Rose Bowl Preview: Michigan Rush Offense vs. Alabama Defense

Rose Bowl Preview: Michigan Rush Offense vs. Alabama Defense

December 27, 2023
Alabama safety Caleb Downs (image via Alabama Athletics)

Michigan ranks #61 in rushing offense (161.8 yards/game), #71 in yards per carry (4.27), and #4 in rushing touchdowns. The Wolverines went from a heavy rush offense the past two years to more of a balanced attack this season. So despite having a talented and very experienced offensive line, the rushing numbers have dropped off some. Blake Corum topped 1,000 yards this season, but he needed the Big Ten Championship Game against Iowa to get there (218 carries, 1028 yards, 24 TD). Star running back Donovan Edwards is somehow the second least efficient running back in the Big Ten (3.5 yards/carry). The offensive line had to reshuffle during the Ohio State game after losing All-American right guard Zak Zinter to a broken leg. The good news is that he was replaced at guard by Karsen Barnhart, who seems to perform better at guard than tackle. The bad news is that new right tackle Trente Jones used to be Michigan’s sixth lineman in the jumbo package, so now perhaps that package is gone. Possibly, though, the coaching staff could spend the bowl practices incorporating someone else – such as backup Myles Hinton – as the jumbo tight end.

Alabama is #31 in rush defense (124.5 yards allowed/game) and #33 in yards allowed per carry (3.7). They have allowed 14 rushing touchdowns this season, which is tied for #39 in the country. Although the team has improved overall throughout the season, the rushing defense has arguably got worse. Ten out of those 14 rushing touchdowns allowed have come in the last five games, while LSU and Auburn have run for 8.6 and 5.8 yards per carry, respectively. LSU has Heisman-winning dual-threat QB Jayden Daniels, but Auburn has . . . nobody noteworthy. The leading tackler for the Crimson Tide is true freshman strong safety Caleb Downs (6’0″, 203 lbs.), who has an amazing 99 stops. He’s followed by sophomore LB Jihaad Campbell (6’3″, 230), who has 65 tackles but is listed as a backup; redshirt sophomore CB Terrion Arnold (6’0″, 196) with 61; redshirt sophomore LB Deontae Lawson (6’2″, 230) with 61; and fifth year senior DE Justin Egboigbe (6’5″, 292) with 60. Egboigbe and OLB Dallas Turner (6’4″, 252) are the guys to watch to be making plays in the backfield. While the interior defensive line play has not been outstanding, the Tide have a couple huge starting tackles in redshirt sophomore Tim Kennan III (6’2″, 315) at nose tackle and sophomore DT Jaheim Oatis (6’5″, 320).

Advantage: Alabama. The overall numbers and recent history favor the opponent. Michigan has been overwhelmed at the line of scrimmage in recent years against SEC opponents like Alabama and Georgia. I don’t see that getting much better now that Michigan will be without its best offensive lineman. Michigan has not had explosive plays in the run game this season, so unless J.J. McCarthy can become a bigger factor and channel his inner Jayden Daniels, I expect Michigan to struggle a little. I do think they’ll find some success – it won’t be a total bloodbath in the trenches – but Michigan will have to be creative and balanced.

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