Despite forcing Alabama into a three-and-out on its first series and looking like they could be formidable opponent, the Michigan defense was completely overmatched the rest of the night. They did record two sacks (and Will Campbell was looking quite nimble on his) but they were dominated up front by the best offensive line in the country.
After the three-and-out to start the game, Alabama proceded to score on its next three drives, all in a span of about five minutes. The Tide dominated the line play and created gaping holes for its backs to run through as Alabama ran the ball to the tune of 232 yards, including an astounding 111 yards from true freshman T.J.Yeldon on only 11 carries.
The passing game, however, left much to be desired for the Tide. A.J. McCarron finished a pedestrian 11-for-21 for 199 yards. But when throwing out of play-action, he was 6-for-9 for 123 yards with both of his touchdowns; a 2-yard pass to tight end Michael Williams to start the scoring and then a 51-yard pass on which Courtney Avery slipped and fell during a double move from DeAndrew White.
Denard Robinson injured his throwing arm making a tackle after throwing a pick in the first quarter but recovered as the game went along and looked to be fine. The same can not be said for cornerback Blake Countess, who left the game with an apparent knee injury after a special teams tackle. It appeared as though the trainers were giving him the ACL test on the sidelines and his status going forward has yet to be announced.
Denard threw another interception in the second quarter which went for six and Alabama was up 31-0 before Michigan found the endzone on a Denard 6-yard run towards the end of the first half. The run was preceded by a beautiful 71-yard pass to Jeremy Gallon, but it was one of the few bright spots of the day.
Denard and the offense looked completely out of sync; though his passes in the early going did have good velocity, he overthrew his receivers on several occasions. Devin Gardner got the starting nod at receiver and was targeted several times but didn’t make the most of it until late in the third quarter when he caught a 44-yard touchdown pass from Denard after the Tide defender fell down.
Neither team was any good on third down. Michigan went 3-for-11 while Alabama only managed 3-for-10, but the Tide had 20 first downs to Michigan’s 11. The passing yards were almost equal but most of Michigan’s yards came on two big plays, the 71-yarder to Gallon and the 44-yard touchdown pass to Gardner.
Alabama is an elite program and while incredibly disappointing, Michigan should not hang their heads after this loss. This is a program that could conceivably win its third national title in four years, and not many teams, if any this season, will hang with Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide.
According to ESPN, the Tide are now 40-0 since the start of the 2008 season when they run for at least 150 yards. Alabama’s running backs were only hit in the backfield on four of their 38 runs, and on 13 runs, they were not hit until at least five yards past the line of scrimmage. That’s not a recipe for success for any defense.
Perhaps Hokeamaniac put it best last night on his Facebook page, saying, “Alabama was the superior team and outplayed the Michigan Wolverines from open to close. The physical mismatch was glaring. The Wolverine offense was incapable of doing anything and the play execution of the maize and blue was, pathetic at best.”
It’s not that they were not prepared; it’s just that Alabama was physically (and perhaps schematically as well) superior. Michigan looked like a JV team against professional athletes, showing that while they may be on the right track to regain national prominence they are still years away. Alabama is what happens when you have elite athletes playing in the same system under an elite coach. This is what Michigan is striving for and we must be patient while Brady Hoke builds this program back to elite status.
In the grand scheme of the season this does not hurt Michigan’s main goal, though the press will inevitably call this a confidence shaking loss and will posit that the Wolverines may not recover in time. Michigan’s goal is to win the Big Ten Championship and this game does not affect their pursuit of that goal. While there were some big mistakes made, like Denard’s pass directly to CJ Mosley which led to the pick-six, the outcome of the game was not because of poor execution. Michigan was simply overmatched. Luckily for them, they won’t face another team with the type of talent and size that Alabama possesses and should be just fine the rest of the year.
We will have more reaction to the game in the next couple of days as well as a first look at the Air Force Falcons.