Rapid Reaction: Alabama too much for Michigan in Citrus Bowl
ORLANDO — It’s Jerry Jeudy’s world. We are all just buying tickets to enjoy the show.
The soon-to-be NFL wide receiver torched No. 14 Michigan early and often under a sparkling Disney-like sky Wednesday in the Citrus Bowl, hauling in six receptions for 204 yards and a touchdown to lead No. 13 Alabama to a 35-16 victory in front of 59,746 at Camping World Stadium.
The Crimson Tide ends the season with an 11-2 record and improved to 3-0 in Orlando bowl games. Michigan finishes 9-4, the 2nd time in coach Jim Harbaugh’s 5 seasons the Wolverines failed to win at least 10 games.
Alabama quarterback Mac Jones passed for 327 yards and 3 touchdowns. Shea Patterson, his Michigan counterpart, had one TD pass and one interception. Zach Charbonnet led Michigan with 84 yards on 13 attempts. Najee Harris ran for 136 yards and two scores for the Crimson Tide.
Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and DeVonta Smith are juniors who are all likely declare for the NFL Draft in the coming days. Jeudy have opted for a week at the local theme parks instead of risking injury to play in the Citrus Bowl. Instead, he wounded Michigan all day long with a dazzling combination of speed, crisp route-running and great hands.
Alabama’s special teams woes reared their head precisely 0:01 into the game, as Michigan’s Giles Jackson fielded the opening kickoff, nearly tripped on the goal line but promptly raced to the midfield stripe. Despite trying to pick on Jared Mayden twice on the corner, Michigan got nowhere and was forced to punt.
Jeudy and the Tide needed just about the same amount of time to take command. The electrifying WR beat Wolverines defensive back Brad Hawkins for an 85-yard TD pass from Jones on the Tide’s 1st play from scrimmage to make it 7-0.
Michigan’s Patterson, who spent the first 2 years of his college career in the SEC at Ole Miss, uncorked some quality trickeration on the Wolverines’ 2nd drive. Patterson dialed up a flea-flicker to Donovan Peoples-Jones for 34 yards into the Crimson Tide red zone, then hit tight end Nick Eubanks on a 7-yard TD pass to tie it at 7.
Even with Alabama pinning Michigan at its own 1 on a quality Mike Bernier punt (incredibly, the Tide’s 4th punter of the season) the Wolverines were able to chip and chunk their way down the field to take the lead. Charbonnet bruised his way for 24 yards on 3 early carries and Patterson connected with Jackson on a 40-yard wheel route inside the Tide 20. While the drive stalled out after 10 plays and 81 yards, Quinn Nordin was true on a 36-yard field goal to give Michigan a 10-7 lead.
Michigan didn’t rush for more than 91 yards in any of its final 3 games of the regular season, yet gashed the Tide for 85 yards in the first quarter. That trend continued in the game’s next 15 minutes, as the Wolverines embarked on a 13-play drive that continued to test the Tide on the ground and was culminated in a 42-yard Nordin field goal to make it 13-7.
Alabama finally found its offense on the ensuing possession to re-take the lead. Aided by Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson driving Jones into the turf to draw a roughing-the-passer penalty, Alabama motored 75 yards in 8 plays, with Harris catapulting over the top to finish a 9-yard run that made it 14-13 with 3:32 to play in the first half.
Michigan wasn’t done yet, though, as the Wolverines worked their way into the fringe of field goal range at the end of the half — with Nordin nailing a career-long 57-yarder that broke the Citrus Bowl record, tied the school record and gave the Wolverines a 16-14 edge.
But what Alabama does perhaps better than any team in America is adjust at halftime. And the Tide adjusted promptly, as Jones connected with DeVonta Smith on a diving 42-yard TD pass on the 4th play of the 3rd quarter for a 21-16 Tide lead.
Like an annoying fly you just can’t quite shoo away, Michigan stuck close to with the Crimson Tide with an effective mix of Charbonnet and Patterson. And though the Wolverines didn’t score in the 3rd quarter, they piled up a time of possession (28:50 to 16:10) and converted 7-of-14 3rd downs (Alabama was 0-of-5 through 3 quarters).
But the 4th quarter was a different story. Alabama started by converting on 3rd down — gasp! — when Jones hit Jeudy on a crisp 14-yard out pattern. Jones then followed it up by lofting a perfect pass to Jeudy for 58 yards to push the Wolverines further on their heels.
And with the entire state of Michigan (Upper Peninsula included …) looking at No. 4 for another grab, Jones instead found wide-open tight end Miller Forristall for a 20-yard TD to make it 28-16. Harris tacked on his second TD in the final seconds for Alabama.