Michigan can use a healthy Carlo Kemp against Najee Harris, Alabama

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

As Michigan prepares to begin practicing in Orlando for the Citrus Bowl, the Wolverines hope a vital part of their defensive line will be healthy and ready for the game.

Defensive tackle Carlo Kemp, a co-captain, was far from full-go in the regular-season finale against Ohio State, according to teammate Kwity Paye. Michigan will practice in Orlando beginning Friday in preparation for the New Year’s Day game against Alabama. The teams have played each other four times and have split those games.

Najee Harris

Michigan struggled to contain Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins, who had 211 yards on 31 carries and four touchdowns in the Buckeyes' victory. Paye said that part of the reason Michigan could not slow Dobbins was Kemp's issue with foot and ankle injuries.

“I think a lot of it, we were playing with injuries that game,” Paye said. “Not to make any excuses or anything like that. Carlo is a dog, he’s a warrior. He could barely walk. He was in boots. His feet are destroyed and he’s playing in that game giving us everything he had.

“He was playing injured and that’s our captain. He wasn’t able to play his best game because of the injuries. I feel he’s got a great opportunity this upcoming game. He’s getting hours and hours of treatment, so I feel he’ll be good for this game.”

More: Trieu: In-state recruiting, top-50 prospects among hot topics for Michigan's 2021 class

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Michigan enters the bowl game ranked No. 22 nationally against the run, yielding an average 119.1 yards. Generally against the run this season, the Wolverines have been solid, with the exception of two losses. Army gained 200 yards against Michigan but also had 61 rush attempts. But the glaring issues for the run defense were against Wisconsin and Ohio State.

The Badgers, led by Jonathan Taylor, rushed for 359 yards and five touchdowns against Michigan in the Big Ten opener, and then Ohio State rushed for 264 yards and Dobbins’ four touchdowns. Sandwiched between those games were solid performances against the run, including a 1-yard effort by Iowa, which was saddled by sack-yardage losses.

The Wolverines will have their hands full with junior Najee Harris, a familiar name to Michigan fans from the final days of his recruitment when Michigan made a strong push to land him in the 2017 class. Harris has rushed for 1,088 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Harris has five 100-yard games this season, including 146-yard rushing performances in the Tide’s two losses, to LSU and Auburn.

O-line looks A-OK 

At the very least, Michigan will have to replace three starters on the offensive line – left tackle and two-time first-team All-Big Ten Jon Runyan, All-Big Ten first-team left guard Ben Bredeson, and right tackle Michael Onwenu, an All-Big Ten third-team selection.

Bowl practices are a time to give younger players reps, and Runyan said several on the line have stood out as the team prepares for Alabama.

“Stepping back and watching the younger guys practice, there’s going to be a lot of talented guys coming up," he said.

He singled out freshmen and sophomores Karsen Barnhart, Trevor Keegan, Zach Carpenter, Nolan Rumler and Jack Stewart.

“Those guys have been doing well,” Runyan said. “I remember going back to my freshman year, it was really difficult for me to adjust. They’ve taken it in stride and doing a lot better than me when I was in their situation. I haven’t really told them that, but it’s true. I’m excited to see if Chuck (Filiaga) finally gets a chance, Ryan Hayes (right tackle), Jalen (Mayfield) return, and see (Andrew) Stueber come back healthy from injury. The future is all in good hands.”

Erick All

Good hands, good blocking

Tight end Sean McKeon will be gone after the Citrus Bowl and Nick Eubanks is mulling his future. But when McKeon missed games earlier this season after suffering an injury in the Wisconsin game, sophomore Luke Schoonmaker and freshman Erick All saw increased playing time.

Schoonmaker (6-6, 242) had two catches for 54 yards and a touchdown, and All (6-4, 229) had one catch for 10 yards. Both showed promise this season, and All’s upside was evident.

“His blocking ability (has improved),” Eubanks said of All. “He reminded me of myself, all about speed, coming in as a freshman being able to run routes good, catch the ball good. He has big hands, that’s one thing about that dude. He catches everything, as well. Him being able to block is what’s going to get him on the field. We’ll see him a lot next year, too.”

Next viper up

Khaleke Hudson has defined the viper role in Michigan’s defense the last couple years. He leads the team with 96 tackles this season and has three tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.

Hudson will play his final game for the Wolverines in the bowl game and said he feels confident Michael Barrett and Anthony Solomon are ready to take over.

“They’ve grown a lot,” Hudson said. “Their progress from where they started to where they are now is unbelievable. To see where they were to where they are now, a testament to how hard they work. The future is bright with them.”

Citrus Bowl


Kickoff: 1 p.m. Jan. 1 Camping World Stadium, Orlando

TV/radio: ABC/950

Records: Michigan 9-3, Alabama 10-2

Line: Alabama by 7