Both the #13 Alabama Crimson Tide (10-2) and the #14 Michigan Wolverines (9-3) were projected for the playoffs this season. After some disappointing performances and some key injuries, they will be playing in a New Year’s Six Bowl game in the 2020 Vrbo Citrus Bowl. This bowl game is one of the most anticipated games in the bowl season with two historic programs and two prolific head coaches. This will be the first-ever meeting between Nick Saban (Alabama) and Jim Harbaugh (Michigan). Both the Tide and the Wolverines want to win to get a great head start for a 2020 revenge season. There will be keys to the game on both sides of the ball. There will also be some high-profile NFL Draft prospects that are playing in this game. The series between Alabama and Michigan are tied (2-to-2) with Alabama getting the 41-14 win in 2012 season opener.
Alabama’s high-power offense vs. Michigan’s efficient defense
Alabama’s offense is the highlight of 2019 even after quarterback Tua Tagovailoa suffered a hip injury late in the season. Mac Jones has done an efficient job taking over as the starting quarterback for the Crimson Tide. While he made some mistakes in the 48-45 loss at Auburn, Jones has proven to be a productive passer in the Tide’s third-ranked passing offense (343.5 passing yards per game). It also helps to have four wide receivers that have NFL caliber talent. Junior wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, graded as the third-ranked prospect in the 2020 NFL Draft, will be playing for Alabama. Michigan’s defense has been what kept them in the Big 10 Conference Championship race for most of the season. Defensively, the Wolverines’ defense rank 19th in points allowed per game (19.5) and fifth in passing yards allowed per game (173.8).
Wolverines senior cornerback Lavert Hill is a 2019 Big Ten first-team all-conference selection. In 10 games, Hill has accounted for eight pass deflections and three interceptions as one of the most established lockdown corners in the Big 10. It will take more than Hill and their other corner in Ambry Thomas to shut down the Tide’s passing offense. The Wolverines will need to put pressure on Jones and force him to leave the pocket. Jones will need to be smart with the ball and not force a pass to his receivers. This game may ultimately be huge for Alabama running back Najee Harris to extend some drives. He will be going against Wolverines star linebacker Khaleke Hudson who has accounted for 96 total tackles.
Can the Wolverines find success against a young, injured Tide defense?
As we continue with the 2020 Citrus Bowl preview, we turn out attention to Michigan’s offense. Usually, Michigan’s offense is the top reason for their success in the past much like Alabama’s defense. Despite a roster of highly talented recruits for both, inefficiencies and injuries have plagued both units. Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson has not turned out to be the savior to lead past Ohio State and into the playoffs. The Tide’s defense was hit with devasting injuries at linebacker.
Patterson is looking to go out on top with a win over the Crimson Tide. While the Crimson Tide’s defense is looking to prove their worth and newly found confidence in their young players. Alabama will be playing without outside linebacker Terrell Lewis and cornerback Trevon Diggs as they both prepare for the 2020 NFL Draft. Patterson is not a quarterback that likes to pick one dominant receiver. While conservative in his passes, Patterson can find weaknesses in the coverage schemes.
Alabama’s defense, outside of Lewis and their other outside linebacker in Anfernee Jennings, has not generated much success in the pass rush. Jennings leads the Tide in sacks accounted for with 7.5. Outside of Lewis, no other outside linebacker or defensive lineman has more than two sacks accounted for in the season. For Alabama to stop Patterson, they will need to find some way to put pressure on him. Even with the Tide’s great corners in Patrick Surtain II. and new starter in Josh Jobe, they cannot hold down the Wolverines receivers for a long duration.
Players to watch for in this game
Patterson will be one of the biggest impact players for the Wolverines on offense. This will likely be the last time Jeudy will be in a Crimson Tide jersey as he is a likely top-five selection for the 2020 NFL Draft. For the Crimson Tide’s defense, safety Xavier McKinney will need to be the field general in both defending the pass and rush. Michigan left tackle Jon Runyan is a first-team all-conference selection. The matchup of him against Jennings will be one of the more exciting to watch in the 2020 Citrus Bowl.