Sacking the Tide
MatchQuarters breaks down the six sacks by the Wolverines en route to a Rose Bowl victory and a shot at the National Title.
If there was a glaring issue for the Crimson Tide in 2023, it was the offensive line. In 14 games, the unit allowed four or more sacks in eight of them. Starting QB Jalen Milroe was sacked in every game except for one, Kentucky. Against Georgia’s vaunted defense, the Tide surrendered four sacks but was able to keep the pocket clean enough for Milroe to hit two crucial passing TDs.
Since 2016, the Tide have had an NFL QB at the helm. Milroe still has time to develop, but those familiar with the program have become accustomed to seeing a dominant Alabama offense that complements an elite defense. 2023 saw the offense struggle to find consistency early, and though it stabilized throughout the season, it never had the punch it has had in recent years. BCFToys had the unit finishing a pedestrian 20th in OFEI (think DVOA).
On the opposing side of the field, Jesse Minter has become one of the best defensive coordinators in college football in only two years. After the departure of Mike Macdonald, who has taken the NFL by storm with the Ravens, Minter was tabbed as his replacement by Jim Harbaugh. Both Macdonald and Minter come from the same Ravens tree.
In the NFL, Macdonald has resurrected the Baltimore defense from one of the worst in the league to now arguably the best unit in football. Minter has paralleled that success in Ann Arbor. The philosophy aligns schematically with some of the best coaches in football. Michigan and the Ravens use multiple fronts, but mainly base from a four-down front, with athletic EDGEs and multiple coverages and lean into simulated pressures as a way to blitz the box.
The modern game has forced defenses to be multiple, and the scheme ran at Michigan aligns with that evolution. Minter is willing to layer his scheme to give the players multiple answers. The Baltimore pressure package is one of the most coveted in football. With that foundation, Minter & Co. can create attacking concepts that are simple for the players to execute but complicated for the offense to pick up.
Heading into the Rose Bowl matchup with Alabama, the Wolverines had a Blitz Rate (BR) of 39.6%, which ranked them 17th in the Power 5. Of those pressures, 36.2% were of the Sim variety, enough to rank 6th in the P5. Finally, Michigan’s Pass Blitz Rate (PBR) sat at 43.4%, slotting them 21st in the P5 (PFF).
With a weak O-line for the Crimson Tide, Minter entered the match-up against Alabama with a pressure-heavy mindset. According to PFF, the BR against Bama rose to 48.5% with a PBR of 57.1%. Minter wanted to use pressure to accelerate the reads for Milore and challenge each individual O-linemen.
Michigan used five-man pressures on ~65% of their snaps against the Tide; their year average was ~50% (PFF). When facing a weak O-line, five-man pressures can create one-on-ones that the defense can take advantage of. When creating man-blocking up front, the protection is left vulnerable to twisting and ‘pick’ stunts common in five-man pressure. This is a concept Georgia has used for the past several years to dominate football.
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