Wolverines erase devasting Buckeyes defeat as daunting Crimson Tide test looms

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Orlando, Fla. — It has been just more than four weeks since Michigan’s loss to Ohio State, and the Wolverines don’t deny it was a disappointing and discouraging defeat.

The Buckeyes won for the eighth straight time against the Wolverines and have had consecutive thrashings— 62-39 in Columbus in 2018 and 56-27 at Michigan Stadium last month. Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown, in his first availability to reporters since before the Ohio State game, said he is zeroed in on Alabama now, not Ohio State.

Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown says his focus is on stopping Alabama's potent attack.

Michigan (9-3) plays Alabama (10-2) on Wednesday in the Citrus Bowl.

“Yeah, we’ve moved on from that,” Brown said Sunday at a bowl news conference. “I mean, obviously you can’t let a significant loss like that linger. If you let it linger, then one loss leads to two losses. And I think our guys have done a good job of just putting that behind us and focusing on what’s in front of us.

“We’ve got a great challenge coming up here Wednesday, and, you know, that’s our 100 percent focus.”

Michigan must now face an explosive Alabama offense that now has quarterback Mac Jones running the show now that Tua Tagovailoa is sidelined with a hip injury suffered late in the season. Najee Harris is the leading running back and has 1,088 yards and 11 touchdowns, but it’s the group of receivers that gives defensive coordinators headaches.

DeVonta Smith leads the group with 1,200 yards and 13 touchdowns, Jerry Jeudy has 959 yards and nine touchdowns, Henry Ruggs III has 710 yards and seven touchdowns, and Jaylen Waddle has 553 yards and six touchdowns. And the Tide’s offensive line features potential NFL first-round tackles Alex Leatherwood and Jedrick Wills.

Brown said after the OSU loss, he evaluated what went wrong and what went right so he could begin prep work for Alabama.

“You know, is it human error? Is it schematics error?” Brown said, of questions he considered after Ohio State. “So you go through those processes and you set your game plan for a new opponent and you try to fortify your weaknesses and play to your strengths.

“We went eight weeks in a row with giving up about 11 points a game. We’ve got to get back to that style of play. And we still have to maintain our own identity but at the same time be ready to adjust to the strengths of our new opponent, which is Alabama.”

Michigan has talented cornerbacks in Lavert Hill and Ambry Thomas, and they have expressed confidence regarding the challenge of covering the Alabama receivers.

Brown said these receivers are among the best he’s seen.

“I’m going to have to say top three to five,” he said Sunday. “One year at (Boston College), we had Sammy Watkins and company when we faced Clemson and you know, I would think this group might have some similar traits.

“But the bottom line is, when you have four of them, that makes it a significant challenge because you’ve got to be strong at all your defensive back positions and your linebackers got to be in sync in the coverages that we’ll utilize. This is probably the deepest group across the board, but (we’ve) seen individual talent like these guys in the past.”

Getting an early look

Six of Michigan’s 2020 freshmen who signed letters of intent this month during the early signing period, were able to spend three days of practice with the team.

The group included: running back Blake Corum, cornerback Andre Seldon, safety Makari Paige, offensive lineman Zak Zinter, and linebacker Nikhai Hill-Green. Defensive end Braiden McGregor, who is recovering from surgery in October to repair torn knee ligaments, also will be at the facility going through rehab.

Offensive coordinator Josh Gattis said Sunday that there were nothing but positives from their time with the team.

“It was very beneficial from a team chemistry standpoint, just mixing those guys in, you know, kind of getting them around some of their teammates and really kind of showing those guys how we practice and the culture that we have in practice,” Gattis said. “There wasn't a ton of work that they could do, obviously. We were focused on our opponent coming up and moving along in our game preparations. But very, very pleased.

“Offensively we had Zak Zinter and then we had Blake Corum there early and really pleased with both of those young men and what they displayed. Blake's got a unique ability to be explosive with the ball in his hands and we're excited about him. But, you know, we're going to welcome those guys back in January and they're going to have to really get back to work. It's going to be a different set and it's going to be a different team. It's going to be new opportunities and new challenges, and so we look forward to welcoming those guys on campus.”

Making strides

Michigan defensive co-captain Khaleke Hudson said several of the younger players have stepped up during bowl practices.

Hudson singled out cornerback DJ Turner, running back Zach Charbonnet, receiver Mike Sainristil, defensive lineman Mazi Smith and linebacker Anthony Solomon for their play.

“Just all the freshman, really, to me, they're really trying to hone in the defense and really starting to know what they're doing and starting to show because it's allowing them to be able to move faster and be able to think faster and just be able to be in practice, just doing what they do and that's making plays,” Hudson said.

Citrus Bowl


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

TV/radio: ABC/950 AM

Records: Michigan 9-3, Alabama 10-2

Line: Alabama by 10


Twitter: @chengelis