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College Football Playoff: No. 1 Michigan beats No. 2 Washington 34-13 for first national title in 26 years

In Sports
January 09, 2024

Michigan is the best team in the country.

The No. 1 Wolverines jumped out to an early lead and put No. 2 Washington away late to win Monday’s national championship game 34-13 and finish the 2023 season as the only undefeated team in college football.

The win is Michigan’s first national title since the Wolverines claimed a share of the national championship in 1997. It also caps an incredibly tumultuous year that saw head coach Jim Harbaugh suspended twice for six of Michigan’s 15 games.

“It’s just such a glorious feeling. I really don’t have any more words than that,” Harbaugh said after the game.

Much like he did in the Rose Bowl, running back Blake Corum salted the game away for the Wolverines on Monday night. His 12-yard TD run with 7:09 to go gave Michigan a two-touchdown lead and essentially ended any hope of a Washington comeback.

Michigan (15-0) looked like it was going to run away with the game in the first quarter. Literally. The Wolverines rushed for an astonishing 174 yards in the first quarter and averaged over 19 yards a carry as Donovan Edwards broke out with two long touchdown runs.

Edwards rushed for a 41-yard TD on Michigan’s first drive of the game and then topped it less than eight minutes later with a 46-yard TD run. They were unexpected big plays from a running back who struggled throughout the 2023 season after a superb finish to 2022.

The junior took over as Michigan’s No. 1 back after Corum suffered a knee injury late in the season a year ago and was incredibly explosive. But he averaged less than four yards a carry entering Monday night’s title game and had just 393 yards entering the title game.

Edwards’ TD runs helped give Michigan a 17-3 lead before halftime, but Washington got a crucial TD before the break. The Huskies went for it on fourth down with less than a minute left as Michael Penix Jr. found Jalen McMillan for a TD to cut the Wolverines’ lead to seven at halftime.

Washington (14-1) got the ball to start the second half and was positioned to potentially tie the game despite getting overwhelmed by Michigan for much of the first half. But Penix was intercepted by Will Johnson on the first play of the second half on a pass that was tipped as his right ankle got twisted awkwardly when he threw the ball.

From there, the game was fairly ugly until Corum’s TD. The teams managed just two field goals on eight possessions before Corum’s TD.

Michigan finished the game with 38 carries for 303 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. Both Corum and Edwards scored twice. QB J.J. McCarthy threw just 18 passes and completed only 10 of them for 140 yards.

Will Jim Harbaugh go to the NFL?

The win will undoubtedly be seen as vindication for Michigan fans after the storylines that enveloped the 2023 season. Harbaugh served a self-imposed three-game suspension at the start of the season for alleged recruiting violations during a COVID-19 dead period.

In October, the Wolverines were the antagonists in the biggest storyline of the season when allegations emerged of a widespread advance-scouting scheme run by former staffer Connor Stalions.

As the scandal served as great fodder for college football fans, the Big Ten suspended Harbaugh for the final three games of Michigan’s regular season for violating the conference’s sportsmanship policy. While the Big Ten said it had no evidence that Harbaugh was aware of Stalions’ scheme, it said it chose to suspend Harbaugh because he was the face of the program and a punishment of him would be minimally disruptive to Michigan’s players.

Jan 8, 2024; Houston, TX, USA; Michigan Wolverines wide receiver Cornelius Johnson (6) and head coach Jim Harbaugh celebrate after beating the Washington Huskies in the 2024 College Football Playoff national championship game at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan and Harbaugh immediately challenged the Big Ten’s ruling but dropped their push against it and Harbaugh missed the team’s games against Penn State, Maryland and Ohio State. He returned to the sidelines for a dominant Big Ten title game win over Iowa before Michigan got its first playoff win in three trips over Alabama in the Rose Bowl.

With further punishments from the recruiting investigation and the advance scouting scheme potentially looming, a move to the NFL in 2024 makes sense for Harbaugh. He’s previously interviewed with NFL teams during his time at Michigan and has shown he is a successful pro coach. The 49ers never posted a losing season in any of Harbaugh’s four years with the team.

You can also argue that there’s nothing left to accomplish at his alma mater. After taking a significant pay cut to keep his job after a 2-4 season in 2020, Harbaugh immediately took Michigan to the College Football Playoff in 2021 after scoring his first win over Ohio State. Two years later, Michigan stands atop the college football world.

If Harbaugh does return, he’ll undoubtedly be one of the three highest-paid coaches in college football if he doesn’t get a contract that surpasses everyone else.

Michael Penix Jr. plays through pain

Heisman runner-up Michael Penix Jr. was phenomenal in his team’s win over Texas in the Sugar Bowl. Moday night, Penix wasn’t as sharp. And he took some serious punishment in the second half.

He was hobbled after having his ankle twisted to start the second half and later took shots that left him grimacing and looking like the entire right side of his body was in pain. After the game, Penix hobbled off the field in pain clutching his midsection with a towel over his head.

Penix finished the game 27-of-51 passing for 255 yards with a TD and two interceptions. It was one of his worst games since coming to Washington ahead of the 2022 season and his stat line was a massive statement for a Michigan defense that entered the game third in the country in pass defense.

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