Get to know the opponent: Michigan
The Michigan Wolverines enter Saturday’s Cowboys Classic looking to build on the success head coach Brady Hoke brought in his first year in Ann Arbor. The experienced Wolverines team returns a total of 50 letterman from last season’s team. On offense, Hoke’s squad is returning six starters from the 2011 squad that went 11-2. Defensively, the Wolverines return seven starters.
Players to watch:
QB Denard Robinson: Denard is widely regarded as the Wolverines’ most dynamic athlete. He is the key to making the Michigan offense run properly. The 6-foot-0, 195-pounder will assuredly be the Tide defense’s biggest test. His ability to throw the ball (142-of-258, 20 TDs, 15 INTs in 2011) and escape from pressure when the pocket collapses will give the young Alabama defense all it can handle.
Robinson splashed onto the college football scene during his sophomore campaign, becoming known for his ability to dart through the seams and make plays with his feet as well as toss the ball over the top when defenses were caught watching Robinson instead of keeping contain. This will be one of the Tide’s biggest challenges on Saturday.
Robinson will likely be given every opportunity to test the inexperienced cornerbacks in the Alabama secondary, but where he will have a chance to cause the most problems is when he scrambles, appears to commit to running and fires a ball downfield.
WRs Roy Roundtree, Jeremy Gallon and Jerald Robinson: The Wolverines have a great chance of struggling against a historically stout Alabama defense on Saturday. With assumed-starting running back Fitz Toussaint suspended for the season opener, Robinson will have to rely heavily on his talented corps of receivers to make an impact against Alabama’s more inexperienced corners such as Deion Belue and John Fulton (when he is called upon in certain packages).
Roundtree caught 19 passes for 355 yards and two touchdowns last season, but is coming off of a knee scope earlier in the month of August. He should start, but how much he will be able to contribute will be a major question.
Gallon was second on the team in receiving in 2011. He caught 31 passes for 453 yards and 3 touchdowns and averaged 14.6 yards per reception. Jerald Robinson is a 6-foot-1, 206-pound sophomore who saw action in 11 games last season but never really made a significant impact. All three receivers are poised to play a heavy part in what the Wolverines’ want to do on the offensive side of the ball.
When Denard Robinson gets free from the pocket and drifts towards the line of scrimmage, either of the wide receivers on the field will be quick to dart down the field or to space so that Robinson can stop on a dime and get the ball to them. If the Tide cornerbacks do not maintain discipline in coverage, the Michigan wide receivers have a chance to leave a big mark on the outcome of Saturday’s game.
What Michigan will try to do on offense:
It’s been stated numerous times, but the Michigan offense will live and die by Denard Robinson. The talented quarterback has all of the tools necessary to beat the Crimson Tide. He has the quickness in the open field that has troubled Alabama defenses in years past. He has the wherewithal to understand when to take off down the field and when to force the ball to one of this receiving targets on the run.
With Toussaint suspended for the opener, sophomore Thomas Rawls will likely be the back chosen to start in his place. Rawls is listed as Toussaint’s backup on the Wolverine’s depth chart. Rawls has been compared to Mark Ingram by Michigan coaches during his time in Ann Arbor. While the coaches obviously believe he is ready for a heightened role in the offense, his ability to mesh with Robinson and perform the tasks Toussaint has handled over the past few seasons is unknown.
Michigan will have its best opportunity to take advantage of a younger, more inexperienced than normal Alabama defense by taking early shots downfield. The Crimson Tide has shown time and time again over the course of the past few seasons that it is susceptible to the long ball early in games before the secondary has a chance to settle into the rhythm of competition. Add to that the fact that the Tide may be working with two cornerbacks (Fulton and Belue) who have not seen extensive big-game minutes on the field, and you have a recipe for potential success for Michigan.
The Alabama front seven will be ready for the task of taking on a deceptive Michigan offense. Ed Stinson and Damion Square are the Tide’s two starters on the defensive line, but the rotation at that position is anything but lacking in talent. Jeoffrey Pagan and Quinton Dial will both likely see some playing time.
Robinson is going to be tested in every way on Saturday by the Alabama defense. Head coach Kirby Smart will likely try to make him uncomfortable early by putting him on his back and taking hits from the Tide’s aggressive pass rushers on the edge. If he can weather that storm and keep the Alabama defense honest, Michigan will have its best chance at cracking Alabama’s defensive code.
What Michigan will try to do on defense:
As with most Alabama teams since Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa, the running game is going to be perhaps the Crimson Tide’s strongest asset. Junior running back Eddie Lacy has all the tools to be just as gifted a back as the Tide’s previous two Heisman finalists. While his backup situation isn’t completely settled, the talent behind him certainly gives the Tide the edge at the running back position.
Because of the Tide’s ability to run the ball successfully on a consistent basis, Michigan is likely to try to frustrate the Alabama defense by making them win the game through the air. Junior quarterback AJ McCarron has grown into his role as a confident leader this offseason and would assuredly welcome that test.
The Michigan secondary is ripe with experience. Blake Countess, J.T. Floyd and Courtney Averie are the starting corners for Michigan, and each player has started a number of games since their careers began. They were a part of the Michigan secondary that was the 16th-best pass defense in the land in 2011, and will be ready to take on the challenge of being a focal point in Michigan’s defensive game plan.
The Tide’s wide receiving corps is talented but unproven by the standards of most people. Norwood, Bell and Jones are all coming off of great performances in the BCS National Championship Game, but those games alone are not enough to scare a secondary. The wild-card in Alabama’s equation could be true freshman Amari Cooper.
Nick Saban has never been shy to use freshman in a major role during their first collegiate game, and Cooper has a lot that he can bring to the table for the Alabama offense. If he is inserted into the game to spell DeAndrew White and catches a few passes, he could be one of the keys to the Alabama attack.
Should the Tide not find a way to open up holes in the Michigan defense, one of the main reasons will likely be fifth-year linebacker Kenny Demens ability to meet backs in the trenches and make stops. Demens led the Wolverines in tackles in 2011 (94).
How the game will be won:
Michigan’s chances in this game rests in its ability to keep Alabama off of the field. Long, taxing drives, the kind Alabama has become known for, could be key in the Wolverine’s having a chance to win the game.
The Crimson Tide has been taught all throughout fall practice on what needs to be done to avoid the ‘big play.’ Because of that, Michigan will have to be disciplined and try to wear down an Alabama defense that is sure to be in great shape. It won’t be easy, but Alabama has lost too many games during Nick Saban’s tenure as coach because of a dual-threat quarterback.
Robinson probably will not be the deciding factor on Saturday. The Wolverines will have to find other ways to win when the Tide negates what Robinson wants do to when he escapes the pocket. It’s a tall task, and one probably too much for Michigan to handle.
Prediction: Alabama 30, Michigan 17
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