5 things to know about Michigan's Citrus Bowl opponent: Alabama
If you’re looking for the most interesting coaching matchup outside of the College Football Playoff, the search is over. The Citrus Bowl pits Jim Harbaugh against Nick Saban, a coaching dual that is going to get everyone’s attention.
When the 2019 season kicked off, if you were to say Harbaugh and Saban would be across the sidelines from each other, you would’ve expected Michigan and Alabama would’ve been battling in a game with national title implications. But things didn’t quite pan out that way. The Wolverines got off to a sluggish start before finishing the season strong. Alabama had an injury-riddled season and failed to defeat some of the marquee opponents on their schedule.
So, we’ll see a 9-3 Michigan team taking on a 10-2 Alabama squad in Orlando. And it should be pretty interesting, at least from the coaching perspective.
Here are five things to know about Alabama before the Citrus Bowl showdown with Michigan on Jan. 1:
Bitten by the injury bug
Since the start of camp during the preseason, Alabama has been hampered with injuries to key players, especially on defense. Defensive stars Dylan Moses and Joshua McMillon suffered season-ending injuries. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was knocked out for the year against Mississippi State. Every week, it seemed, Alabama was without another key contributor. The starting lineup, the two-deep and the overall roster looks so much different than it did before the season began.
Not your typical ‘Built by Bama’ defense
Alabama has allowed an average of 18.8 points per game this season, the programs highest in over a decade. The Crimson Tide surrendered 31 to Ole Miss, 46 to LSU and 48 to Auburn. That’s not the kind of point totals opponents are typically dropping on Saban and company. Teams have had moderate success running the football this season, averaging 3.8 yards per carry on the year. Obviously, those notable injuries have something to do with that, but Alabama’s defense has gone through a bit of a slump this season.
Fresh face under center
With Tagovailoa out, sophomore Mac Jones has been forced to step in at the quarterback position. Considering he’s only threw 13 passes coming into the year, he’s done pretty well filling in for the Heisman Trophy candidate. Jones has completed 81-of-116 pass attempts for 1,176 yards, 11 touchdowns and three interceptions. He doesn’t have a ton of experience, and he’ll be challenged by Michigan’s defense, but having the opportunity to take first-team reps for a full month before the Citrus Bowl will certainly help Jones.
Elite skill position talent
This might shock you, but Alabama has some of the top skill position guys in college football. DeVonta Smith and Jerry Jeudy might be the best wide receiver combination in the country, accounting for over 2,100 receiving yards and 22 touchdown catches combined. Running back Najee Harris has also been a force, racking up 1,088 yards and 11 touchdowns, as well. The Crimson Tide have some of the fastest, strongest and most athletic skill position players Michigan has seen this season.
Lack of interest?
Yes, this comment gets thrown out every time a powerhouse team is playing in a bowl game outside of the College Football Playoff. In this case, though, it’s a fair question to ask. This will be the first time since the College Football Playoff started (2014) that Saban’s bunch won’t be one of the four teams battling for a national title. And with so much NFL talent and the number of injuries this team has sustained, there’s a good chance several players opt out of participating in the game. And, to be fair, Michigan may be dealing with a similar situation.