- Erin Kirkland/Daily
By Zach Helfand, Daily Sports Editor
Published August 31, 2012
ARLINGTON, Texas — They agreed to meet in Texas, at Jerry Jones’s domed football palace built with oil riches. They will rendezvous here on Saturday, Michigan and Alabama, each bringing one of college football’s richest histories and biggest entourages of fans.
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The Cowboys Classic. Jones called it the hardest ticket to get in the young history of the stadium that has hosted a Super Bowl. That may be a stretch, but you can see the appeal.
Under a simple crimson helmet with numbers on the side, the defending national champions, with a defense some considered the best ever last year and an offensive line that is likely the nation’s best.
Under a maize and blue winged helmet, last year’s biggest surprise, a program on the verge of rebirth searching for a marquee win.
Michigan is a two-score underdog, and it should be. The thought of a win, though, is intoxicating.
Michigan is going down to Texas, and it hopes to strike oil.
Michigan pass offense vs. Alabama pass defense
Let’s establish this from the beginning because it will become a pattern: on paper, Alabama is better than Michigan is most every facet of the game. Michigan’s air attack against Alabama’s secondary is no different.
Like most other defensive areas, Alabama’s pass defense was No. 1 in yards allowed in 2011. There will be very little drop-off in the pass rush. Both defensive ends return this year, and nose guard Jesse Williams will give Michigan trouble.
Michigan senior quarterback Denard Robinson, of course, is the wild card, with his ability to turn broken drop-back attempts into touchdowns. Two features of the Alabama pass defense will give Robinson trouble, though. The first is the speed to at least keep up with Robinson.
More importantly, Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges said the Alabama defense is effective because everyone knows his role and they all fit Alabama coach Nick Saban’s defensive scheme. Plus, the Tide doesn’t need to blitz to get pressure on the quarterback. Alabama will lose contain on a pass rush occasionally, and Robinson will exploit that, but expect those opportunities to be rare.
Michigan’s receiving corps is the weak link of the offense. The Alabama secondary could be vulnerable, though. Only one starter from an outrageously talented 2011 secondary remains. Alabama has loads of talent to replace the departed, but if Robinson has improved as a passer as much as his coaches insist, he’ll have some success when he’s given time.
Michigan rush offense vs. Alabama rush defense
Ready for a surprise? Alabama’s rush defense is better than Michigan’s ground attack. Want another surprise? Alabama had the nation’s best rush defense in 2011.
There’s some good news for Michigan. Linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Dont’a Hightower are gone.
That’s about it for the good news. Nico Johnson and C.J. Mosley remain at linebacker and join Williams and the physical, run-stuffing Alabama defensive line. Michigan redshirt junior left tackle Taylor Lewan is talented enough to create running lanes. The other four lineman — maybe not.
Last year, the Tide surrendered just 938 yards on the ground. Robinson himself ran for more yards than that in 2011. So did running back Fitzgerald Toussaint. Something’s got to give.
Speaking of Toussaint, the redshirt junior, might not even play. Michigan coach Brady Hoke has yet to announce whether Toussaint will play after he was arrested for driving while intoxicated in July. Sophomore Thomas Rawls is a serviceable replacement who can physically punish the Alabama front seven, but the absence of Toussaint would tilt this matchup even further toward the Tide.
Alabama rush offense vs. Michigan rush defense
Once again, the drop off at the tailback position in Tuscaloosa is so small, you’ll need a magnifying glass to find it. Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram begot third-overall NFL draft pick Trent Richardson.
And Richardson begets junior Eddie Lacy. As a backup to a 1,775-yard rusher, Lacy just rushed for 717 yards in 2011 in about 100 carries and averaged .9 yards per carry more than Richardson.
Lacy also has the luxury of running behind perhaps the nation’s best offensive line. Last year’s Outland Trophy winner — given to the best interior lineman in the country — Barrett Jones is back, this time at center.