Wednesday, April 17, 2024
Wednesday, April 17, 2024
Home College Football Michigan tops Washington to win CFP national championship

Michigan tops Washington to win CFP national championship

by Moxieplay

HOUSTON — In the end, the “Michigan vs. Everybody” mantra that inspired the Wolverines all season long was quite fitting.

The Wolverines did indeed square off against everybody — from the NCAA to their own Big Ten conference to the No. 2 team in the nation Monday night on college football’s greatest stage. On and off the field, Michigan refused to let any opponent, any NCAA investigation or any of the six games its head coach was suspended for get in its way of winning a national title.

And Monday night, when it mattered the most, No. 1 Michigan did it again, beating No. 2 Washington 34-13 before an announced crowd of 72,808 at NRG Stadium to earn the school’s first national championship since 1997, when it shared the honor with Nebraska. The Wolverines asserted themselves from the opening kickoff and never trailed against the Huskies (14-1).

“I feel like this has been the perfect happy ending,” said running back Donovan Edwards, who averaged an astounding 17.3 yards per carry and finished with 103 yards and two touchdowns. “A lot of personal success, a lot of personal failures, but our ultimate goal was to win a national championship. … There’s no other feeling than to go through what we have and still come out on top. So perfect story, a lot of adversity — Coach Harbaugh’s not there for six games — perfect story.”

Michigan’s national title will always be entangled with what was the biggest story in college football this year: allegations of a widespread sign-stealing scheme allegedly led by former staff member Connor Stalions, who resigned Nov. 4. As polarizing as the program has been nationally, though, those within it have only been galvanized by the controversy and accusations.

“It fueled us,” Michigan defensive tackle Mason Graham said. “Everything that we’ve been through, everything they tried to do to us, tried to discredit everything we did this season. Winning this game solidifies we’re that team. … Coach Harbaugh’s on the plane and he doesn’t even get to go to our game against Penn State. Our back’s been against the wall, but this team’s different.”

So is its head coach.

After the confetti had fallen, Harbaugh found his parents on the field and first wrapped his 84-yeard-old father — a spitting image of himself — in a bear hug, lifting him up off the ground. He turned to his mother and did the same, planting a kiss on her and saying, “We did it!”

“For me personally, I can now sit at the big person’s table in the family,” said Harbaugh, a former Michigan quarterback in his ninth season coaching his alma mater. “They won’t keep me over there on the little table anymore. My dad, Jack Harbaugh, won a national championship and my brother [John] won a Super Bowl. It’s good to be at the big person’s table from now on.”

In what was the first national championship game appearance for both teams, (Michigan’s ’97 shared title with Nebraska was won one year before the first BCS National Championship game) Michigan became the sixth team in major college football history to finish 15-0 or better in a season and set the Big Ten’s record for the most wins in a season.

The Wolverines did it the old-school way, with a relentless running game that racked up 303 yards, and a stifling defense that flustered Heisman runner-up quarterback Michael Penix Jr. into two interceptions.

Michigan jumped out to a 14-3 first-quarter lead, but Washington responded with a 3-yard touchdown from Penix to Jalen McMillan that sent the Huskies to the locker room trailing 17-10. That was the only touchdown, though, they would score.

“They’re a good team,” Penix said. “We just didn’t execute in the moments when we needed to. It’s just about executing. I don’t feel like they did anything — I feel like we beat ourselves.”

Michigan had all of the pieces in place for the perfect season — starting with a veteran quarterback in J.J. McCarthy, who wasn’t flashy, but won the turnover battle against Penix.

Michigan had the burly offensive line that won the battle up front and paved the way for a dynamic duo at running back in Blake Corum and Edwards. They each ran for over 100 yards and together accounted for four touchdowns. Corum, who missed last year’s CFP with a knee injury, was named the game’s Offensive MVP after totaling 134 yards and two touchdowns.

Michigan also had the stingy defense that flustered Penix all night, making it far more difficult for the Huskies to have success in the deep passing game — or any passing game at all. Penix completed 27 of 51 pass attempts (53%) for 255 yards and a touchdown.

“That was a spectacular game by our defense,” Harbaugh said.

This was arguably the most talented Michigan team in decades, one that built its success on not only a senior-laden roster, but also discipline, rarely racking up penalties and turnovers. It wasn’t, though, without its flaws.

There was the NCAA investigation into alleged recruiting violations during the 2020 season, and a separate NCAA investigation into a widespread sign-stealing scheme. There was also Harbaugh’s three-game suspension to open the season, and another three-game suspension to end the season — the latter was imposed by the Big Ten for violating the league’s sportsmanship policy by illegally going off-campus to steal signs.

Michigan’s motivation extended beyond that, though, going back to its Fiesta Bowl loss to TCU to end the 2022 season — the program’s second straight CFP semifinal loss.

“I’d say we came a long way, but in order to accomplish things like this, you’ve got to go to those dark places where everything’s not great,” McCarthy said. “And just the response, the urgency right after that last game last year, it was different. I knew it. Just from being on the podium last year and saying we would be back. I knew the guys that were coming back. I had this feeling that it was going to be where we are right now.”

With Harbaugh sidelined for the final three games of the regular season, offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore led the Wolverines to critical wins against Penn State, Maryland and Ohio State. When asked what the phrase “Michigan vs. Everybody” mean to him, Moore said, “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.”

With Big Ten commissioner Tony Petitti watching from a suite with Big Ten staff, Big Ten Network staff and guests, Michigan did what it has done all season in spite of the controversy — it outplayed its opponent.

Michigan averaged a whopping 19.3 yards per carry in the first quarter. The Wolverines won the battle up front and created confusion for Washington’s defense. Michigan had four plays of at least 35 yards, and the Huskies’ defense allowed 209 rushing yards in the first half — the most the program has allowed in a half since 2011.

Washington’s 17-3 deficit in the first quarter was its largest of the season.

With 10:27 remaining in the first half, Washington’s Rome Odunze, one of the top receivers in the country, was wide open and within scoring range when Penix overthrew him on a daring fourth-and-7 play the Huskies desperately needed to swing the momentum.

At one point in the fourth quarter, Penix had completed just 26.7% of his passes thrown at least 5 yards (4-of-15) and had thrown an interception. With 4:29 left in the game, he threw another one which Mike Sainristil ran back 81 yards to Washington’s 8-yard line. The play set up Corum’s second touchdown that put the Wolverines ahead 34-13.

It was the second time in the second half a touchdown by Corum provided some separation. With 7:09 left in the game, Corum ran 12 yards for a touchdown that put the Wolverines ahead 27-13. It was a Hollywood ending for Corum, who lead the FBS with 27 total touchdowns and is unlikely to return next season. He has had a rushing touchdown in 15 straight games, the longest streak by a Michigan player in the past 20 seasons.

“Coaches always say, playmakers make plays, and don’t wait on anyone else to make a play,” Corum said. “Today was a complete, complete team effort.”

McCarthy completed 10 of 18 passes because he didn’t have to be a hero in the air with so much success on the ground. As McCarthy left the locker room after the game to go to the postgame news conference, he exhaled.

“Oh man,” he said, “we did it.”

Against everybody.

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