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Michigan vs. Alabama: Scouting reports, QB battle, predictions, and more

How does the Tide stack up against the #1 team in the country?

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

The Rose Bowl is just around the corner, and there are plenty of opinions being thrown around out there. The Crimson Tide enters the game as a 4-seed that slipped into the back end of the playoff, while Michigan was the most consistently dominant team in college football.

Of course, dominant against the likes of Purdue, Maryland, Minnesota, and Indiana is a bit different from what Alabama faced on a week to week basis. The Wolverines essentially had a 2-game season against Penn State and Ohio State - and while they certainly passed both of those tests, they’re still far from a known team.

For Alabama, the Crimson Tide is both more known and more uncertain as a team. Alabama has played against some of the top teams in the country throughout the season, taking down the country’s best offense in LSU, the 2-time national champion and wire-to-wire #1 team in Georgia, the most talented team (in terms of recruiting numbers) in Texas A&M, another playoff team in Texas, and three more upper tier teams in Ole Miss, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Even Alabama’s out-of-conference “easy” game was a USF team that has really overachieved this year. So while we’ve seen Alabama against the best of the best competition all season, we’ve also seen extremely bipolar play from them and a whole lot of uncomfortably close games.

The QB Battle

As always, the matchup between QBs is going to hog the airwaves. Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy. The second-year starter has completed a staggering 74% of his passes this season, though at a fairly low 12 yards per completion. He’s spent the entire season getting the ball out fast and letting his wide receivers get yards after catch quickly. McCarthy was on pace for some Heisman runner-up level stats for the first chunk of the season, but he didn’t top 150 passing yards in each of his last 4 games. While not generally known as a running QB, he racked up over 300 yards last year before cutting down the scrambling this season. He’s definitely got the quicks to pick up a 3rd down with his legs when needed.

For Alabama, Jalen Milroe is pretty much the opposite. The uber-athletic QB was an absolute disaster early in the season before seeming to flip a switch in the 2nd half of the Tennessee game. He’s one of, if not THE, best deep ball thrower in the country:

At nearly 16 yards per completion and only 6 interceptions (and only 1 since the end of October), Milroe has been deadly efficient while targeting deep down the field. On top of that, He’s got nearly 500 rushing yards with 12 touchdowns on the ground.

Where McCarthy gets the ball out fast at a high completion rate, Milroe is a big play waiting to happen on every given snap - but also prone to bad sacks.

Michigan Scouting Report

Defensively, the Wolverines boast one of the best scoring defenses of all time. At only 9.5 points per game, this beats Alabama’s 2011 defense in raw scoring numbers. They only twice allowed over 20 points - vs Maryland and Ohio State in back to back games to end the regular season.

While the Wolverines lack major star players on defense (DL Kris Jenkins is a 3rd team All-American, and CB Mike Sainristill is a 2nd teamer), they’ve made up for it with incredible consistency all season long (almost every single starter was a 2nd or 3rd team All-Big 10 player).

They didn’t get a whole lot of sacks as a team, but senior edge rusher Jaylen Harrell is the ring leader with 6.5 sacks. In the secondary, Sainristill is a former wide receiver playing nickel back that leads the team with 5 interceptions as a highly active and athletic difference maker.

On offense, the Wolverines are an interesting squad. Their top RB, Blake Corum, has 1028 yards on a rather pedestrian 4.7 yards per carry, while his backup, Donovan Edwards, has only 3.5 yards per carry. For a team supposedly built on running the ball, they haven’t been the most impressive rushing team.

Their passing offense has been efficient, and 3 different receivers have over 500 yards (Roman Wilson, Cornelius Johnson, and Colston Loveland), but, again, McCarthy’s numbers don’t really stand out other than the high completion percentage. Despite all of that, though, they’re 14th in the country in scoring at 37 points per game. It’s not a pretty or flashy offense, but it’s scored all the points that it’s needed to score.

Predicitons

As always, we could hedge our way through this section with plenty of caveats: What Alabama team shows up? The one that manhandled Georgia, or the one that nearly lost to Auburn? Will Michigan falter as soon as they face their second real team of the season?

Here are predictions from some of your RBR Staff:

Erik: 34-10 Bama. “It is a sport of matchups, and that just happens to be the worst possible one for Michigan - the other terrible one is the team that Alabama just eliminated. Georgia would destroy them too.”

Roger: 35-17 Bama

BamaBrave4: 31-13 Bama. “Either Alabama is going to run them off the field or the Wolverines have actually finally broken through and win a tight one 20-17. There is no inbetween. To me, I’ll have to see it to believe it. Saban with extended time to prepare + significant talent gap = 31-13 Bama”

Brent: Like the others, I’m going with a comfortable victory for Alabama. The Wolverines just don’t do anything specific at an elite level, and they’ve feasted on a schedule of 8 teams with worse offenses than Vanderbilt. Alabama’s offense will stop itself a few times with some dumb moments, but it’s ultimately a comfortable win. 33-14 Alabama.