When Alabama was announced as Michigan’s opening day opponent for the 2012 season, I remember thinking, “Yikes are we going to be ready for that game?” After an 11-2 season last year my optimism, like most Michigan fans, is at a high level coming into the 2012 season. Ready or not, here comes Alabama in week one.
Alabama is a great opponent to see where Michigan is headed in its climb back to national prominence. There is no better test than facing the defending National Champion in week one. In order for Michigan to take the plane ride back to Ann Arbor with a 1-0 record, there are few things that I believe need to occur.
Keys To Victory
- Playing Physical:
- From the first day Coach Hoke has arrived, he has established a physical mentality that Michigan has to play with in order to be successful. Michigan has to match Alabama’s physicality at the point of attack. People think of SEC speed, but the bottom line is when you line up against Alabama you better be ready to be physical from the opening kickoff until the clock reads .00 in the 4th quarter.
- First and foremost, Michigan must stop/slow down Alabama’s running attack. A rushing attack that ran for 214.5 yards a game last year in the SEC and returns four offensive linemen from last years team. Three out of those five offensive lineman are pre-season All-American’s according to CBS sports. They also average over 300 pounds, which is 30 pounds heavier than Michigan’s defensive line. One could guarantee that the Crimson Tide will attempt to pound the rock against a DL core that lost Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen from last year’s team. Michigan must not allow Alabama to run the ball on first down effectively and allow the Crimson Tide to get into third and manageable. Instead, force QB A.J. McCarron to throw to Michigan’s strength, which is its secondary (take that one in Michigan fans, as not too long ago when an opponent had Michigan’s D in a 3rd and 15 they had us right where they wanted us). Alabama’s leading returning WR is Kenny Bell with a total of 17 catches last year. This should be a huge advantage for Michigan if we can get the Crimson Tide in 3rd and long.
- If Alabama does get into 3rd and long Jake Ryan, Craig Roh, and company must find a way to get to A.J. McCarron and give Michigan’s talented and experienced secondary opportunities to make plays. Last season, McCarron threw only five interceptions. So, if opportunity presents itself to force a turnover, Michigan’s defense must capitalize.
- Michigan must not allow big plays. Last year, Michigan allowed 17.4 points a game. Stopping big plays was a huge factor in last year’s success. Alabama’s offense is a “three yard and a cloud of dust” type of offense. Which relies on a physical running game. Michigan must eliminate the cloud of dust and force the Crimson Tide to move the ball slowly down the field and not allow big chunks of yardage.
- Michigan must do a great job of tackling, especially from the LB core. I think Alabama will be able to get to our second line of defense, but the linebackers must keep Alabama’s running backs in front of them and not allow big plays in the running game. “Run to the Ball” has been the phrase used since this current Michigan defensive staff has been in place. This is a must against the talented OL/RB core Alabama has. We all know that Alabama replaced Ingram with Richardson. Now that Richardson has moved on to bigger and better things, Eddy Lacy is waiting in the wings and is ready to carry on the tradition. He will be a household name by the end of the year, but we can’t allow him to be one after week one of the 2012 college football season.
First down against Alabama will be huge and if Michigan has any chance of moving the ball it must make positive plays on first down.
- Establish the run game. Realistically, Michigan fans can’t expect for Michigan to run all over Alabama’s front line, even though our offensive line is the strength of our offense. Alabama simply has more depth and size at the DL and LB position which will make it extremely difficult to run against them. But, Michigan must maintain a sense of balance. If Michigan can run the ball effectively it will keep the offense from being in 3rd and long situations.
- Michigan must protect the football. It is very simple. Denard has to take what the defense gives him and try not to do too much and “make plays not miracles”. Denard is our X-Factor on offense every week. Because, simply put, there is no other player in college football like him. If Alabama can be beaten anywhere it is in the passing game. As Michigan fans have watched the past four years, it is not Denard’s strength, but when he does things properly from a technique standpoint he has shown that he can make solid throws. Against the Crimson Tide defense he can’t afford to throw off his back foot and expect it not to be picked off. Alabama’s secondary, although unproven, is still talented and will capitalize off bad throws.
- Wide Receivers must make plays, (Roundtree, this is your time to shine). Alabama lost a lot of talent in their secondary (naturally they reload because of how they recruit, but that amount of talent can’t be replaced by week one). I believe Michigan will have opportunities to make plays down the field versus Alabama, when those opportunities arise, Michigan must capitalize on them.
- I saved this area for last, because as a Michigan fan, this area concerns me the most. Special teams are typically where second and third string players get onto the field. At this stage in our program, Michigan does not have the depth and overall talent that Alabama has and it will take a couple of years for Michigan to get to that point (though a couple more recruiting classes like our current one and we are there). Due to this fact, it is very important that Michigan not give up a big play on special teams. Scoring against Alabama will be a difficult task. The last thing Michigan needs is to give up any points in the return game.
Michigan is facing its toughest opponent it will see this season in Alabama, not to mention it’s only the first week of the season. Non-Michigan fans and those who do not follow Michigan closely believe that Michigan is bringing rocks to a gun fight and Michigan has zero chance of getting on the airplane back to Ann Arbor with a 1-0 record. Is Team 133 ready to bring Michigan back to National Prominence and prove that they have what it takes? Or will this just be a learning process along the path back to national prominence? Time will tell, but I know without a doubt when Team 133 boards the plane to Arlington, they fully expect to come back 1-0. Because after all, “This is Michigan for God’s Sake”.