Josh Gattis' familiarity with Alabama presents pros and cons for Michigan

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

As Michigan prepares for its Citrus Bowl matchup against Alabama, offensive coordinator Josh Gattis is in a unique position.

Gattis, who is completing his first year as the Wolverines’ offensive coordinator, spent the 2018 season with coach Nick Saban and Alabama as co-offensive coordinator working with the Tide’s phenomenally talented receivers.

There’s no doubt the Michigan staff has tapped into Gattis’ inside knowledge of Alabama since the bowl game was announced. During an appearance Monday night on the “Inside Michigan Football” radio show with host Jon Jansen, Gattis was asked if there’s an advantage he gives Michigan heading into the game.

Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis

“From a game-planning standpoint there is,” Gattis said on the show. “Just understanding the identity of the defense, knowing the players, knowing their strengths and weaknesses, things that probably give them a problem from an overall defensive standpoint. They’ve had some challenges this year just as we’ve had some, so they’ve had to overcome that.

“But ultimately, it’s about executing in between the lines, in between the whistles. It’s one thing to know how you can take advantage of a team, and it’s another thing to do it. For us, it’s really stressing the importance of the details. You look at last game and we went out and didn’t have success in the second half. It went down to all the details — catching the football, making the right blocks, hat placement, right reads, right throws. Just a number of things that we can control on our end that we’ve got to continue to do in order for us to win.”

Alabama’s defense has been hindered by injuries this season, and while Michigan has an advantage with Gattis on staff, the Tide's defense has a big head start on the Wolverines’ offense because of Gattis.

“One thing is their familiarity with what we do, because offensively we’re both the same team,” Gattis said. “So they’re going to have a lot of familiarity with what we do and know how to play certain things, but we’ve just got to do it better.

“We’ve got to do the small little details, the small techniques, execute our assignments, execute our fundamentals at a higher level. But I think they’re a really talented team. Obviously, they’ve had a bunch of injuries, playing a lot of young guys on the defensive side of the ball, very talented in the secondary. We’ve got to play our type of ball, eliminate our mistakes and make sure we protect the football because that’s one thing that they really do a good job as an overall team is turnover margin (No. 3 nationally).”

Michigan is coming off a 56-27 loss to Ohio State in the regular-season finale and Alabama lost, 48-45, to Auburn in its last game. Both teams have plenty to prove with Michigan coming off a 9-3 season after expectations were set so high and Alabama not in the four-team national playoff, which has been a typical landing spot for the Tide.

"It’s a great opportunity for our team, and I say that when most people consider it a great challenge," Gattis said. "It’s a great opportunity for our team to display who we are and how we’ve been practicing and playing and performing at a high level.

“Obviously, kind of a little disappointment off our last game, so it’s not how we want to finish the year. We want to finish the year with a different taste in our mouth. What better way to go out and finish your last game than playing against a team that’s pretty much set the bar in all of college football.”

Here are some highlights from Gattis’ "Inside Michigan Football" appearance:

On what he took away from this season: “I just think it’s a true testament to our guys just putting their head down and working through adversity. We had a very unusual year. We had a number of starters that were missing throughout spring football with offseason injuries and we had a new position at running back where we were going to have three new players that have never had experience there. We had some growing pains earlier in the year. Obviously faced a lot of adversity with some of the turnovers we were creating that were big drive-killers and momentum-killers throughout the game. But our guys really took ownership. They really improved on the mistakes they were making which ultimately led to them having success and putting together some really good games.”

On whether there was a moment the offense started to click? “The biggest thing for us was the consistency part because we had some really good flashes early on. I mean, there was a lot of positive plays in Middle Tennessee as well as Army, but the thing that negates those positive plays are the turnovers. Those are the things you can’t really take your eye off of from that standpoint. The thing for us was building that consistency. One play we run really well, and then the next time we run the play it’s a total disaster. We had to make sure we eliminated the negative plays first and foremost so we could continue to hang our hat on the positive plays and improve those.”

On his “speed in space” concept and spreading the ball around: “We talk about being balanced. Balance is not just running the ball and throwing the ball and being balanced from a run-pass standpoint. Balance for us is about how many guys touch the ball. We’ve had 18 different people score touchdowns — 10 in the pass game, eight in the run game. That is very important for us for the success of our offense to make the defense defend all eligible skill players on the field. When we can make them cover from sideline to sideline and cover 100 yards from end zone to end zone, we feel like we put stress on the defense from that standpoint. For us to move the ball effectively and efficiently, we’ve got to be able to move the ball all around the field and make those guys accountable for each guy that lines up.”

On the early recruiting class: “We had a really good skill class. We got a dynamic running back coming in in Blake Corum. You look at some of our skill perimeter players, (receivers) A.J. Henning, Roman Wilson, Eamonn Dennis, those guys have the chance with the ball in their hand to put fear into an opposing defense and a defensive coordinator. Guys that all have great ball skills that can run routes. Blake is a guy that’s tough, versatile, can run routes out of the backfield, can run the ball, can really be a home run hitter. You look at the tight end position, adding Matt Hibner, a guy that has versatility, can catch the ball, can block, everything we need from that standpoint. Also reloading up front, getting some big guys, some big, tough physical linemen that can move people up front but also have the versatility to play inside or outside whether it’s center-guard or guard-tackle. We feel got a complete class on offense.”

Twitter: @chengelis