The Keys To The Michigan vs. Alabama CFP Semifinal

Both of the 2024 College Football Playoff games scheduled for New Year’s Day 2024 figure to be very entertaining which hasn’t been the case in previous years. First, we take a look at the Michigan vs. Alabama game in the Rose Bowl.

Keys to the Michigan vs. Alabama Rose Bowl

Michigan’s Offense

Michigan’s top priority is to run the ball and pound their opponent into submission as the game wears on. That won’t be easy against a tough Alabama team that is one of the few teams Michigan will play this season that matches up with them physically.

However, they will need to run the ball well enough to not become one-dimensional. They also need to run well enough to control the clock and keep Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe on the sidelines as much as possible. However, running the ball won’t be enough.

The approach used against Penn State where the Wolverines didn’t attempt a single pass in the second half won’t get the job done against The Tide. Quarterback J.J. McCarthy will need to have one of his better performances of the season. Lately, he has looked somewhat pedestrian, although that could have been by design especially against Iowa in the Big Ten Championship game where the Hawkeyes had no chance unless the Wolverines turned the ball over a lot.

McCarthy will need to spread the ball around to his backs and receivers as well as get everyone involved early to keep the Alabama defense off balance. McCarthy also needs to show that he is a threat with his legs. Most importantly, he can’t turn the ball over. He did have three picks in an early season matchup against Bowling Green. That simply can’t happen in this game.

Having a few explosive plays like in the 2022 matchup against Ohio State would go a long way toward advancing to the National Championship on Monday, January 8, 2024.

Michigan’s Defense

As is often the case when playing Alabama’s potent offense, it’s a matter of picking your poison. Even though quarterback Milroe has a huge arm and speedy receivers (don’t they always), Michigan needs to put enough pressure on him and take him to the ground when they have the chance.

Putting pressure on Milroe but allowing him to escape and extend plays by either running, throwing, or throwing on the run could spell disaster for Michigan. It’s also critical that the Alabama running backs aren’t able to break long runs against the Wolverines.

Last year in their playoff game against TCU, big plays doomed a Michigan defense that played an uncharacteristically poor game when it mattered most. Michigan is better than Alabama at grinding it out on offense, so they will need to try to force The Tide to go on long scoring drives instead of quick strikes against a team that undoubtedly has fresh memories of their last two playoff appearances. Keeping receiver Jermaine Burton from getting open deep is an absolute must.

Alabama’s Offense

If The Tide can strike early, it could spell big trouble for Michigan. Ever since their home loss to Texas, followed by a subpar performance in a road win against South Florida, Alabama has been on a roll. Jumping out to an early lead will only increase their level of confidence which is already at a high level after taking down two-time defending national champion Georgia in the SEC Championship game last weekend.

Milroe needs to continue his high level of play and not revert to his early-season struggles. The running back corps, while certainly not weak, is not what it has been in recent seasons with guys like Mark Ingram, Derrick Henry, Brian Robinson, and Jahmyr Gibbs. It is less likely that big plays will come from the backs than from the receivers. The backs will need to run well enough to keep Michigan from focusing all of their attention on Milroe, Burton, and the other Tide Receivers.

Alabama’s Defense

Not that Alabama needs “instruction” on how to play defense, the strategy employed by Iowa in the Big Ten Championship that focused on eliminating the big play and putting pressure on McCarthy proved effective as the Wolverines only had two touchdowns and both were from a very short field.

It would be wise for Alabama to at least use elements of this game plan. Putting together long and time-consuming drives against the Bama defense is not an easy way to make a living. The Alabama secondary may have an advantage against a Michigan receiving corps that is talented but not very deep once you get past the starters. Any turnover advantage for The Tide will be devastating for Michigan.

Special Teams And Coaching

Nick Saban has multiple national championships as the head coach for Alabama. Head coach Jim Harbaugh has none. Will it make a difference in a tight game?

Both teams have very good kickers: Will Reichard for Alabama and James Turner for Michigan. Both have been remarkably consistent this season. Michigan may have a slight advantage in two key areas.

Alabama linebackers coach and special teams coordinator Coleman Hutzler is leaving to take over as the new defensive coordinator at Mississippi State under new head coach Jeff Lebby and will not coach in the national semifinal game. Second, in his first game as a punt returner, Semaj Morgan ripped off an 87-yard punt return against Iowa that put Michigan inside the red zone and led to the first touchdown of the Big Ten Championship game. Could he be a secret weapon for Michigan? It isn’t like Alabama doesn’t know about his big play last week.

In what could very well be a case of the immovable object vs. the unstoppable force when Michigan and Alabama kick it off on New Year’s Day, it is certain to be a compelling matchup as Michigan tries for their first national championship in the BCS/Playoff era while Alabama plays the unusual role of the hunter instead of the hunted.

Making things even more interesting is that the winner figures to be only a slight favorite against the winner of the other College Football Playoff semifinal game later that day.

Main Image: Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

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