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Rose Bowl Preview: When the Michigan Wolverines have the ball

How does the Alabama defense matchup with Michigan’s offense?

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Michigan offense is a bit of an interesting one. On one hand, their 36.7 points per game is good for 12th in the country, they feature a QB with a ridiculously high completion %, and their running back was one of the best in the country last season. And early this year, they looked like an absolute juggernaught through the air, as QB J.J. McCarthy looked like a Heisman favorite early on.

The last four weeks, though? The offense cratered. Against Penn State, they just gave up trying to pass, gaining only 60 yards through the air, but ran mercilessly on the Lions for 220 rushing yards. The Wolverines didn’t top 150 passing yards in any of their next three games against Maryland, Ohio State, and Iowa, and their rushing game wasn’t too much better, never averaging higher than a 4.0 yards per carry.

The Jim Harbaugh offense isn’t a particularly flashy one, but it is a tried-and-true pro-style scheme. Zone runs, full-progression passing reads, and heavy on the pure play actions, it looks a lot like a more modern, shotgun-based version of what Alabama ran all the time back before Lane Kiffin changed things up.

McCarthy heads the offense as a 2-year starter and has 2630 passing yards at a 74% completion rate and 9.2 yards per attempt, plus 19 TDs to only 4 interceptions. They aren’t huge standout numbers, but the mistakes are minimal, and he’s kept the offense moving and scoring. Early in the season, McCarthy did a good bit of ad-lib scrambles and made some noise by hitting receivers about 18-25 yards down field as they got open on the scrambles, and he made a lot of tight window throws down the seams when defenders would turn their backs.

As the season progressed though, McCarthy seemed to shrink back from that, and most of what he’s done has been stuck to quick zone beaters to his TEs and quick outs.

As a runner, McCarthy is quick and slippery. He’s somewhere between above-average to good as a scrambler. He’s only got 240 yards rushing this season, but that’s been due to a concerted effort to not rely on it as much, as he had over 500 last season. If anything, that mostly untapped offensive weapon might be what worries me more than anything else for Alabama’s defense.

At wide receiver, Roman Wilson is a better receiver than his total volume would indicate. He’s got exceptional hands and concentration in traffic to go along with good athleticism and route-running. He’s got the bulk of the redzone work, and leads the team with 11 receiving touchdowns. On the other side, Cornelius Johnson is a decent enough wingman. he doesn’t seem particularly special at anything, but neither is he going to blow a game.

The Wolverines generally run 2 TEs rather than 3 WR. Colston Loveland is a big receiving threat with nearly 600 yards. He’s got a long, loping stride and excels at making catches in traffic, particularly on those quick 6-yard curls just outside of a linebacker.

The Michigan rushing game is supposed to be their bread and butter. Blake Corum had over 1500 rushing yards last season and was an early favorite to be the top RB in the country this year. He’s gotten the same volume and has still been effective between the tackles, but has struggled to break big plays this year. He’s got a shade over 1000 yards this season, but at only 4.7 yards per carry. Corum is smaller guy with tremendous shiftiness and the toughness to break arm tackles and push his way forward when needed.

In a lot of ways, this looks to be a bad matchup for the Wolverines. Alabama’s defense had done really well vs. power rushing teams with DL Tim Keenan and Jaheim Oatis generally being guys that win the interior. Meanwhile, the Tide’s cornerback group should overwhelm the Michigan short passing game, particularly with Terrion Arnold’s and Malachi Moore’s ability to blow up wide receiver screens and other quick stuff to the flats.

Where Alabama’s defense has shown cracks this season is when opposing QBs can target Jaylen Key or Moore going deep and to the corners with faster WRs, rushing off tackle, or the QB runs. For the most part, Michigan’s offense has not really shown any of that so far. Does that mean they can’t try to attack it? Of course not. McCarthy will likely be ready to run more than he has all season, and if he gets back into the scramble mode that we saw from him the first 3 weeks of the season, they can absolutely score on Alabama’s defense.

But if the Wolverines play like they have the last 13 of the season, it’s going to be a bloodbath.

I’ll split the difference and say 20 points for the big M.