Sports Journalism Blog

By Andrew Thomison | @Andrew_Thomison

Sports Capital Journalism Program

HOUSTON – True to the end of a season that became perfect forever, the Michigan Wolverines led from start to finish in a 34-13 victory over the Washington Huskies to win the school’s 12th national championship, the first since 1997 and their first outright title since 1948.

Michigan joined an elite group of teams with a perfect 15-win season, an achievement that had previously happened nine times in the history of the game and just three in the last 125 years. In the modern era, the Wolverines joined the 2018 Clemson Tigers, 2019 Louisiana State Tigers and 2022 Georgia Bulldogs.

“I get to sit at the big person’s table now,” said Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, referring to the Football Championship Subdivision national championship his father, Jack, won at Western Kentucky and the Super Bowl title his brother, John, won with the Baltimore Ravens. “That feels really good. Just to be the only coach in your family that hasn’t won a national title or Super Bowl – that feels great, personally.”

The Wolverines led for 55:14, the second-highest total in the 10 title games, behind Georgia’s lead of 56:01 in its victory over TCU a year ago. From Michigan’s first possession it was the Wolverine ground game that stole the show, setting a record for rushing yards in a title game with 303 on 38 attempts, breaking the standard of 296 that was set by Ohio State in its 2015 victory over Oregon in the first-ever championship game under the current four-team playoff format.

Blake Corum rushed for 134 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns. Donovan Edwards ran for 104 yards – on just six carries – with scoring runs of 41 and 46 yards in the first 12:37 to give the Wolverines a lead that was never lost. Corum was voted the Offensive Player of the Game award, the first running back to earn that honor since Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott in 2015. Michigan sophomore cornerback Will Johnson, whose interception early in the third quarter led to a Wolverine field goal, was the Defensive Player of the Game.

Washington, 14-1, had a 21-game winning streak, which had been the longest in the Football Bowl Subdivision, come to an end. The Huskies, who had averaged 37.6 points, were held to a field goal in the second half. Michael Penix Jr., the Heisman Trophy runner up, finished the season with a Washington record of 4,903 yards, the second-highest total in the history of the Pacific-12 Conference. He completed 27 of 51 passes for 255 yards and a touchdown. But Penix equaled his season high of two interceptions, which led directly to 10 Michigan points.

The final game of his second season with the Huskies after transferring from Indiana University was marked by throws that just missed and possibilities the way they had all season.

“We just missed a lot of opportunities,” Penix said. “Opportunities where we needed to execute the most to help our team, put our team in a better position to come out with this win.

“But in the locker room, it’s just a lot of love,” he said, “We’re just a group that we have been through a lot together, man, and we’re not going to point fingers or nothing like that.”

The game marked the end of the 10-season, four-team playoff, which will expand to a 12-team field next season. Washington, a longtime member of the Pacific-12 conference, will join the Big Ten next season and host the Wolverines on October 5.

The future status of Harbaugh, who could face sanctions from the National Collegiate Athletic Association or return to the National Football League, produced a sudden and jolting reference to the sign-stealing scandal that has characterized the Michigan season as much as its perfection on the field.

During the postgame press conference, Corum and quarterback J.J. McCarthy had just been asked about the satisfaction they felt in overcoming the controversies of the season.

“This was not a season where everything went the way you wanted it to,” a questioner said. “There were the off-the-field issues which we all know about. Could you talk about the satisfaction having overcome those as well to get to this point? Does it make it even sweeter?”

Harbaugh interrupted. “It couldn’t have gone better,” he said. “It went exactly how we wanted it to go to win every game. The off-the-field issues, we’re innocent and we stood strong and tall because we knew we were innocent. And I’d like to point that out.

“And these guys are innocent,” he said of his players. “And overcome that, it wasn’t that hard because we knew we were innocent. So yeah, that’s really what I wanted to say. It went exactly how we wanted it to go.”

Because of Michigan’s dominance on the ground, not much was needed from McCarthy through the air, as he completed 10 of 18 passes for 140 passing yards and added 31 rushing yards, including a 22-yard gain on third down that helped prevent a Washington comeback.

Part of Michigan’s impressive second half was due, in part, to its ability to hold Washington’s wide receivers under the 100-yard mark as well. Rome Odunze recorded only 87 yards on five receptions, the most yardage of any Washington pass catcher Monday night.

Penalties certainly didn’t aid Washington’s offensive struggles. Trailing by just seven points with 11:40 left to go in regulation, an holding penalty on sophomore tackle Roger Rosengarten wiped away what would have been a 32-yard pass from Penix to Odunze that would have advanced the Huskies to Michigan’s 35-yard line. Instead, Washington was forced to punt and the last best opportunity was gone. While Michigan only mustered one sack of Penix, he was under a consistent amount of duress, leading to several key misses that stalled drives for the Huskies.

Throughout Michigan’s playoff run, reporters had unsuccessfully tried to have Harbaugh discuss his future. There was one last attempt, when the coach was asked if he was interested in adding a Super Bowl victory to his achievements.

“I just want to enjoy this,” Harbaugh said. “I just want to enjoy this, I hope you give me that. Can a guy have that? Does it always have to be what’s next, what’s the future?

“Like I said the other day, yeah, I hope to have a future. I hope there’s a tomorrow, a day after tomorrow, a next week, a next month, a next year.”