Michigan put up a fight, but ultimately did not have enough to hang with Alabama for 60 minutes in the Citrus Bowl.
Alabama fell behind 16-14 at halftime, but dominated the second half en route to a 35-16 victory. Mac Jones, making his third start for the injured Tua Tagovailoa, had a big day — especially when throwing to Jerry Jeudy, who finished with 204 yards on six receptions.
Jones hit Jeudy in stride for an 85-yard touchdown on Alabama’s first play from scrimmage. He later connected with Jeudy on a 58-yard gain early in the fourth to set up the touchdown that would ultimately put the game out of reach for the Wolverines. Jones would finish the day with 327 yards and three touchdowns on 16-of-25 throwing.
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His 42-yard deep ball down the right sideline to DeVonta Smith early in the third gave Alabama a lead it would not relinquish. In the fourth quarter, with the Tide clinging on to a 21-16 lead, Jones flipped the field with three perfect passes.
First, on third-and-11 from Alabama’s eight-yard line, he found Jeudy near the sideline for a 14-yard gain and a first down. On the next play, Jones alertly felt pressure from the Michigan pass rush, stepped up in the pocket and showed great touch by lofting one in to Jeudy for a 58-yard catch-and-run. Jones then threw to wide-open tight end Miller Forristall for a 20-yard touchdown with 10:01 to play.
From there, any chance at a Michigan comeback was doomed by an interception thrown by Shea Patterson near midfield with 6:15 to play. That turnover — on what seemed to be a miscommunication between Patterson and his receiver — was a microcosm of a miserable second half for the Wolverines offense.
UM mustered only 96 yards of offense in the second half, a surprising turn of events on the heels of an impressive first half. While the team’s first two drives went nowhere, Michigan tied the game at 7-7 with an 85-yard scoring drive in the first quarter. The Wolverines would drive into Alabama territory three more times before halftime — but all resulted in Quinn Nordin field goals. Leaving all of those points on the board would prove costly for Jim Harbaugh’s team.
What does this mean for Alabama?
This was not a setting where we’re used to seeing Alabama this time of year. It’s the first time the program has failed to reach the College Football Playoff, and the team seemed to lack some urgency early on. Michigan controlled the line of scrimmage in the first half and went into the break with a lead.
The second half, however, was the Alabama we’re used to. The defense made the necessary adjustments to stuff Michigan’s running game, forcing Patterson to take on a heavier load to move the team down the field. That was a recipe for success for the Tide. On top of that, Alabama’s own running game got going with Najee Harris (24 carries, 136 yards, 2 TDs) leading the charge. The efficiency of the running game opened things up for Jones. He doesn’t flash the spectacular plays like Tagovailoa, but Jones showed that he has plenty of talent. He was accurate with the deep balls and showed anticipation and touch when it was necessary.
Most assume Tagovailoa, despite the severity of his hip injury, will leave Tuscaloosa and move on to the NFL. If that happens, Jones (should he win the starting role in 2020) is showing that the drop-off in talent at quarterback will not be as dramatic as some may have expected.
While guys like Jeudy, Harris and other juniors are expected to depart for the NFL, Nick Saban recruits at such a high level that there’s no reason to assume the Tide won’t plug in the newest crop of stars in 2020.
What does this mean for Michigan?
Michigan, which dropped to 9-4 with the loss, has now lost three straight bowl games under Jim Harbaugh. Nonetheless, there are some reasons for optimism in Ann Arbor based on the way the Wolverines improved over the second half of the season.
The hype around Josh Gattis’ offense did not materialize until a mid-October loss to Penn State. But the flashes shown in that game carried over to a four-game winning streak. But that wasn’t enough to put a halt to Michigan’s losing streak to Ohio State.
Perhaps a full offseason with that system in place will culminate in a season full of offensive success in 2020. Still, it’s hard to envision Michigan making a move up in the Big Ten East pecking order. Until proven otherwise, the Wolverines are lagging far behind Ohio State with Penn State holding that No. 2 spot for now.
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