ORLANDO — The game of catchup Michigan was forced to play against Ohio State really started late in the second quarter, when the Buckeyes went to the red zone twice in a seven-minute span and scored touchdowns both times. Before the second quarter was over, the Buckeyes had three touchdowns on three red zone trips — and a 12-point lead to show for it.
Two more red zone trips and two more scores were enough to keep the Wolverines at arm’s length. Michigan lost 56-27 as its red zone defense woes continued.
The Wolverines enter the Citrus Bowl against the University of Alabama ranked 120th in the nation in red zone touchdown percentage allowed, allowing opponents to score touchdowns on 70.97 percent of their red zone trips. Among the many things UA’s offense does well, it’s get to the red zone: it is one of just 18 teams to do so 59 or more times, and only two of those 18 have done it in only 12 games.
“After every game you always go ahead and evaluate what went right and what went wrong,” Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown said, referencing the Ohio State game. “Is it human error? Is it schematics error? 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’ve got to get back — we went eight weeks in a row with giving up about 11 points per 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.”
The stretch Brown referenced was between Michigan’s third game, the 35-14 loss to Wisconsin, and the Ohio State game. In those eight games, Michigan allowed an average of 12.6 points per game and, coincidentally or not, was significantly better in the red zone. Michigan allowed 9 touchdowns in 16 red zone trips (56.25 percent) in those eight games. In the other four: 13 touchdowns in 15 trips (86.6 percent).
In speaking about UA, Brown was incredibly complimentary of UA’s trio of wide receivers — Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and DeVonta Smith — that have taken the UA offense to fourth in the nation in yards per attempt. Those same receivers should be a focal point once UA gets in the red zone.
Michigan allows teams to score touchdowns in the red zone far more than average, but its red-zone pass defense has been worse than its red-zone run defense. Ranking all 130 FBS teams by how often their opponents score on red-zone pass attempts, Michigan ranks 65th, allowing a touchdown on 24.14 percent of opponent pass attempts inside the 20. Against the run, the percent drops down to 18.29 percent and the ranking improves to 42nd.
With passing in the red zone being a proven weakness of Michigan’s, Alabama proves to be a difficult test. Running back Najee Harris has seven receiving touchdowns on the season: five of them came in the red zone, and all five of his red zone catches have gone for touchdowns.
Reach Brett Hudson at 205-722-0196 or firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter, @Brett_Hudson