Michigan Football: 7 Keys to Winning the Alabama Game
A lot of people are asking what Michigan must do to beat Alabama. Personally, I think that's a bit overrated, as you can't say a team is going to win without achieving a certain goal within the game.
There is an endless amount of scenarios and situations that occur throughout the game that will affect every aspect of the team.
That's why I'm taking a look at all the major matchups within the game, and who has the advantage at each one.
Michigan Rush Offense vs. Alabama Rush Defense
Without a doubt, the strength of the Alabama defense is their front seven. It's not at the same level as we've seen from them in years past, but it's not too far off.
Jesse Williams is an absolute anchor at nose tackle, and fellow lineman Damion Square and Quinton Dial are both experienced seniors.
The situation at linebacker is pretty intriguing, as C.J. Mosley and Nico Johnson are some of the best linebackers around, but they are surrounded by inexperience.
Xzavier Dickson, Adrian Hubbard and Trey DePriest are all bursting with potential, but none of them are very experienced. That will obviously play a factor, as experience is one of the key components to running this defense.
Regardless of whether or not Toussaint plays, I don't think it makes much of a difference for Michigan. I just don't see any way they have much success running the ball on this defense.
I think the key is certainly Denard Robinson as he needs to at least be somewhat effective running the ball. He isn't going to run wild on these guys, but needs to reel off some decent runs here and there.
Michigan Pass Offense vs. Alabama Pass Defense
Yes, both Mark Barron and Dre Kirkpatrick are gone from this secondary, but don't expect it to drop off too much.
Robert Lester is one of the best safeties in the country, and Dee Milliner is rock solid at one cornerback spot. The other two starting spots may have a few questions, though.
Vinnie Sunseri will likely start next to Lester, but he's only a true sophomore and doesn't have a ton of experience. The cornerback spot opposite Milliner is the biggest question mark in the secondary.
Travell Dixon probably wasn't going to start, but his departure still hurts, as he definitely would've seen time. Deion Belue will likely be the starter, but he's a JUCO transfer and it's hard to predict what to expect out of him. If he struggles, Alabama won't hesitate to replace him with John Fulton.
We'll see just how far this Michigan passing game has really come. Can they take advantage of some inexperience in that secondary? Or will their passing game never get into a rhythm, as it failed to do so many times last year.
We'll see plenty of Devin Gardner, along with a new face or two. Amara Darboh will likely see time, and I wouldn't be surprised if we saw a lot of Jeremy Jackson and Jerald Robinson. Unfortunately, this Michigan receiving corps still has a long way to go, though.
Alabama Rush Offense vs. Michigan Rush Defense
This may be the matchup that most fans will have their eye on. How will that mostly inexperienced Michigan defensive line hold up against arguably the best offensive line in the country?
There is no question that guys like Campbell, Roh, Black, Beyer and Washington will have to step up and play better than they ever have before. Honestly, most of them just have to play way over their heads.
The linebackers also have to play great. There really can't be any missed tackles and guys can't be playing out of position. Jake Ryan and Kenny Demens, the two most experienced starters on this unit, need to step up and be leaders for the rest of the group.
Eddie Lacy took a lot of carries away from Trent Richardson last season, so that says a lot right there. Even though Richardson is gone, Alabama won't face much of a drop off at running back.
Lacy is one of the best running backs in the country, and won't be fazed at all being a full-time starter. We may see Jalston Fowler in short-yardage situations, as he weighs a whopping 242 pounds.
Dee Hart is the absolute opposite of these power backs, as he only stands 5'9" and weighs 190 pounds. Speed and quickness is obviously his specialty.
Last but definitely not least is 5-star true freshman, T.J. Yeldon. He was the star of Alabama's spring game, and will definitely see plenty of carries in the opener.
I just don't see how Michigan can slow down this rushing attack. They have to at least be able to keep them out of the end zone at times and not let them score at will.
Alabama Pass Offense vs. Michigan Pass Defense
We all know that Alabama rarely throws the ball all over the yard to win. Couple that with Michigan's very solid secondary, and we probably won't see a ton of pass attempts from AJ McCarron.
Plus, you could make the case that receiver is the weakest part of Alabama's team. Kenny Bell and Kevin Norwood are the top two guys, with somewhat inexperienced sophomores DeAndrew White and Christion Jones behind them.
Amari Cooper could see time as a true freshman also. Michigan is solid with their starting corners, and they don't miss a beat when Courtney Avery comes into the game either.
Both Gordon and Kovacs are solid at safety, but the depth behind them is pretty inexperienced. Hopefully, we will finally see Marvin Robinson become a significant contributor, and all signs point that we will.
I also think it is a given that we'll see plenty of true freshman Jarrod Wilson.
All in all, I really like this matchup in Michigan's favor; don't expect to see Alabama throw for 250 yards or have tons of success through the air.
I'm just not sold on so many facets of Michigan's special teams unit yet.
Yes, Gibbons is solid at kicker, but he's certainly not an elite one. Would fans trust him if he had to make a kick in a high-pressure situation?
Who knows what the Wolverines are getting out of Will Hagerup at punter? Some days he looks like an All-American, others it looks like Matt Wile should be starting over him.
The team just hasn't gotten enough out of its kick and punt return units in recent years. That could potentially change with some new faces on kick returns. Dennis Norfleet and Josh Furman could both provide a spark that is badly needed.
Jeremy Shelley and Cade Foster are both back at kicker for Alabama, and fans remember what all happened on a few high-pressure field goal attempts last year.
Cody Mandell will be the punter, and there could be a few new faces on kick and punt returns.
Although I think Michigan's special teams have lots of potential, I'm just not sold on them quite yet.
Nick Saban just might be the best in the business at what he does. In a few years, most people will probably also be calling Hoke one of the top three or four coaches in the country.
Both men are surrounded with an elite staff as well. At Michigan, Greg Mattison is one of the best defensive minds in the game, and there are few better.
Kirby Smart might be one of those few. The job he has done at Alabama has been unbelievable. Smart coaches the linebackers as well, and it's no surprise that they are one of the best units in the country every single year.
Michigan has a great, young defensive mind coaching their D-line. Jerry Montgomery, only 31 years old, looks destined to be a future head coach as he completely transformed Michigan's front four. He will be put to the test once again this season.
However, maybe more impressive is the job Curt Mallory did last season with Michigan's secondary. He took what was literally a horrible unit and made them pretty darn good. Very few people could have done what he did.
Al Borges runs the Michigan offense and this won't be the first time he has faced Alabama as he previously coached at Auburn.
Alabama has replaced the departed Jim McElwain with Doug Nussmeier. How will this offense look under his tutelage for the first time? Will he be allowed to open it up some, or will they use the same style they've been using for years?
I absolutely love Michigan's staff, but the jobs that men like Nick Saban and Kirby Smart have done in their time at Alabama is nothing short of amazing.
This is the absolute perfect way to kick off the 2012 season with Michigan (most all-time wins) and Alabama (seventh in all-time wins) basically taking a back seat to nobody in terms of college football history and pageantry.
It is the matchup the whole country has been talking about since last season ended and the game the entire nation will be watching Saturday night.
Some people are giving Michigan a decent chance to win while others aren't. Denard Robinson has to play like a senior, meaning he can't turn the ball over and has to make smart decisions on every play.
Some Michigan receivers have to step up, whether it be Devin Gardner or Roy Roundtree or Amara Darboh, and have to be able to exploit an Alabama secondary that has potential weaknesses in some spots.
The Michigan defensive line has to grow up in a hurry, as they have to at least be able to penetrate at times and slow down Alabama's rushing attack somewhat.
Both teams are going to be absolutely jacked for this one, so expect big hits early and often.
Prediction: Alabama 34, Michigan 20