Michigan vs. Alabama CFP prediction: Wolverines will put heat on Jalen Milroe
The blueprint to success is fairly black and white for Michigan when it challenges Alabama in the Rose Bowl on New Years Day for the first ticket to the College Football Playoff championship.
You could say the Crimson Tide are playing with house money with the early season loss to Texas and having squeaked by in several one-possession games.
The trajectory of Alabamas season has been parallel with Jalen Milroes rapid evolution. The sophomore has proved he is college footballs most dangerous deep-ball passer. Milroe logged 40-plus yard passes in 10 of his starts this season and boosted Alabama to 5.8 explosive plays of 20-or-more yards per game.
He has been perfect on all of his throws of over 20 yards this year.
Thats all aside from notching an average of 39 scrimmage yards and 2 total rushing touchdowns. Milroes scrambling ability makes him a dual threat that Michigan can muzzle by eliminating explosive plays and keeping him contained in the pocket.
The silver lining here is that Milroe has exposed his vulnerability when being forced to throw in intermediate ranges. He threw seven turnover-worthy plays on 62 attempts of 10-19 yards.
Theres no doubt Michigan will be able to put him under duress; it ranks No. 4 overall in total pressures and No. 13 in sack percentage.
If the Wolverines can sustain this pressure, Milroe will be susceptible to turnovers. The Wolverines have forced 13 fumbles and are the single best program in turnover margin.
Alabamas offensive line also has been a liability, surrendering 3.5 sacks per game, which is the 11th most in college football.
Heres the thing: This offense isnt equipped with premium talent.
Jase McClellan is set to return to the Alabama backfield after missing the SEC Championship due to a foot injury hes nursed all season long. The lead Crimson Tide running back has been Milroes best insurance policy on the ground, accounting for six rushing scores and leading the team with a tempo of 66.9 scrimmage yards.
J.J. McCarthy will face Alabama in the CFP semifinals Monday. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters ConHis absence didnt disrupt Alabamas run game against Georgia. It still out-rushed the Bulldogs eruptive run game by 36 yards on 10 more attempts, but Alabamas victory was by way of a sum greater than its parts.
The Wolverines are one of the best defenses against the run in the country. They limited Iowa to 35 total scrimmage yards in the Big Ten Championship and have kept their opponents to 87.1 all season.
The 30-day rest window also benefited the Wolverines backfield as Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards gained full health. The two have been a dynamic one-two punch, tacking on over 100 yards on the ground all season long.
Alabamas talented defense has compensated for any offensie inconsistencies this season.
A lot is going to hinge on what J.J. McCarthy is capable of in terms of moving outside of the pocket. He has scrambled considerably less this season and he hasnt thrown for over 150 yards in his past four games to boot.
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Michigan has had some issues with pass protection, so the lean on the run game is inevitable. I expect to see an improvement from the offensive line after the rest period, with McCarthy poised to display a dynamic performance.
Whether that prophecy comes to life or not, Michigan is still an offense designed to beat Alabama. They avoid running outside zone plays and keep things on the inside with their running backs.
This is primed to be a slow-paced game with both teams leaning on their defensive prowess, but the edge goes to Michigans acumen in the turnover department.
History seems to be playing a role in the public opinion here with Alabamas fresh conquest of Georgia, Jim Harbaughs recent misfortunes in the College Football Playoff and skepticism in Michigans strength of schedule.
None of that should bear any weight from a tactical standpoint as Michigan shakes the monkey of its back on Monday.
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