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Michigan hopes to keep offense rolling against Alabama on New Year’s Day

By Joseph Salvador, Florida Citrus Sports

ORLANDO, Fla. — The last time we saw Michigan, the Maize and Blue had just dropped a tough game against arch rival Ohio State. Such a defeat doesn’t typically leave much room for excitement in Ann Arbor. And yet…

The Wolverines scored more points against the Buckeyes — 27 — than any other team in the regular season. It was a continuation of a steady offensive growth pattern as winter drew near. After a road loss to Penn State in October, Michigan scored 45 against Notre Dame, 38 against Maryland, 44 against Michigan State and 39 against Indiana before the home finale.

Now in the warmth of Orlando, there’s a potential capper for that offense: a meeting with Alabama in the Vrbo Citrus Bowl at 1 p.m. on New Year’s Day.

The Wolverines will look to wide receiver Nico Collins to lead the way against the Tide, and he happens to be from Birmingham. He was even recruited by Alabama.

Collins’ initial reaction to the matchup was what you’d expect.

“I felt excited,” the junior said after practice on Saturday. “I feel like it’s an opportunity to go out and prove people wrong.”

That doesn’t mean talking big, though. Since his high school days, the 6-foot-4 wideout has avoided extra attention.

“As a kid, I’ve always been the low-key guy,” Collins said. “I never liked my name anywhere.”

He may not have much of a choice anymore. Alabama brings NFL-caliber receivers to Camping World Stadium, and Michigan will have to match. Collins has had some NFL chatter around him, and a stirring performance on Wednesday will “prove people wrong” about Michigan, as Collins puts it, and make a statement about the next step in his own career.

Collins racked up 33 catches and 681 receiving yards this season, said he has yet to decide on whether or not to return for his senior campaign.

Another key player with NFL potential is center Cesar Ruiz, a junior who has anchored the Wolverines’ O-line for the last three years. Ruiz allowed only eight pressures in 447 snaps in 2019 and looks to be ready for the NFL. If the 319-pounder can help hold off the Tide rush, quarterback Shea Patterson might be able to fight Bama’s fire with his own.

And that will depend on Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, who just finished his first regular season in Ann Arbor after moving from his job as co-offensive coordinator in Tuscaloosa. Some of the doubts about him have subsided as the offense has started to roll. There’s certainly plenty for him to prove as well.

“He brings his juice as always — he’s had juice with him all year,” said receiver Ronnie Bell. “I can’t tell if he’s feeling personal or what not, he’s always got some juice to him though. That’s what’s special about coach Gattis.”

Michigan’s regular season ended in disappointment, but on offense there’s a positive trend that has a chance to culminate in a statement win.

“A win over Alabama of course would be great,” Ruiz said Saturday. “It would just prove that we are a great football team. We can play with the best. We can win big games.”

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