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Rose Bowl Preview: When the Crimson Tide has the ball

Just how good is Michigan's defense?

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star Grace Hollars/IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK

Coach Jim Harbaugh and his DC, Kevin Minter, have put together a defense that is allowing an absurdly low 9.5 points per game. It's the first time since 2011 that a defense has been in the single digits, when Alabama's historic squad went on to win a National Championship, and that was in a different era of college football. Of course, the season has not quite yet been written, and Alabama of 2023 has a chance to preserve the streak from 12 years prior by putting up enough points to push Michigan's average up.

Only twice have the Wolverines given up more than 15 points this season: to Ohio State and Maryland. And even then, it was only 24 in each contest. Stat-wise, there are no real holes to pick in the Wolverine defense, unless you want to quibble about a lack of sacks (which is a whole thing that Alabama fans from the 2008-2014 era remember well). The strength of opposing offenses can be debated (fairly), but there's absolutely no doubt that Michigan has been about as dominant as physically possible in almost every game they've played.

Minter runs a pure base 3-4 very similar to what Saban and Kirby Smart used to run in the earlier days at Alabama, and still similar to what Harbaugh ran at the 49ers. They try to stick with 3 base defensive tackles to mush up the entire OL and let their LBs swarm to make plays from there. On passing downs, they follow suit with most of college football and will swap to a 2-4 front.

The Wolverines tend to stick to a lot of cover-2 and cover-4 zones that keep safeties over the top and allow the linebackers to attack downhill. Though they are versatile enough to swap to man or go single-high at times. In short- they have a full playbook of coverages to use.

Blitz wise, they definitely love to load up the line and send heavy blitzes on passing downs.

DTs Mason Graham and Kris Jenkins are both All-American level players up the middle, and Kenneth Grant and Rayshaun Benny are impressively large and fluid guys in their own right. In my opinion, the Wolverine's defense starts and ends with the effectiveness of these guys, as the chaos and muddlement they cause allow all of the other players to clean things up.

Outside linebacker Jaylen Harrell is the main pass rusher, and he leads the team with 6.5 sacks, while inside backers Junior Colson and Michael Barrett are the main tackle leaders.

In the secondary, cornerback Mike Sarinstill is the name to know as a undersized but super-sticky corner with 5 interceptions on the season.


On the surface, it would be fair to wander how Alabama could attack a defense with no visible flaws. While, again, the strength of opponents conversation is still a relevant point we can only see what we've seen, and to this point, the only thing Michigan has shown through 13 games is utter dominance - outside of one small thing: the QB run.

Taulia Tagovailoa tore them up for their worst performance of the year, and the former Tide QB is only a 4.91s forty runner. Other QBs have also picked up yards with their legs on UM, especially on 3rd downs. And it just so happens that Alabama has the second most explosive rushing QB in the country in Jalen Milroe.

That alone could make all the difference and break the Michigan defense... Or it might just be the only thing that even kind of works and they shut down the Tide like they have everyone else. It's hard to tell.

I don't think Alabama will have much success on the ground with the running backs in this one, so things will fall to Milroe. As long as he can keep things moving with his legs enough to keep them from going all-out with the blitzes and soft zones, he can absolutely find passing yards on them.

I am leaning towards the latter, with UM's defense finding out they haven't quite seen a passing game (or QB rusher) quite like what Alabama has. 28 points for the Tide.