Michigan hinders Michael Penix Jr., Washington from claiming first national championship since 1997 season | ET REALITY

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By Lauren Merola, Max Olson, Austin Meek, Jim Trotter and Nicole Auerbach

It’s been 26 years, but ultimately no one has it better than Michigan.

The Wolverines, who ranked second in passing yards allowed per game at 150.0 heading into title city, faced their toughest task yet in taming the flamethrower that is Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. Michigan responded to the bell, holding Penix to 255 yards and a touchdown. Washington’s only touchdown of the night, against two interceptions on 27-of-51 passing, a stark divergence from the usual performance of the nation’s leader in passing yards per game (332.0) and passing yards (4,648).

Add to that the Wolverines’ running game, and they defeated the Huskies 34-13 to emerge as the 2023 College Football Playoff national champion Monday night at NRG Stadium in Houston. It is Michigan’s first title since 1997 and under the direction of coach Jim Harbaugh.

Down 27-13 with less than five minutes left, Penix attempted to throw a pass to wide receiver Jalen McMillan but was intercepted in double coverage. Michigan defensive back Mike Sainristil ran 80 yards before running back Blake Corum hit him to solidify it.

Corum finished with 134 rushing yards and two touchdowns, while counterpart Donovan Edwards added 104 yards and another two scores on the ground.

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Coming out of the half trailing 17-10, Penix was swallowed up by the Wolverines’ defensive line on the first play. He threw an interception to Michigan defensive back Will Johnson and fumbled at the Washington 32 as Penix limped to the sideline after a teammate stepped on his ankle during the play. Then the Huskies defense came up big, with the help of two Michigan penalties, to allow just one field goal and keep the game close, 20-10. It wasn’t enough, and Michigan regained momentum to maintain the wire-to-wire lead.

“I feel like it came down to execution,” Penix said after the game. “I missed a couple of throws, just a couple of route reads and stuff like that. Just little details within our system that we do very well all the time.”

After the game, Penix had notable trouble getting off the field, but said that “no matter what, I was going to make sure I finished it for the guys.”

“I’m not healthy, but I’ll be there. I’m fine. It’s nothing important. I know for sure,” she said. “I talked to the doctors and things like that. It’s nothing important. If I had to play tomorrow, I will play.”

Michigan set the tone early, gaining five first downs in an eight-play drive with its first touches of the ball to take a 7-0 lead. When Michigan had a 14-3 lead with 2:23 left in the first quarter, it had 115 rushing yards. At the end of the first, Edwards had 87 yards and two touchdowns after having only three touchdowns on the season entering the game. It was an off-the-charts job by Washington, which allowed just two rushing plays of more than 40 yards all season before Monday, when it allowed three such carries in the first half.

In the air, a largely forgotten part of Michigan’s first half, quarterback JJ McCarthy completed his first three passes of the game, but then only two of his next nine. He went 0-for-4 on third and fourth downs in the half. He finished 10 of 18 for 140 yards.

That day, Washington recorded 301 total yards to Michigan’s 444. Nearly 85 percent of Washington’s yards came in the air, while Michigan, conversely, racked up nearly 68 percent of its yards on the ground.

“I’m very proud of this team and how far we’ve come, always being the underdogs,” Penix said. “This is the only time everyone was right, but we were able to fight and overcome so much adversity and people who doubted us and didn’t believe us all season long. Getting to this point is a blessing.”

What the title means for Michigan

Michigan finally broke through and took home a national championship in a year that at times felt more like a wild season of reality TV. This team had what it took to finish the job after back-to-back CFP semifinal losses in 2022 and 2023, won its third straight Big Ten title thanks to gutsy wins over Penn State and Ohio State, kept fighting for an overtime win against Alabama in the Rose Bowl. and, in his biggest test yet, shutting down Washington and its prolific offense. This was a special team on the road to the destination.

And that road was rife with drama, from Harbaugh serving a three-game suspension to start the season to the in-season investigation into Connor Stalions’ impermissible sign-stealing operation and another three-game Harbaugh suspension imposed when his team landed at State College. , Pa. Through it all, no matter who was coaching or who they were playing against, these Wolverines were undeterred. They had the number one defense in college football, experienced leaders who refused to lose, and the poise to play their best in their biggest games. — Max Olson, Senior College Football Writer

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Edwards shines when the spotlight is brightest

Edwards has a reputation for showing up in big moments. He wasn’t much of a factor for much of this season, averaging just 3.5 yards per carry in a limited role. But in the national championship game, Edwards made a surprising comeback.

Edwards opened the game with a 41-yard touchdown burst and scored again on Michigan’s next drive with a 46-yard run. Edwards set the stage for Michigan’s victory and Corum completed it, diving into the end zone from 12 yards out to give the Wolverines a two-touchdown lead.

The two-headed rushing attack Michigan envisioned with Corum and Edwards didn’t materialize for much of the season, but it showed up in the biggest game of the year. Both players surpassed 100 yards rushing, with Edwards rushing for 104 and Corum rushing for 134. When the Wolverines run the ball like that, no one can stop them. — Austin Meek, beat writer from Michigan

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What happened to Penix?

Statistically, it wasn’t the worst performance of Penix’s brilliant season. But considering what was at stake, it seemed that way.

A week after turning in a dazzling performance in a College Football Playoff victory over Texas, Penix was beaten and defeated, and he and his Washington teammates fell to Michigan in the national title game. The pinpoint accuracy and explosive plays that captivated observers against the Longhorns were nowhere to be found Monday night.

He seemed to be in physical pain at the end, although the loss of a perfect season probably hurt more. There were opportunities for big plays, but Penix was uncharacteristically offside on several occasions. And when he was right, the dropped passes hurt him. — Jim Trotter, senior writer

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You have to give credit to Washington’s defense

At first it looked like Michigan was going to take the game, literally, after two Edwards touchdown runs of more than 40 yards. But credit Washington’s defense for its resilience and toughness in allowing the Huskies to stay in this game, even with Penix not as agile as he was a week ago in the Sugar Bowl.

After all the fireworks in the first 17 minutes of the game, Michigan went punt, fumble, punt, field goal, punt, punt, punt; the longest drive the Wolverines put together was only 41 yards…until that touchdown drive at the midpoint of the fourth quarter that resulted in a Corum touchdown and put Michigan up by two scores. — Nicole Auerbach, Senior College Football Writer

A Pac-12 swan song

Monday night’s game was a very bittersweet moment for the Pac-12 conference. The Huskies finally broke through to the CFP and broke a seven-year conference drought, winning a thrilling semifinal to reach a national championship game…and it’s the last game for the Pac-12 as they always have. we have known. , and 10 of its 12 teams will leave for other power conferences next season. This Washington team has been a blast to watch all season, as has the entire Pac-12 conference, with rising teams like Oregon, Oregon State and Arizona and the national phenomenon that was Colorado. It’s a tough pill to swallow because it seems like if the Pac-12 had the season it had this fall a year or two ago, its demise would never have happened. Poor me.

But the Big Ten is excited to have title game participants and league members in August. The rematch of the national championship game will be a Big Ten conference game on October 5. Auerbach

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(Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

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