Game Of The Week: #8 Michigan Wolverines vs. #2 Alabama Crimson Tide
It’s here! It’s here! College football is here! WOOOOOOO-HOOOOOOOO!
Ahem. Opening weekend often means more lopsided matchups than not, and this year is no exception. Among the skipable games on the docket this weekend are Georgia-Buffalo, LSU-North Texas, and Oregon-Arkansas State. However, the College Football Gods have smiled and bestowed upon us the gift of Michigan-Alabama, played in Dallas. The game will be on ABC Saturday night at 8 EST.
Michigan’s Running Game: 1,000-yard rusher Fitz Toussaint’s status for Saturday is still uncertain. He pled guilty to drunk driving on Tuesday and will be sentenced in October. Coach Brady Hoke suspended Toussaint after his arrest last month. Should Toussaint remain sidelined, senior Vincent Smith will start, assisted by sophomore Thomas Rawls. The Wolverines ranked 13th in the country last year with an average of 221.8 rushing yards per game. Much of that came not from Toussaint or Smith, but from QB Denard Robinson, the team’s leading rusher with 1,176 yards. At times, Alabama will likely use some type of spy or robber package on Robinson, who is not only nimble but ridiculously fast. The best bet for the Tide will be to keep Robinson in the pocket. One thing that could work in their favor is Keep in mind that Alabama is only returning four defensive starters; Michigan will be looking for ways to exploit that inexperience.
Michigan’s Passing Game: The Wolverines averaged 182.8 yards per game in 2011, just 93rd-best in the nation. To add insult to injury, leading receiver Junior Hemingway (699 yards, 4 TDs), WR Martavious Odoms (7 receptions for 131 yards and 3 TDs), and TE Kevin Koger (23 receptions, 244 yards, 4 TDs) have all departed Ann Arbor. Senior Roy Roundtree and junior Jeremy Gallon will likely be Robinson’s favorite targets. It remains to be seen how Robinson’s mechanics and accuracy have improved. His completion percentage last year was a paltry 55%, and his ratio of 20 TDs to 15 INTs was less than stellar as well. Should Robinson continue to make poor decisions and throw off his back foot, Alabama’s secondary will take advantage.
Michigan’s Defense: DT Mike Martin, a 3rd-round draft pick, will be missed from a front four lacking experience. (All three starting linebackers and three of the four starting DBs return). In 2011, Michigan ranked sixth in the nation in scoring defense, and may be able to exploit a fairly inexperienced receiving core on the part of Alabama. Watch for sophomore CB Blake Countess, who emerged as a more than capable starter late last season as a true freshman.
Michigan’s Special Teams: Kicker Brendan Gibbons went an acceptable 13-of-17 on field goals last season. It’s safe to assume the Wolverines would like that success rate to be a bit higher. Matt Wile appears to have beaten out Will Hagerup as the punter. Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo were above-average last season as the primary kick and punt returners.
Alabama’s Runing Game: Trent Richardson may have taken his 1,679 rushing yards to the NFL, but his former backup Eddie Lacy should be ready to take over. Lacy rushed for 674 yards and 7 TDs last season. He’ll be spelled by freshman T.J. Yeldon, who reportedly had a big spring game, and bruiser Jalston Fowler. The Tide return four offensive line starters from last season, so the holes should be there, particularly against Michigan’s inexperienced front four.
Alabama’s Passing Game: Junior QB A.J. McCarron returns to build his gaudy number from 2011, which include a completion percentage of 66.8%, a TD-INT ratio of 16-5, and 2,634 passing yards. Favorite target Marquis Maze is gone, but the Tide have four capable wideouts from whom at least one star should emerge. However, if history is a guide, the Tide will lean heavily on the run in this game. Last year, they averaged about 50 rushing yards more per game on the road as opposed to at home, and nearly 75 more rushing yards than passing yards in road games.
Alabama’s Defense: Just one of last year’s starters remains in the secondary. If Denard Robinson’s accuracy has improved the way his coaches claim, that inexperience is something the Wolverines could try to exploit. Senior MLB Nico Johnson, who led the Tide in tackles last year with 47, is surrounded by sophomores at the other linebacker positions. Senior DE Damion Square and senior NG Jesse Williams return to anchor the defensive line. Note that no Alabama player had more than 2 sacks last year.
Alabama’s Special Teams: Punter Cody Mandell averaged 39.3 yards per punt last year, a number that the coaches would no doubt like to see improve. Kicker Jeremy Shelley is better from short range, so the Tide use a another kicker, Cade Foster, for long kicks. However, Foster was just 2-of-9 last year on kicks from 40 or more. A high school kicker was signed to provide competition but isn’t currently listed on the depth chart. Talented return man Marquis Maze is gone and will need to be replaced.
Overview: This will be a far closer game than it would have been a year ago. I think Alabama will struggle to contain Robinson, but ultimately the Alabama offense will prevail over the Michigan defense. Alabama 31, Michigan 27