Donovan EdwardsMaddie Meyer/Getty ImagesHOUSTON — It’s not how you start, the classic sports trope says. It’s how you finish.
Turns out, the answer is both.
Behind a powerful running game, Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines put together stellar first and fourth quarters in a 34-13 triumph over the Washington Huskies to win the 2023 national championship.
On the opening possession at NRG Stadium, Kalel Mullings slipped out of a tackle to pick up 14 yards before Donovan Edwards rushed for a 41-yard touchdown. Edwards ripped off a 46-yard scoring scamper on the next drive, and Blake Corum soon followed with a 59-yard sprint.
Nine carries, 174 yards, two touchdowns.
And that was merely the opening frame.
Michigan’s initial surge on the ground sparked the final victory of the team’s 15-0 campaign—one that secured the program’s first national title since a shared 1997 crown.
Bleacher Report @BleacherReport〽️ICHIGAN WINS THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP 🏆
THEIR FIRST TITLE SINCE 1997 pic.twitter.com/gjnxBokR5c
Monday brought a familiar blueprint for Michigan, which focused on the run while the defense owned the game.
Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. zipped his picturesque spiral throughout the night. However, the Maize and Blue prevented an offense that entered bowl season leading the country in passes of 30-plus yards from completing such a throw for nearly 53 minutes.
In total, the Dawgs mustered 301 yards with Penix averaging a meager 5.0 yards per attempt on 51 throws. He tossed two interceptions and dealt with constant pressure from Michigan’s disruptive front.
That defensive effort proved vital for the Wolverines, who struggled to move the ball in the middle quarters.
They managed a field goal after Will Johnson snatched an interception on the first play of the second half. Otherwise, the offense had a stretch of five punts and a turnover on downs. The lull allowed Washington to hang around until the midpoint of the fourth quarter.
Clinging to a 20-13 lead, Michigan found some breathing room.
Colston Loveland’s 41-yard reception led to Corum’s decisive 12-yard touchdown run with 7:09 left in regulation.
Washington drove inside the 30-yard line on the ensuing possession, but U-M’s star nickelback Mike Sainristil picked off a 4th-and-13 prayer, returned it 81 yards and set up Corum’s second touchdown.
Video from: @TSV__1 @TSV__1Penix gets picked off by Mike Sainristil and he nearly takes it back all the way! #NationalChampionship pic.twitter.com/hgLm1z2EBu
Michigan closed the victory with 303 yards and four trips to the end zone on the ground. Corum collected a team-high 134 yards and two scores, while Edwards added 104 yards and two touchdowns on just six carries. Plus, quarterback J.J. McCarthy chipped in 31 yards.
And the celebration was on.
Nine adventurous years into his tenure—one which may be ending in the immediate future if rumblings of his potential return to the NFL are true—Jim Harbaugh is a national champion.
The prodigal son, officially, has brought his alma mater back to the top of the sport’s proverbial mountain.
If that was Harbaugh’s final game, what a fitting way to finish.
Jim HarbaughMaddie Meyer/Getty ImagesDuring the last three seasons, the Wolverines have boasted one of the sport’s best offensive lines. Michigan earned the Joe Moore Award—which is given annually to the country’s top offensive line—in both 2021 and 2022 before Washington landed the honor in 2023.
Earlier in the week, U-M left tackle LaDarius Henderson told On3’s Andy Staples that “it definitely stings” the blocking unit missed out on a three-peat.
Winning a national title in that fashion is a decent consolation prize.
The future of the program will rapidly become the greatest focus in Ann Arbor; Harbaugh understandably side-stepped questions about the NFL at multiple media availabilities throughout the week.
On this night in Houston, however, the nation’s No. 1 team won in the same manner it had all year: Run the ball and shut ’em down defensively.
Michigan started the season that way, never wavered and rode the philosophy to a third consecutive Big Ten title and third straight trip to the College Football Playoff.
It’s how you start. It’s how you finish.
And the Wolverines have ended as national champions.
Source : Bleacher Report