Christopher Walsh has covered Crimson Tide football since 2004 and is the author of 26 books. He's a seven-time honoree of Football Writers Association of America awards and has twice won the Herby Kirby Memorial Award, the Alabama Sports Writers Association’s highest honor for story of the year. He's originally from Minnesota but currently resides in Tuscaloosa, making him one of the foremost experts on Crimson Tide football.
I asked Walsh a handful of questions surrounding the Michigan/Alabama matchup for the VRBO Citrus Bowl and he gave some great insight as to what's going on in the marquee matchup.
1. We already know about Terrell Lewis and Trevon Diggs sitting out. First, how big of a deal is it that those two are out and second, do you anticipate anyone else sitting out at this point?
No, nobody else is expected to sit out.
It's hard to tell how much of a loss Diggs and Lewis will be because Lewis wasn't 100 percent for a significant part of the season and you could kind of tell he was getting worried about his future down the stretch. Physically he's a freak. Chris Allen will step in and should be solid at the position.
Diggs not playing will be more significant as he had a really good season minus the LSU game. Tall, lean corners like him are hard to find. Penalty-prone Josh Jobe will likely start in his place, but his early departure will be really felt if Alabama has an injury at the position.
2. What do Michigan fans need to know about Mac Jones? How big of a difference is there between him and Tua Tagovailoa?
His teammates call him Joker because he has a really good sense of humor and kind of a high-pitched laugh. He's been in the system for three years, so he's comfortable with it and the players. He just didn't get to play that much. Jones is really competitive and he'll do everything he can to rally the offense, but the coaches won't have him throwing as much as Tua. He doesn't have Tua's accuracy, but who does?
3. This is the first time Bama isn’t competing for a title in the playoff era, how are players and coaches dealing with that? Is there any sense of, “this game doesn’t even matter?" What’s the vibe around the motivation of the team?
That's been a problem with Alabama before, including Sugar Bowl losses to Utah and Oklahoma. What the coaches are rallying around was the last bowl trip to Orlando in 2010 when Alabama crushed Michigan State. That team had something to prove, but all of the key players were healthy for the Spartans. So far, the players and coaches are saying the right things, but the one that got my attention was when Mac Jones was asked for an example that demonstrated how focussed the team was. He basically said the defense kicked our rears the other day.
4. What’s the perception of three things from the Alabama side of things? Michigan as a team, Shea Patterson as a quarterback and Jim Harbaugh as a coach.
There's a lot of respect for the program in general, but Crimson Tide fans remember some of the things Harbaugh said a few years ago while sort of poking Alabama and running his satellite camps while not wearing a shirt — plus that Josh Gattis suddenly left. They're curious about what Gattis might come up with, but that's about the extent of it. Saban faces 3-4 former assistants every year so that's really nothing new, and I kind of expect Michigan to rely heavily on its offensive line and attack the two freshmen interior linebackers (like everyone else has).
I kind of feel bad that Shea Patterson transferred all the way to Michigan and now has to face Alabama again. He had a rough go against the Crimson Tide in 2017, but he's definitely improved since then.
5. Does anyone down there actually think Michigan can win? Most people up here assume Michigan is going to lose.
Can win? Yes. Will win? No. The overall belief is that even though Alabama will be shorthanded, the Crimson Tide has too much speed and offensive firepower. To me this game has an original-six feel to it in hockey, only not too many people down here knows what that means.
What do you think of the questions and answers? What else would you ask? Comment below!!!