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The Wolverine Den GameDay – Michigan v. Alabama

August 31, 2012

          


September 1st, 2012 – 8:00pm

Dallas, TX

Quote That Most Represents This Game

“This is our life, this is our song

We’ll fight a 1000 legions

Don’t pick our destiny ’cause

You don’t know us, you don’t belong

– Twisted Sister, song “We’re Not Gonna Take It”

Names To Know

1. Eddie Lacy (RB #42) – The last two Crimson Tide running backs were a Heisman winner, Mark Ingram, and a Heisman finalist and top-5 overall NFL pick, Trent Richardson. This year they reload the position with Eddie Lacy, a 6-0, 220-pound junior from Louisiana. Even though he played behind Richardson, he still has managed to gain 1080 yards for his career on just 151 carries (7.2 ypc), including 13 touchdowns. We’ll get to a discussion about the Alabama O-line later, but expect to see a lot of carries for Lacy even though he’s been limited in practice due to some lingering injuries.

2. C.J. Mosley (LB #32) – Alabama lost a lot of defensive firepower to the NFL last season and included in that was linebacker Courtney Upshaw who led the team with 9.5 sacks. Mosley might not even end up starting, but is the Crimson Tide’s most successful returning pass rusher, so he will be one to watch to see how much he can get in the backfield to challenge Denard.

3. Dee Milliner (CB #28) – As with the linebacker position, the top two players from Alabama’s secondary last season left for the NFL, first round picks Mark Barron (S) and Dre Kirkpatrick (CB). Milliner is the next in line to be a first round pick, having great size at corner (6-1, 200lbs) to go with great athleticism. He will need to step up and be the lockdown player they expect him to be in order to fully execute Nick Saban and Kirby Smart’s defense.

Offensive Strength

There is a good chance you could find at least a few NFL teams that would be willing to trade their offensive line for Alabama’s straight up. They have the best lineman in college football, Barrett Jones, who has won awards as a top offensive tackle 2 years ago, top offensive guard last year, and is now playing Center and primed to be in contention to win the Rimington as the nation’s top center. The rest of the line is filled with behemoths averaging 6-5, 315lbs, and then they also throw in a 6-6, 270-pound TE to give them ~1900 pounds of blockers for the run game. Michigan needs to move the ball on offense so their defensive line gets enough rest to battle this talented o-line for 4 quarters.

Offensive Weakness

In the BCS National Championship game last year, Alabama threw the ball all over the field on a tough LSU defense. The good news for Michigan, though, is that their top-4 pass catchers (Marquis Maze, Brad Smelley, Trent Richardson, and Darius Hanks) all graduated or left for the NFL after last season. They have recruited top talent as replacements, but their inexperience could be a factor with this being the first game of the season. Michigan’s strength is their secondary, and they will need to shut down the passing attack to free up the linebackers to help in the run game.

Defensive Strength

There isn’t a single unit/player I will call out in this section, and will instead say the strength of the Alabama defense is Nick Saban and Kirby Smart. Those two are great defensive coaches who recruit top defensive players. They execute an NFL defense with multiple coverages, disguised blitzes, and disciplined players who know their assignments. There is a reason they had 6 of the 11 starters taken in the NFL draft last year, with 4 of them being taken in the top 35 picks.

Defensive Weakness

You often hear that teams like Alabama don’t rebuild, they reload. This is absolutely true with the way they have recruited in recent years, but the one thing to remember is that nothing reloads instantaneously. It may take milliseconds, minutes, days, or weeks, but there is always at least a brief period of time when you are exposed and at risk. Michigan will get to find out how long that window is open with Alabama reloading over 50% of their starting defense, including 75% of their secondary.

My Game Expectations

If you’ve turned on any form of college football discussion on TV, radio, or the internet for the last four weeks, is has basically been 1000 legions of media that feel sorry for Michigan. “Michigan has no chance.” “Alabama is going to pound Michigan.” “Its going to be an embarrassment.” “Denard Robinson will fall out of the Heisman discussion by 9:00pm Saturday night.” The theme even continues in Vegas where the line on the game is Alabama -14, yet the most bets are still being placed for Alabama to cover (outside of Floyd Mayweather’s rumored $3million bet for Michigan to cover). The closest thing somebody has said giving Michigan a chance in this game was Bruce Feldman on CBS Sports saying they *MIGHT* be able to keep it within 3 points for awhile.

One thing I know for sure is that the Michigan coaches and players are not going to let the media pick their destiny for this season. Alabama lost a ton of talent and spent the summer with people patting them on the back how they have a cakewalk back to the championship. Michigan spent the summer with people saying they got lucky last year, should have lost more games, are looking at an 8-4 season at best, and still aren’t the best team in the state. To say this team has had motivation for the last 7 months to work harder than they ever have would be a major understatement. It’s not often a team coming off a BCS bowl win can have a chip on their shoulder, but that’s the situation Michigan is in heading into this weekend.

On offense, Michigan needs to open up the playbook more than they did at any point last year. They aren’t ready to beat a team like Alabama with shear strength and power, but they do have the ability to exploit the inexperience in the Crimson Tide defense by mixing things up with the most dynamic QB in college football. In 2011, Georgia Southern was able to run for 300 yards on the Alabama defense, and even if that was against a 2nd team defense, it’s mostly the same unit that would be the starting defense for this game. Alabama does not get a lot of pressure on the quarterback and they are going to execute what Michigan State did last season, getting their ends upfield quickly and forcing Denard to stay in the pocket or scramble into the heart of the defense. Al Borges has had a lot of time to scheme against this defensive gameplan, and I’m excited to see what he came up with.

The word of the day for the defensive line is going to be “rotation.” Michigan lost talent and experience on the defensive line when Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen graduated. To make up for that loss in this game they need to replace it with size and a lot of rotation to keep guys fresh. Quinton Washington (6-4, 300lbs), Richard Ash (6-3, 300lbs), and Ondre Pipkins (6-3, 340lbs) and Will Campbell (6-5, 310lbs) are going to need to stand their ground in the middle of the field and not allow major running lanes up the gut. Craig Roh, Nate Brink, and maybe even true freshman Tom Strobel are going to need to keep contain on the strong side from the defensive end spot. And Jibreel Black, Brennan Beyer, and true freshman Mario Ojemudia are going to need to get some pressure on the QB from the rush end spot.

At the linebacker spots and in the secondary, the word of the day is going to be “execute.” Turnovers would be great, but not making mistakes will be critical. Desmond Morgan, Kenny Demens, and Jake Ryan need to hit the right gaps and make tackles. Blake Countess, JT Floyd, Thomas Gordon, and Jordan Kovacs need to not give up the big play. They need to try to get the Tide offense off the field which is going to happen by putting them in 3rd and long situations so Greg Mattison can dial up some pressure schemes to confuse quarterback AJ McCarron and the new Alabama wide receivers.

The last time a non-RichRod Michigan team was this much of an underdog was the 2007 Capitol One Bowl against Urban Meyer and Saint Tebow. They had a month to prepare for that game and came out strong. This current Michigan team has had over 7 months to prepare for this battle. They might not be as big or talented as Alabama on paper, but they will not be out-coached, out-conditioned, or out-prepared when they step on the field. To everyone saying we can’t compete with Alabama and don’t have a chance, I say; This is Michigan and if you don’t know us, or what this team is capable of, you don’t belong in the conversation.

Prediction

Michigan wins 24-21

– Mike Randazzo

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