Well, another season is in the books, and Alabama will have to settle for the SEC Championship, as a College Football Playoff title wasn’t in the cards. An opportunity to play for one was in their grasp, but they just couldn’t close the deal.
Much has been said about Alabama’s offense in the game. As usual following a loss, coaches are getting fired online, players are being told to transfer out because the dumb coaching staff won’t bench them, etc. What I haven’t seen discussed is that Michigan held Alabama to 20 points by doing the one thing that nobody on the schedule has been able to do to the Tide this year: completely eliminate the deep shot. And they did it with pressure, knowing that their secondary defenders might not quite have the speed to run with Jermaine Burton and Isaiah Bond.
Even without the deep ball that has been the lifeblood of this Alabama offense all season, and the putrid snapping from Seth McLaughlin that will go down in infamy, the Tide held a 20-13 lead late before ultimately folding. As usual in a close game, the outcome turned on a few plays. This one in particular sticks in my craw.
Kool Aid, man, where are you going?
That play reminds of Vinnie Sunseri leaving his man in the end zone when Johnny Manziel juggled the football. McKinstry had passed his man off and had proper depth to pick that thing off. Why he decided to run toward the line of scrimmage is just going to have to be one of life’s great mysteries.
The muffed punt will be seen as a gift from Michigan, and it was, but all that did was offset the Caleb Downs interception with a heel on the sideline a few plays prior. Caleb just missing that pick was a microcosm of the game, especially combined with Michigan WR Cornelius Johnson managing to touch a couple of blades of grass with his toe while falling out of bounds on third and long.
Another critical play in the game was the busted coverage on 4th and 2 that allowed Blake Corum to get loose and extend the last chance drive. Contrast that with Alabama failing on their own critical 4th down attempt in overtime. Michigan made more of the little plays than Alabama did, and that was the difference in the ballgame.
But again, those little plays only mattered because Michigan managed to take away Alabama’s bread and butter, which is throwing the ball down the field. One single 40 yard pass play probably changes the outcome, but Michigan pitched a complete shutout in that department.
On the other side of the ball, it was evident that Michigan wanted nothing to do with Alabama’s pass rush or secondary. Their early gameplan was rife with rolling pockets and short passes, with the backs and tight ends heavily involved. Unfortunately, Alabama’s linebackers looked quite confused for most of the first half and then again on the final drive. What transpired throughout the second half to get to that point is anyone’s guess, because it sure looked like Alabama’s defense was going to close it out.
Alas, they could not.
The offensive line had a rough go of it in pass pro, but they were able to run the ball quite effectively. Jase McClellan and Justice Haynes, who apparently vaulted all the way to second on the depth chart, combined for 118 yards on 18 carries. Haynes seems to have an extra gear but was sporting a big brace on his elbow, so perhaps that was the reason that he has struggled to get on the field. We learned after the game that Kadyn Proctor was playing with a torn ligament in his ankle, which explains why Elijah Pritchett was seen running first in warmups.
The final play in overtime is going to be analyzed to death, which to me is overkill because Alabama had so many opportunities to win the game in regulation. I actually thought it was a good call. Many folks were calling for a rollout with a pass option for Milroe, but Michigan had sent Mike Sanrustil on a corner blitz specifically looking for that. Running Milroe underneath him was the right play, and they even had Jaeden Roberts pulling to lead the way.
Some speculated that the play was a RPO, but on the rewatch I don’t believe it was. Roydell Williams was sent out to pull another defender. With a good snap and proper execution, Milroe would have looked at Williams and perhaps given a little ball fake before tucking the ball and following Roberts off tackle. In fact, it looks like a walk-in on replay, with proper execution. Unfortunately, this was just another example of Alabama not doing the little things to win a close game.
The worst part is that I believe that Alabama matches up quite well with Washington. Their defense is of a quality that Milroe has managed to torch all season, and if any team has the dudes at corner to match up with their wide receivers, it’s this Alabama team.
If there is one dude on the roster who did everything he possibly could to win the damn game, it was Will Reichard. We are going to miss that man dearly. Hopefully he will catch on with some NFL team and have himself a long career. James Burnip had one hell of a game, too.
Sadly, it wasn’t quite enough. Those who return will have an entire offseason to think about what happened in this game. If they channel it the right way, there are the horses on the roster to put themselves in position to have another shot at it next season. Hope for the best.