s linebackers are going to have to be flawless with technique and explosive when disrupting blocks. When times call for man-to-man in the back end, whoever is on the edge must hold the edge. Whether that be a linebacker, defensive tackle, edge, corner, or safety, the Wolverines cannot let Milroe get into the open field while defenders have their backs turned to the line of scrimmage.

Game 2 - Texas

Milroe: 15 carries for 44 yards (sacked five times; longest rush: 20 yards)

This game sent shockwaves throughout the country. Soundbytes of “Alabam’s run is over!” and “Saban has finally lost it!” flooded online as fans of opposing teams rejoiced at the perceived demise of the SEC powerhouse. It wasn’t the beatdown that the media made it out to be – Alabama actually led 16-13 entering the final quarter – but what made the loss alarming was the way the Tide were bullied in the trenches.

Texas entered this contest with an excellent defensive game plan. The Longhorns were committed to taking away Milroe’s top two receiving targets and frequently kept seven to eight defenders in coverage to assist in this goal. Up front, Texas was going to primarily rush four with heavy movement, but would mix in three-man spy looks and the occasional blitz.

Game planning aside, the Longhorns were able to enjoy sustained success rushing Milroe because of their defensive tackles T’Vondre Sweat and Byron Murphy. Georiga tried to carbon-copy this game plan, but did not have the players on the inside this year to execute. This interior disruption threw off Alabama’s entire offensive game plan and Rees struggled to adjust.

Of Milroe’s 15 runs in this game, only two were by design despite averaging 11 yards a piece. A zone-read into the boundary picked up 12 yards and the best-executed quarterback draw I have seen on tape from the Tide picked up 20.

On first and ten, Alabama comes out with four receivers (two-by-two) to spread out the Texas defense and create a light box. Texas has six players in the box and gives a Cover 2-man look pre-snap which is exactly what the Tide wanted. At the snap, Milroe drops back in a passing profile, while Alabama’s center helps double the three-tech to his right before advancing upfield. Simultaneously, the Tide’s running back darts through the A-gap off the center’s hip and once these two are even, Milroe follows them as lead blockers.

The running back and center’s blocking up the field is a little clunky as both pursue the same player, but the play still nets 20 yards and a first down. Against movement-heavy fronts with light boxes, quarterback draw plays can easily set themselves up for big gains.

Although Milore didn’t have his number called as much as he would have liked, the junior was still able to be impactful as a runner even against plays specifically designed to trap him in the pocket. Why was A&M so successful running Lightning? The Longhorns showed the Aggies how to/not to run the blitz effectively. We have looked at Lightning working to perfection; now let’s look at what happens when one of the fundamental principles is broken.

Before the snap, watch Texas react to the receiver in motion: the safety is lined up directly over top of the nickel corner insinuating that a blitz is coming. At the snap, The nickel flies in from the outside, the boundary-side edge and tackle stunt, and both linebackers stay home to spy. Count them up, this is seven players committed to stopping Milroe behind the line of scrimmage, but he still manages to pick up over ten yards and a first down.

How did this happen? All it took was one player not being assignment sound and Milroe made them pay the price. When the nickel blitzes, he must keep contain. Contain, contain, contain! When he rushes, he does a little stutter step to the inside and if he had just attacked the outside shoulder of the back from the start – just a half-yard difference – Milroe is forced into the stunt from the other side for a sack.

As it pertains to Michigan: It is interesting to note that Alabama’s only loss of the season came against a team with elite play from the defensive interior. Texas’s defensive tackles were so disruptive, that Milroe struggled to find holes in the No. 96-ranked passing defense. Interior pressure – especially from a team that specializes in movement (twists/stunts) – is one of the key ingredients in limiting this offense. Milroe isn’t a prolific throw-on-the-move passer, so if Michigan’s dynamic trio of interior rushers can frequently collapse the pocket, Milroe will struggle. Discipline will be integral to the effectiveness of Michigan’s attack and expect Rees to try and exploit the movement-heavy style of the Wolverines.

Game 13 - Georgia

Milroe: 14 carries for 29 yards (sacked four times; longest rush: 30 yards)

Georgia’s game plan was baffling. It centered around primarily rushing three players with two spies and then disguising blitzes off that look. This is one of those game plans that looks clever on paper, but simply put, Georgia played scared of Milroe and that is why the Bulldogs lost.

For the majority of the season, Georgia would play aggressively in the front seven. The Bulldogs’ pass rush was primarily run by four players with very little movement and linebackers would frequently get in on the action with five, six, or even seven-man pressures. This was a team that would rely on physicality to win at the point of attack and stifle opponents. But against Alabama, Georiga got away from its identity.

Seeing that stunts and twists worked so well on tape against the Tide, Georgia implemented a few of its own. But being a team that hadn’t run many twists or stunts this season, when they did against Alabama, their rushes and blitzes were clunky, slow-developing, and largely ineffective. Furthermore, with these newly introduced spy-heavy looks, Georgia became more susceptible in the flat to shorter throws than it had been all season.

To further fuel Georgia’s demise, Rees called the game of his life. All season, OF COURSE, when Alabama lines up on the hash or with a formation into the boundary, Milroe is likely pulling the ball and taking off to the short side. Milroe has rarely run to the field side all season. Georgia knew this and Rees knew this, so what did he do? Rees broke all of his tendencies and drew up seven designed runs with five of them into the field – the other two were a quarterback sneak and a fake toss quarterback draw.

After struggling on their first two possessions, the Tide went to work with this schematical change in philosophy that would perplex the Georgia defense for the rest of the game.

Lined up on the left hash, Alabama shifts into a bunch formation pre-snap and everything about this alignment is signaling to Georgia that this play is going into the boundary. At the snap, Milroe and Alabama sell run HARD to the boundary. Watch the right guard pull and watch the H-back go in return motion. Both Georgia linebackers see this action and drastically overreact to this movement. The linebackers are almost to the numbers on the boundary side when they realize they have been deceived

Instead of handing the ball, Milroe keeps and darts to the field side with the H-back and a pulling center as his lead blockers. The H-back really doesn’t get involved down the field, but the center helps create a small lane for Milroe to pick up nine yards. Up until this point in the game, Alabama had four yards of total offense across two possessions. Seeing that tendency breakers were going to yield good results and build confidence, Rees began to dictate the game.

However, Georgia head coach Kirby Smart is too intelligent to go down without a fight. Down 10 early in the fourth quarter, Smart got the Bulldogs back to their identity.

Desperately needing a stop, Georgia dials up a standard four-man pressure with both linebackers serving as spies, and the secondary playing a modified Cover 4. THIS is what fans have come to know as Georgia’s defense and it works to perfection.

At first glance, nothing special jumps out about this play. But as the rush unfolds across the defensive line, watch both linebackers take away the running lanes one at a time. Once both of those doors are shut, Milroe wants to escape the pocket, but the Georgia defensive end does a masterful job setting a hard edge and making the play when it presents itself.

This play is the perfect example of every player simply doing their one assignment, Getting back to their fundamentals helped the Bulldogs cut this game to three twice in the final quarter, but Rees was holding the best play call of the season in his back pocket to close the show.

This is an outstanding play call and even better execution by Milroe. Needing a first down to win the game, Rees got aggressive and put the ball in Milore’s hands to ice it. The Tide came out in 12-personnel and shifted the formation’s strength to the field. Alabam had run a few tosses and outside runs in this game so Georgia was prepared for those as well as another Milroe run into the field.

To create some misdirection, Alabama shifts a receiver and snaps the ball as he is tracking across the formation. The lone H-back on the weak side of the formation moves as soon as the ball is snapped, but Georgia handles the look fairly well. Milroe fakes the toss and wants to cut this ball off the hip of the H-back. However, Georgia blew up where the play was designed and Milroe had to improvise. The Bulldogs were able to shut down this original play so quickly because of heavy pursuit from the linebackers and safeties, but in doing so, left the middle of the line of scrimmage wide open.

Milroe sprinted through the parting Red Sea for nine yards and sealed the victory for Alabama.

As it pertains to Michigan: Michigan should view this game as the ultimate lesson against over-pursuit and betting on tendencies. The Tide were saving a lot for this game and that should better prepare the Wolverines for a complete attack in the Rose Bowl. But most importantly, this game proves that a defense cannot play scared of Milroe. Georgia was more or less content to sit back and let him sling 50/50 balls from the pocket, but that strategy has not worked for anyone this season. Moreover, this strategy allowed Rees to dictate terms on the field and while he is not the most seasoned play-caller, he does recognize he has a chess piece at the quarterback position and how to checkmate opponents.

Overall Takeaways

Jalen Milroe is a dynamic, flawed, exciting, frustrating, tough, perplexing, gamer of a quarterback. None of these games ever felt out of reach, but no game is also felt in hand. An interesting note, all six of these games were within one possession in the fourth quarter, and for better or worse, that was because of Milroe.

After watching these six games, I feel I have a better grasp on who he is as a player, but still, what makes players of Milroe’s caliber so captivating is the unknown of what he could do next. Whether that be throwing an 80-yard touchdown or taking a 30-yard sack – the Milroe experience is not for those of the faint of heart.

We are already around 5,000 words, so let me sum up a few final thoughts – that may or may not have been touched on already – to keep in mind during the Rose Bowl:

  • Alabama is one of the most penalized teams in the country pre-snap. Proctor at left tackle is one of the single-most penalized, but also keep an eye on the center, Seth McLaughlin, who has been flagged for an illegal snap in multiple games. McLaughlin will also have several bad snaps during this game. One of Milroe’s unsung strengths is his ability to maintain timing or make a play after a bad snap. Especially against physical fronts with movement, McLaughlin will fire a few bad missiles in this game.
  • This offensive line took a jump when Jaeden Roberts replaced Darrian Dalcourt at right guard. One subtle reason why Alabama started running to the field more against Georgia was scheme, but also to run behind the strongest part of its offensive line.
  • If Milroe sits in the pocket clean he will make plays. His intermediate game leaves a lot to be desired and his deep ball isn’t the most accurate, but he is exceptional at giving his receivers a chance to make a play, and the receivers are excellent at working back for their quarterback. Milroe will spread the ball around, but his two favorite targets by far are Jermaine Burton and Isaiah Bond. Bond and Burton excel at exploiting zones, coming down with contested catches, and stretching the field. If Michigan takes away the big play and forces Alabama to methodically march down the field, the receivers will struggle.
  • For designed runs, Milroe’s favorites are zone-read, counter, and the triple-option with a line route. Against Michigan, the counters will probably be slowed by interior penetration, but expect several triple-options and quarterback draws. The right draw against a movement front could pay dividends for Alabama —see Penn State. What’s more, although Alabama has shown a willingness to run to the field and call designed runs at different spots on the field, the Tide will favor these play calls more in the high-red and to the boundary because of the leverage advantages.
  • When pressured, Milroe can throw on the run to his right, but it is not a strength. Occasionally, Milroe will run, reset, and then throw, but he is not a quarterback who likes to throw on the move. Furthermore, not counting line routes in the modernized triple-option, Milroe will not throw while rolling to his left. I charted two throws during these six games and one was an incompletion of impressive proportion. Keeping this in mind, expect Michigan to continually blitz from his throwing side and force him to his left.
  • When blitzing from Milroe’s right, Michigan will run variations of Lightning and Cowboy (boundary corner blitz), but the strength of Michigan’s attack will be from the interior and their propensity for movement. No quarterback likes pressure in his face and if Michigan can consistently win in the A gaps – straight-up or with twists – Milroe will struggle.
  • For Michigan’s edges, discipline is the top priority. Whether that be setting the edge, twisting and stunting on the inside, or blowing up the field to force Milroe off his spot, assignment-sound football and a lack of freelancing could be a major difference in this game.

There is no one, singular blanket coverage or concept to beat Milroe, Rees, and Saban. It will be a 60-minute chess match of physicality, nuance, and schematic adjustments. In 12 days, the next chapter of the enigmatic Milroe will be written in the Rose Bowl. Milroe could bring the fireworks to Pasadena, but he’s going to have to survive the thunder and lightning first.