Michigan 27, Alabama 20

Michigan 27, Alabama 20

January 2, 2024
J.J. McCarthy, Jim Harbaugh, and Blake Corum (image via Mark Terrill/AP)

Michigan was the better team. I predicted a 27-24 loss to the Crimson Tide, so I wasn’t too far off on how the game would feel – I thought it would be a close game that came down to the end. But from the get-go, it seemed like Michigan had the superior team on a down-to-down basis. They sacked Jalen Milroe on four out of his first six dropbacks, and the offensive line was holding up fairly well. Alabama’s offense averaged 4.36 yards per play, while Michigan’s averaged 5.95.

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Except for the special teams. Yikes. We have become used to such solid special teams at Michigan that we take good performances for granted most of the time, but Monday night was awful. I had a coaching friend – who’s not a Michigan fan but was rooting for the Wolverines – text me and tell me that was the worst special teams performance he’s ever seen. And I couldn’t necessarily argue. Freshman punt returner Semaj Morgan had a muffed punt, long snapper Will Wagner had a low snap on Michigan’s second extra point attempt, Wagner had a high snap on a missed field goal, and Jake Thaw had a muffed punt that almost turned into the game-winning safety (or touchdown) for Alabama at the very end of regulation. Michigan’s kickoff coverage was good, and that’s about it. Hopefully Michigan got its abnormal special teams mistakes out of the way and can get back to solid play next week against Washington.

Jalen Milroe is sloppy. I tweeted (posted on X) during the game that Milroe is the sloppiest quarterback I have seen at Alabama in a long time, perhaps since before Nick Saban arrived. He was hurt by some bad snaps, but he looks uncomfortable even when taking some good snaps. His ball handling and footwork need to improve, and he’s just not good at recognizing pressure or making decisions on the fly. He’s still young, and he’s a very good athlete at 6’2″, 220. He made some great plays with his feet, but some of the comparisons I heard to Lamar Jackson . . . no, not even close. Milroe went 16/23 for 116 yards, and he ran 21 times for 63 yards. He yelled “Gimme that Heisman” following his game-winning TD pass to Isaiah Bond at the end of the Auburn game, which I thought was hilarious at the time. Then he went into the CFP and didn’t even account for one touchdown. Again, he’s not terrible . . . but he has a long way to go.

J.J. McCarthy, on the other hand, made some great plays. I was a little surprised at the end of the game to look at the stats and see that McCarthy completed 17/27 passes for 221 yards and 3 touchdowns. I had a bit of a negative opinion of his performance because of some uncharacteristically bad throws, such as the first play of the game – which should have been an interception if not for a lack of field awareness by Alabma safety Caleb Downs – and a terrible miss thrown in the general direction of Tyler Morris on a crossing route. Then again, he also made one of the greatest plays in Michigan history, and I don’t say that lightly. On a throwback double pass from Donovan Edwards, he made a leaping one-handed grab to prevent what would have been a fumbled backwards lateral . . . and then he spun around and chucked it downfield to a wide open Roman Wilson for a 29-yard gain. Look, there’s a reason that quarterbacks get drafted first . . . and win the Heisman . . . and are the first guys picked when you play backyard football. They’re the best all-around athletes on the field. Everyone laughed at McCarthy’s trick throws that popped up on social media of him training by jumping and doing a 360 and throwing the ball . . . but those skills show up in football games sometimes, just like they did on that play.

Blake Corum FTW. In my opinion, Corum was not as involved on Monday as he should have been. He’s arguably Michigan’s best football player, but early in the game, he wasn’t being used. In the first four drives, Michigan went 3-and-out on two drives when he didn’t touch the ball. The best player on the field should be touching the ball on every meaningful drive. He ended up with 19 carries for 83 yards and 1 touchdown, plus 2 catches for 35 yards and 1 touchdown. Maybe that game doesn’t even get to overtime if he had, say, 25 carries instead of 19. I lamented back in 2022 that Corum was carrying the ball too much – before he suffered a season-ending injury – but now that Michigan is in the CFP, you have to ride your best players. Michigan lightened Corum’s load during the season to preserve him for the playoff run, and now it’s here.

The defensive line was outstanding. Altogether, Michigan notched 6 sacks. Five of those sacks came from defensive lineman, with the sixth coming from a blitzing linebacker in Michael Barrett. Braiden McGregor (2 sacks), Derrick Moore (1), Josaiah Stewart (1), and Kris Jenkins (1) all also had sacks. On the flip side, Alabama had just 1 tackle for loss the entire game, which was a sack by Dallas Turner. Unfortunately, Michigan lost defensive tackle Rayshaun Benny to injury early in the game, but Michigan is so deep on the line that it didn’t have a huge effect.

Eric Wolford might be gone. Who’s Eric Wolford? Wolford has been Alabama’s offensive line coach the past two seasons. I might be making too much of one game, but really, it’s been a season-long issue with his unit. Michigan embarrassed freshman left tackle Kadyn Proctor, a 6’7″, 360 lb. monster who probably just needs more time before he’s a great player. But that doesn’t explain the missed blitzes that allowed Barrett and Stewart, among others, to get home for sacks. Sophomore left guard Tyler Booker and junior right tackle J.C. Latham both had giant gaffes, and senior center Seth McLaughlin had the worst game of all of them. How can you be in game fourteen of your senior year and have seemingly 50% of your snaps be at knee level or below?

Go Blue! No matter what happens next Monday at 7:30 p.m. EST, I’m glad a new team will be winning the national championship instead of an SEC program or *gulp* Ohio State. I would be even happier if that team is Michigan, of course. Washington has a very good team, and quarterback Michael Penix is one of the most awe-inspiring passers in college football over the past several years. He’s on another level when it comes to passing accuracy, right up there with C.J. Stroud and Joe Burrow. He may not be an NFL success like those guys have been so far, but he’s executing Kalen Deboer’s system with great precision. On the one hand, I can’t wait for next Monday. On the other hand, I’ll enjoy the building anticipation until then. This is going to be fun.

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