Five goals for Michigan’s bowl practices: Key time for quarterbacks
Bowl practices are about preparing for the game, but they also provide additional practice time for players expected to take on larger roles the following season.
Michigan (9-3) will face Alabama (10-2) in the Citrus Bowl in Orlando on New Year’s Day. The teams have split their previous four meetings. Both ended the regular season with losses – Michigan fell to Ohio State and Alabama lost to Auburn.
For the Wolverines, there were high hopes entering the season with a new offense, but a rough start and a difficult loss at Wisconsin to open the Big Ten season was a setback. Meanwhile, Alabama and coach Nick Saban are used to preparing for the College Football Playoff at this time of the year. But the loss of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to a hip injury late in the season proved difficult to overcome, and the Crimson Tide are in unfamiliar territory.
As the Wolverines prepare to face the Crimson Tide, here are five goals for bowl practices.
It’s about refocusing
Before the season, the projections for Michigan were high as national pundits believed this would be the year the Wolverines finally beat Ohio State and played for a Big Ten title and a national playoff spot. Three losses later, including an eighth straight to the Buckeyes, the Wolverines have got to spend bowl practices refocusing on how to finish this season strong and springboard into next season. Michigan has lost its last three bowl games and facing Alabama will be a difficult challenge. This will mean picking the brain of offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, who was on the Crimson Tide staff in 2018 as co-offensive coordinator and will have considerable insights in to the personnel. Bottom line, though, is getting the mindset of this team right after that last game and correcting the Wolverines’ recent bowl trend.
Quarterback Shea Patterson finished the season on a roll with three straight 300-yard passing performances, and he will be the quarterback when Michigan plays Alabama. But the future is coming and that involves Dylan McCaffrey, Joe Milton and Cade McNamara – and while spring practice is for developing the next team, so is bowl practice. McCaffrey, as the No. 2 quarterback, will continue to prepare for the bowl game, so he will benefit greatly from the extra bowl practices, but this is also when Milton can shine and make clear his intentions to compete for the starting job next season. For McNamara, this is the time to further increase his knowledge of Josh Gattis’ offense and start making his push to see the field.
Shape up the run game
The Wolverines had sub-100 yards rushing games four times, including the final three – 83 in a win against Michigan State, 87 in a win at Indiana and then 91 in the loss to Ohio State. The other sub-100 yard game? The Big Ten opener loss at Wisconsin, when Michigan played from way behind and ran for 40. Certainly, that’s proof that the trajectory of a game often determines how much a team runs the ball, but Michigan has to have a more consistent run game it can count on at all times. Freshman Zach Charbonnet started the season in a hurry and had that 33-carry game against Army in the second game, but Hassan Haskins became the back to watch the second half of the season. These practices are vital for them to continue their improvement heading into next spring, when they will be joined by Chris Evans, back for his final season after sitting out a year-long suspension.
Next wave of lineman
Michigan will have to replace three, maybe four offensive linemen next season, and that means utilizing bowl practices to start identifying those who will be ready to step in once spring practice begins. Left tackle Jon Runyan and left guard Ben Bredeson, a two-time captain, and right guard Michael Onwenu have exhausted their eligibility, and center Cesar Ruiz could decide to move on to the NFL Draft, even though he has a year of eligibility remaining. Jalen Mayfield started this season at right tackle and improved game to game, but bowl practices will give players like Ryan Hayes a chance at left tackle an Andrew Vastardis and Chuck Filiaga an opportunity inside.
Get ready for Alabama attack
It’s unclear which Alabama players might sit this one out, but regardless, this is one stellar group of receivers the Michigan defense, particularly the secondary, has to get ready to face. “This could be the best group of receivers I’ve seen in maybe ever,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Probably three first-round picks in that group.” There’s DeVonta Smith with 1,200 yards and 13 touchdowns, Jerry Jeudy with 959 yards and nine touchdowns, Henry Ruggs III with 719 yards and seven touchdowns and Jaylen Waddle has 553 yards and six touchdowns. Michigan cornerbacks Lavert Hill and Ambry Thomas are going to have their hands full.
MICHIGAN VS. ALABAMA
Kickoff: Jan. 1, 1 p.m. Camping World Stadium, Orlando
TV/radio: ABC/950 AM
Records: Michigan 9-3, Alabama 10-2
Line: Alabama by 10