Rose Bowl Preview: Michigan Pass Offense vs. Alabama Defense

Rose Bowl Preview: Michigan Pass Offense vs. Alabama Defense

December 31, 2023
Terrion Arnold (image via Alabama Athletics)

Michigan ranks #73 in passing offense (218.8 yards/game), but they’re #5 in passing efficiency and #14 in yards per attempt (9.0). Quarterback J.J. McCarthy was reportedly banged up for the last few weeks of the season, and some in Michigan circles have pointed to that being a major factor while he had a statistically mediocre run to end the regular season and then into the Big Ten Championship Game. McCarthy has thrown just 1 touchdown and 1 interception in the last five games, though he completed 68.6% of his throws during that time and twice topped the 80% mark. Michigan’s vaunted offensive line was leaky in pass protection, especially on whichever side tackle Karsen Barnhart was manning. Now that Barnhart has slid inside to replace injured right guard Zak Zinter, things may improve in pass pro a little. It will be interesting to see whether Myles Hinton or Trente Jones takes on the full-time right tackle position, since Jones has played a ton of the “extra tight end” role. Michigan’s best matchups at pass catcher are at tight end, where Colston Loveland (40 catches, 572 yards, 4 TD) and A.J. Barner (22 catches, 249 yards, 1 TD) reside. The leading overall receiver is speedy Roman Wilson, who has 41 catches for 662 yards and 11 touchdowns on the year. The wild card is RB Donovan Edwards (30 catches, 249 yards), who can create matchup issues with linebackers if used judiciously.

Alabama is #24 in pass defense (188.8 yards allowed/game) and #17 in pass efficiency defense, allowing 14 touchdowns while making 12 interceptions (#42). Their 6.4 yards allowed/attempt is tied for #15 nationally. The NFL builds around cornerbacks and pass rushers, and Alabama has some of the best in the country. They have two potential 1st round cornerbacks in redshirt sophomore Terrion Arnold (6’0″, 196), who has 5 interceptions and 11 pass breakups, and junior Kool-Aid McKinstry (6’1″, 195), who has 7 pass breakups. The Crimson Tide rank #13 in sacks (2.92 per game). They have three players with 7+ sacks, including OLB Dallas Turner (6’4″, 252) with 9.0, senior OLB Chris Braswell (6’3″, 255) with 8.0, and fifth year senior DE Justin Egboigbe (6’5″, 292) with 7.0. For comparison, the last time Michigan had three players with 7+ sacks in one season was . . . never.

Advantage: Alabama. Michigan’s receivers are going to have a tough time uncovering against Arnold and McKinstry, so the Wolverines are going to have to rely heavily on what they can get over the middle with the tight ends and running backs. I would expect Colston Loveland to lead Michigan in receiving in this one, but the pass rush could be a major issue if Barnhart and company can’t hold up. Michigan has really struggled to throw the ball explosively against teams with decent pass rushers (Penn State, Ohio State, Iowa, etc.), and I don’t know why that would change here in the CFP.

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