National Champs! Michigan 34, Washington 13

Tag: Washington

9Jan 2024
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National Champs! Michigan 34, Washington 13

These guys are national champions! It’s amazing to think of what had to come together for this team to win a national championship. From an outsider’s perspective, Alabama and Georgia just seem to kind of fall into a national championship. They throw a lot of money at the football program, they’re in recruiting hotbeds, and magically, they just end up in the championship. I know that sounds trite, and obviously, there’s a lot of play calling, hard work, toughness, culture building, etc. that goes into winning a championship. But I don’t know that any national championship team in recent memory can compare with what this team had to go through to get there, including:

  • Hiring the golden boy QB/coach to come back to Michigan from the NFL in 2015
  • Morons who thought Jim Harbaugh should have been fired sometime around 2020
  • Overcoming basically multiple decades of Ohio State dominance in the Big Ten
  • Bringing back guys who could have gone to the NFL (Zak Zinter, Blake Corum, Trevor Keegan, etc.)
  • Limitations with recruiting and transfers due to NIL shortcomings and admissions nonsense
  • A QB battle that resulted in the incumbent starter transferring to Iowa
  • Year after year of a head coach being courted by the NFL
  • Enduring the loss of All-American RG Zak Zinter in the middle of the Ohio State game
  • Having Jim Harbaugh suspended for 50% of the 2023 regular season, including the two toughest games against Penn State and Ohio State
  • The NCAA and Big Ten seemingly conspiring to try to damage Jim Harbaugh and/or force him out of college football
  • Drawing #4 Alabama, a battle-tested and proven program, in the College Football Playoff instead of 13-0 newbies Florida State

Of course, there are other struggles and roadblocks that are too numerous to mention, but it was a long and difficult road for this team to win on the biggest stage in college sports.

Donovan Edwards breaks out. I’ve been quick to point out his struggles this season, so I have to be quick to point out where Edwards succeeds. Edwards ran 6 times for 104 yards and 2 touchdowns. That comes after a season when he had been ranked as the second-to-worst Big Ten running back in terms of yards per carry (3.48 coming into the national championship game). Edwards found a couple big holes and used his explosive speed to outrun Washington’s secondary, which I mentioned in the lead-up to the game was one of the worst tackling units on the schedule. Up through fourteen games this season, Edwards’s longest run of the year was 14 yards. Then in his first couple carries against Washington, he had two runs that were 40+ yards (46- and 41-yard touchdowns). Michigan had 14 points in no time thanks to Edwards’s big plays.

The whole running game had a day. Every Michigan player who ran the ball averaged 7.0 yards per carry or better. Michigan ended up averaging 8.0 yards per carry (38 carries, 303 yards, 4 touchdowns). Starting running back Blake Corum’s long run went for 59 yards; altogether, he ran 21 times for 134 yards and 2 touchdowns. At one point the broadcast put up a statistic that said Michigan averaged 31 yards per carry in the first quarter, 4.4 in the second quarter, and 4.0 in the third quarter. They were talking as if Washington had shut down Michigan’s running game, and I was thinking, “Ummm . . . that’s just getting it back down to average, guys.” It’s like when your co-worker shows up 30 minutes late to work every day, and then when they finally get there on the dot at 8:00 a.m., it’s like, “Hey, everybody! Look how awesome Larry is for showing up on time for the first day this month!”

This was not J.J. McCarthy’s day. I actually think McCarthy did just fine – and he made some great throws – but Michigan had so many ways to be dominant in the run game that the passing game was almost irrelevant. Michigan probably could have gone with the second half Penn State script for this entire game and won the day. The Wolverines were having such great success in the run, and they weren’t even testing the edges with jet sweeps, QB sweeps, etc. McCarthy finished 10/18 for 140 yards. He had some open receivers, but Washington’s pass rush was solid. The matchups just favored Michigan’s running game so much that McCarthy could be a complementary piece. I thought Michigan probably could have/should have run him more, but they only used one designed run for him.

Kudos to Washington. Washington put up a valiant fight. They hung around for 3.5 quarters, and it was 20-13 late into the game. Then Michigan broke it open late with the Blake Corum touchdowns. I thought their defensive line and linebackers showed some toughness. There were a couple standout plays by linebacker Edefuan Ulofoshio (who lined up like he was going to rush the passer on 4th down, only to run out to the flat and bat down a pass intended for Roman Wilson) and safety Dominique Hampton (who punched out a ball intended for Colston Loveland). Running back Dillon Johnson put in a hard day’s work on a bum knee/ankle to run 11 times for 33 yards and catch 2 passes for 24 yards. Offensively, they outcoached Michigan to scheme open receivers and even get some running lanes, but physically, they weren’t a match.

Let’s talk about Michael Penix. Michigan held the best passer in the country to 27/51 for 255 yards, 1 touchdown, and 2 interceptions. They only sacked him one time (from NT Kenneth Grant), but they harassed Penix repeatedly. They were pushing offensive guards back in Penix’s face, forcing his own linemen to step on Penix’s ankle. Then they hurt Penix’s ribs. By the fourth quarter, I was thinking, “How long can Washington keep him in this game without risking his future?” There are apparently some NFL scouts who think wide receiver Rome Odunze is better than Marvin Harrison, Jr., and Odunze was held to 5 catches for 87 yards. Ja’Lynn Polk is considered to be a 2nd-3rd round prospect, and he had 4 catches for 37 yards. Third receiver Jalen McMillan, known for his yards after the catch, had 6 catches for just 33 yards and 1 touchdown. Penix did miss some throws he usually makes, but you have to credit Michigan’s defense for making him uncomfortable enough to miss some routine throws.

Michigan’s defense was mostly awesome. The best play of the day can be debated, but for me, it was when Penix threw a quick out to McMillan on 3rd-and-7. With a reputation for running after the catch and a good amount of open space, McMillan had a chance to get the first down. Instead, nickel corner Mike Sainristil wrapped him up, held on tight, spun him to the ground, and killed the drive. You could also argue that Grant knocking an offensive guard on his butt and then sacking Penix was the play of the day. Or maybe when cornerback Will Johnson tipped a pass to himself and then secured an interception just inside the sideline to stop Washington’s first drive of the third quarter. There were a couple coverage busts, but overall, it was a dominant day against a very good offensive unit.

What does this mean to me? Michigan winning the national championship means a lot of things. I, of course, know I had nothing to do with the win, but this is why we watch sports. We all latch onto one team – or maybe a few – and root for them. I’ve been a Michigan fan since birth. I remember going to Michigan Stadium in the freezing cold and eating a hot dog as a kid sitting in the stands, watching Ricky Powers and Desmond Howard and Tony Boles and Elvis Grbac and Tyrone Wheatley. I remember where I was when Charles Woodson made that interception in the Rose Bowl following the 1997 season. So many Michigan memories have that “I was with (insert friend/family member) at (insert place) when (insert magical moment).”

And a lot of those hopes about winning national championships faded over the years, not because I thought Michigan was falling off, but because so much talent was getting concentrated in the SEC. I don’t care what sport you’re a fan of, but eventually, you get sick of watching the same team(s) win championships year after year. If I weren’t a fan of Tom Brady, I would have been sick of the Patriots. I’m not a fan of the Yankees, so I got sick of them really quickly back in the 1990s and early 2000s. When people asked me what I thought about Monday’s national championship game beforehand, I said, “Whoever wins, I’m just glad they won’t be from the SEC.” And yes, this means that people will be sick of Michigan soon, and that’s only if they’re not already annoyed by Jim Harbaugh dominating the headlines.

But this confirms that schools from other parts of the country, not just the southeast, can still win championships in football. This confirms that high academic standards aren’t going to preclude a team from winning. It also shows that teams can still win by running the ball and playing good defense.

Who’s got it better than us?


8Jan 2024
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National Championship Preview: Final Thoughts, Prediction

Washington head coach Kalen DeBoer (AP Photo/David Becker)

I think there’s something to be said for a team with experience in the playoffs being able to push through. For example:

  • Alabama lost the semifinal Sugar Bowl game in 2014, then won the national championship in 2015
  • Clemson lost the national championship game in 2015, then won it in 2016
  • Georgia lost the national championship game in 2017, then won it in 2021 and 2022

Essentially, the only team to win the national championship in the CFP era after not having played in the playoff before was 2019 LSU, powered by Joe Burrow, Jamarr Chase, Justin Jefferson, and several other future NFL stars. (Ohio State won in the first CFP season of 2014, but of course the first winner of a new thing had never won that thing before.)

Washington is brand new to the CFP . . . but their offensive explosiveness has also been compared to Burrow, Chase, Jefferson, and Co. with Michael Penix, Rome Odunze, Ja’Lynn Polk, Jalen McMillan, and others. The key difference is that those LSU offensive stars were paired with dynamite defensive players like linebacker Patrick Queen, safety Grant Delpit, cornerback Derek Stingley, Jr., outside linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson, etc. I don’t see those types of players on Washington’s defense.

The Huskies have won an FBS record 10 straight games decided by 10 points or fewer. They’re 14-0 this year, and the last time they won by more than 10 points was on September 23, 2023, when they beat Cal by a score of 59-42. That’s not a knock on Washington. They absolutely deserve to be 14-0 and in the national championship game. They’re battle-tested, but they’re also vulnerable.

There are a lot of factors that go into this game, so I won’t say “it all comes down to _____________” or “everything depends on ________________.” That would be way too simplistic. But one huge factor is going to be the tackling on the back end. Washington is going to get its completions, but can Michigan’s linebackers and defensive backs tackle Odunze, McMillan, Polk, Germie Bernard, etc. and limit their yards after the catch? Conversely, if/when Michigan gets the ball to Blake Corum, Roman Wilson, Colston Loveland, Semaj Morgan, etc., can Washington’s defensive backs get them to the ground?

Right now I have more confidence in Michigan’s back seven than I do in Washington’s, so I’m going with the Wolverines.

Michigan 34, Washington 28

7Jan 2024
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National Championship Preview: Michigan Defense vs. Washington Offense

Michael Penix (#9, image via Washington Athletics)

Michigan ranks #9 in rushing defense (93.1 yards allowed/game) and #7 in yards allowed per carry (3.03). Last week they allowed a season-high 172 yards on the ground, but 63 of those yards came on 21 attempts by Alabama QB Jalen Milroe. Michigan backup DT Rayshaun Benny was lost for this game after a lower body injury last week, but the Wolverines still dominated the line of scrimmage against the Crimson Tide, and fellow DT Mason Graham was named MVP of the Rose Bowl. Middle linebacker Junior Colson leads the team with 89 tackles, and fellow LB Michael Barrett is second with 61. The third guy is LB Ernest Hausmann (44 tackles), whose playing time seems to have diminished in Michigan’s postseason. Michigan is #55 in tackles for loss (5.86 per game), led by OLB Jaylen Harrell and DE Braiden McGregor with 9 each. Washington’s rush offense ranks #102 nationally (123.6 yards/game), and they’re tied for #55 in yards per carry (4.42). The leading rusher is Mississippi State transfer Dillon Johnson (6’0″, 218 lbs.), a senior who has 222 carries for 1,162 yards and 16 touchdowns this season; Johnson suffered an ankle injury last week and may be limited or slowed by the injury. Freshman Tybo Rogers (5’11”, 185) seems to be the primary backup at this point in the season, as he had 5 carries for 19 yards last week when Johnson was hurt; altogether, he has 43 attempts for 182 yards and 0 touchdowns this year. The offensive line for the Huskies won the 2023 Joe Moore Award for being the top offensive line – Michigan won it in 2021 and 2022 – so they play very well together. Redshirt junior LT Troy Fautanu (6’4″, 317) will probably get drafted in the first couple rounds, and redshirt sophomore RT Roger Rosengarten (6’6″, 300) is also a solid player who could get drafted in the middle rounds. Center Parker Brailsford (6’2″, 275) is a redshirt freshman thrust into a starting position due to injury.

Advantage: Michigan. Washington has decent success in the run game, but they don’t really commit to it, since their strength is in the passing game. They also rely heavily on Johnson and haven’t got much from the backup running backs, so if Johnson is slowed by his ankle injury, that could spell trouble for the run altogether.

Michigan ranks #2 in passing defense (150 yards allowed/game), #5 in yards allowed per attempt (5.8), and #3 in defensive passing efficiency. They have allowed 7 passing touchdowns while nabbing 16 interceptions on the season. Last week Milroe completed almost 70% of his throws, but they were short gains (5.0 yards/attempt). The Wolverines are tied for #17 in interceptions per game (1.14), led by Mike Sainristil’s 5, and 4 of their 16 picks have been returned for scores. Michigan sacked Milroe 6 times in the Rose Bowl, bringing them up to #21 in sacks per game (2.71). Harrell has 6.5 sacks, OLB Josaiah Stewart has 5.5, and McGregor has 4.5. It’s going to be much tougher to get to the QB in this one, though, because while Milroe has a reputation for holding onto the ball too long, Washington QB Michael Penix (6’3″, 213) has one of the quickest releases in the country. Penix transferred from Indiana following the 2021 season and is in his sixth year of college, having had his best season for the Hoosiers when Washington head coach Kalen Deboer was Indiana’s offensive coordinator in 2019. Penix finished second in the 2023 Heisman voting and has the Huskies ranked #1 in passing (350 yards/game), #6 in yards per attempt (9.4), and #11 in passing efficiency. Penix is 336/504 (66.7%) for 4,648 yards, 35 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions. He’s ridiculously accurate and, in my opinion, is the most impressive pure passer in the country. He’s throwing to junior WR Rome Odunze (6’3″, 215), who has 87 catches for 1,553 yards and 13 touchdowns; junior WR Ja’Lynn Polk (6’2″, 204), who has 65 catches for 1,122 yards and 9 scores; and junior WR Jalen McMillan (6’1″, 192), who has 39 catches for 526 yards and 4 touchdowns. They also have threats at tight end with fifth year senior Jack Westover (6’3″, 248) with 41 catches, 394 yards, and 4 touchdowns, and fifth year senior Devin Culp (6’4″, 237) with 15 catches for 194 yards and 2 scores. Washington is #4 in sacks allowed per game (0.79), due to both a solid offensive line and Penix’s quick decision making.

Advantage: Washington. Penix is the best passing QB in the country, and he has some good receivers. I think the offensive line looks better than it is because of Penix. Michigan’s pass rush is going to be negated somewhat by the play calling and Penix, so even though I think Michigan’s defensive line is better than Washington’s offensive line, the ball’s going to get out. It’s going to be very important for Michigan’s defensive backs to tackle well and get Odunze, Polk, McMillan, etc. on the ground quickly after they catch the ball.

6Jan 2024
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National Championship Preview: Michigan Offense vs. Washington Defense

Bralen Trice (#8, image via 247 Sports)

Michigan is #62 in rushing offense (159.5 yards/game) and #72 in yards per carry (4.25). They’re tied for #4 in rushing touchdowns (36) with Air Force, a team that only attempted 105 passes for the entire season. Blake Corum has rushed 237 times for 1,111 yards and 25 touchdowns, and he is now the leading touchdown scorer in Michigan history with 59 total scores. Donovan Edwards (113 carries, 393 yards, 3 TD) is second on the team in rushing but has struggled mightily, while RB Kalel Mullings (33 carries, 201 yards, 1 TD) and QB J.J. McCarthy (60 carries, 171 yards, 3 TD) are also threats on the ground. The offensive line performed well last week against Alabama despite having to RG Zak Zinter with Karsen Barnhart and inserting RT Trente Jones. Washington’s defense is #43 in yards allowed per game (137.1) and #86 in yards allowed per carry (4.4). Against top-10 ranked teams, the Huskies have allowed 88 carries for 508 yards (5.77 yards/carry) and 6 touchdowns. The leading tackler is fifth year senior SS Dominique Hampton (6’3″, 220 lbs.) with 99 stops, followed by fifth year senior MLB Edefan Ulofoshio (6’1″, 236) with 90 tackles and backup WLB Carson Bruener (6’2″, 226), the son of former Washington and NFL tight end Mark Bruener, with 80 stops. They’re #119 in tackles for loss per game (4.43), led by redshirt junior EDGE Bralen Trice (6’4″, 274) with 11.5 and Ulofoshio with 8.0. They also have a mammoth nose tackle in 6’6″, 327 lb. fifth year senior Ulumoo Ale, who has 16 tackles and 2.0 tackles for loss this year as a space-eater.

Advantage: Michigan. Good teams have had solid success against Oregon, and even though Texas and Oregon have statistically better rushing attacks than Michigan, the Wolverines should present issues for the Huskies up front.

Michigan’s pass offense ranks #73 nationally (218.9 yards/game), #14 in yards per attempt (9.0), and #5 in passing efficiency. McCarthy started off last week’s Rose Bowl with an ugly interception on the first play – that was luckily overturned due to the Alabama player having his foot out of bounds – but otherwise, he played a solid game after a few lackluster performances. Overall, he has completed 73.2% of his passes for 9.1 yards/attempt, 22 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions. There’s a cluster of receivers at the top of the receiving list, all with 42-45 receptions: WR Roman Wilson (45 catches, 735 yards, 12 TD), TE Colston Loveland (42, 585, 4), and WR Cornelius Johnson (44, 579, 1). The Wolverines are #29 in sacks allowed per game (1.36) and gave up just 1 to a very good Crimson Tide pass rush last week. Meanwhile, Washington is #123 in passing defense (267.1 yards allowed/game), #32 in passing efficiency defense, and tied for #22 in yards allowed per attempt (6.6). They have allowed six 300+ yards passing games this season, including to 3-9 Stanford and 5-7 Washington State. (By comparison, the most passing yards Michigan has allowed was 271 against Ohio State.) Washington is #116 in sacks per game (1.5), but Trice has 6 in his last seven games after having just 1 in his first seven contests. Second on the team is fifth year senior Zion Tupuola-Fetui (6’4″, 254) with 3.5. The Huskes are tied for #17 in interceptions per game (1.14), led by redshirt junior Husky (that’s their nickel hybrid) Mishael Powell (3 INT, 99 yards, 1 TD at 6’1″, 210) and CB Jabbar Muhammad (5’10”, 183) with 3 INT for 53 yards.

Advantage: Michigan. Having watched a lot of Oregon and Texas against Washington, the Huskies’ defensive backs had a difficult time tackling – which also should help in Michigan’s run game – and they were also bailed out by some ugly, untimely drops by the Longhorns. As long as Michigan can avoid self-inflicted issues with drops, they should be able to find some success and get some yards after the catch.

5Jan 2024
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National Championship Preview: Washington Roster Notes

Giles Jackson

Michigan has an 8-5 all-time record against the Washington Huskies. The first time they played was in 1916. The last time they played was a 31-10 win by Michigan in 2021.

  • Washington tight ends coach Nick Sheridan was a walk-on quarterback at Michigan and started a handful of games in 2008 under Rich Rodriguez
  • Washington “general manager” Courtney Morgan played offensive line at Michigan and spent 2021 as the Wolverines’ director of player personnel
  • Washington players recruited by Michigan include: RB Sam Adams II, OL Geirean Hatchett, OL Landen Hatchett, WR Giles Jackson, RB Daniyel Ngata, CB Caleb Presley
  • Washington WR Giles Jackson spent 2019-2020 at Michigan, rushing 12 times for 74 yards and 1 touchdown; making 24 catches for 309 yards and 1 touchdown; returning 37 kickoffs for 976 yards and 2 touchdowns; and returning 2 punts for 5 yards
  • Washington RB Sam Adams II is the son of former NFL defensive tackle Sam Adams
  • Washington OL Jalen Klemm is the son of former NFL offensive tackle Adrian Klemm
  • Washington TE Ryan Otton is the younger brother of current NFL tight end Cade Otton
  • Michigan has zero players on the roster from the state of Washington
  • Washington has two players from the state of Michigan: twin brothers Armon and Jayvon Parker from Dearborn (MI) Fordson. Armon is a 6’3″, 307 lb. defensive tackle, and Jayvon is a 6’3″, 297 lb. defensive tackle. Jayvon has 4 tackles and 1 quarterback hurry this season.