Michigan Football: Will Wolverines' Defense Be Able to Handle Alabama's Power?
Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE
For many, many years, winning in the Big Ten has been done by stopping the run, battling in the trenches and running the football.
Even when Michigan featured the long list of great quarterbacks, the Wolverines still ran the football effectively.
Time and again, Brady Hoke has talked about returning to the downhill approach. By the beginning of next season, you'll see it in action.
Both teams in last season's Big Ten championship game (Michigan State and Wisconsin) play power football, as does Michigan's 2012 opening day opponent, Alabama.
For the Wolverines to even compete with the defending national champions, they must slow the Crimson Tide's running game.
Michigan fans were delighted when Alabama running back Trent Richardson gave up his senior season to enter the NFL draft. Richardson, who gained over 1,600 yards last season, was drafted third overall by the Cleveland Browns.
Alabama, however, has a stable of huge running backs returning this season and an offensive line which has been been called the best in the nation by three preseason magazines.
Look for Eddie Lacy (6'0", 220 lbs) and Jalston Fowler (6'1", 242 lbs) to share the bulk of the carries behind center Barrett Jones, who won the Outland Trophy as a left tackle a season ago. Jones (6'5", 302 lbs) will be matched against unproven nose tackle Will Campbell (6'5" 320 lbs).
Alabama will trot out two other offensive linemen who could compete for All-America honors, in addition to a pair of massive tight ends.
Stopping the run was a plus for Michigan last season, but the Wolverines lost Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen and Will Heininger from a unit that improved as the season progressed.
Craig Roh, who moved across to strong side end, is the squad's only returning starter. Campbell, tackle Jibreel Black and Brennan Beyer have very little playing time.
But don't expect the Crimson Tide to trample all over the Wolverines. Thanks to a couple of great recruiting classes, there a several youngsters ready to help out. Ondre Pipkins, Willie Henry and Keith Heitzman should help stabilize the defensive front, while the linebacking corps and secondary are already solid against the rush, if slightly suspect against the pass.
Look for Jake Ryan, Jordan Kovacs and Kenny Demens to make more than their share of tackles, while a solid group of freshmen will earn significant playing time during training camp.
Still, Michigan's defense against a strong running team is suspect. The Wolverines had trouble with Notre Dame, Michigan State and Virginia Tech last season, and all three would struggle against Alabama, with or without Richardson. Add the competent arm of quarterback A.J. McCarron and you have quite a balance on offense.
It's also a big reason why Michigan is nearly an 11-point underdog.
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