Michigan thwarts Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. to win first national championship since the 1997 season

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

It’s been 26 years, but in the end, no one is doing better than Michigan.

The Wolverines rushed for 303 yards and held Washington’s flamethrowing quarterback Michael Penix Jr. in check to emerge as the College Football Playoff national champion with a 34-13 rout of the Huskies on Monday night at NRG Stadium in Houston. The victory marked Michigan’s first national title since 1997 and the completion of a long-awaited return to the top of college football under coach Jim Harbaugh.

The Wolverines, who entered the night ranked second in the FBS in passing yards allowed per game, held Heisman Trophy runner-up Penix to 255 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions on 27-of-51 passing, well above below the usual output from the nation’s passing yards leader (4,648). Washington’s explosive offense finished with just 301 total yards, as injuries to Penix and running back Dillon Johnson limited the Huskies’ effectiveness.

Michigan running back Blake Corum finished with 134 yards rushing and two touchdowns to set the school’s single-season touchdown record (28), widening the margin after backfield mate Donovan Edwards scored the first two touchdowns of the season. game, nearly doubling his season total in one quarter. When Michigan held a 14-3 lead with 2:23 left in the first quarter, it had 115 yards rushing. Washington had allowed just two rushing plays of 40-plus yards all season before Monday, when it allowed three such plays in the first half, including Edwards’ two touchdowns.

Washington appeared to regain some momentum by cutting its deficit to 17-10 before halftime, but Penix threw an interception to Michigan defender Will Johnson on the first play of the third quarter, then limped toward the sideline after a linesman stepped on his ankle during the play. The Huskies defense performed great, with the help of two Michigan penalties, to only surrender a field goal and keep the game within reach. Down 27-13 with less than five minutes to play, Penix attempted a pass to wide receiver Jalen McMillan on fourth down but was picked off by Michigan defender Mike Sainristil, who returned it 80 yards before Corum delivered the final score. of the night.

“I feel like it’s all about execution,” Penix said. “I missed a couple of throws, just a couple of reads on routes and stuff like that. Just little details within our system that we always do great.”


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After the match, Penix had significant trouble walking 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 am fine. It is nothing serious. I know for sure,” he said. “I’ve talked to the doctors and stuff. It’s nothing serious. If I have to play tomorrow, I’ll play.”

He added: “I’m really proud of this team and how far we’ve come, always being the underdogs. This was the only time you were okay, but we were able to fight and overcome so much adversity and just people doubting us and not believing us all season. 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 2021 and 2022, won its third straight Big Ten title with gritty wins over Penn State and Ohio State, continued to strive for a triumph in overtime against Alabama in the Rose Bowl and, in his greatest test, shut down Washington and its prolific offense. This was a special team on its way to destiny.

And that path has been peppered with drama, from Harbaugh serving a three-game suspension to start the season to the ongoing investigation into Connor Stalions’ impermissible signal-stealing operation to another three-game Harbaugh suspension served when his team landed in the state. College, PA. Through it all, no matter who coached or who played, these Wolverines were undaunted. They had the No. 1 defense in college football, experienced leaders who refused to lose, and the ability to play their best in the 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 hasn’t been a factor for much of this season, averaging just 3.5 yards per carry in a limited role. But in the national championship game, the great Edwards reappeared in a surprising way.

Edwards opened the game with a 41-yard touchdown burst and scored again on Michigan’s next drive with a 46-yard run. Edwards laid the foundation for Michigan’s victory and Corum finished 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 topped 100 yards on the ground, with Edwards running for 104 and Corum running for 134. When the Wolverines throw the ball like that, no one can stop them. — Austin Meek, Michigan, beat the writer


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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 so.

A week after putting on a breakout performance in the College Football Playoff win over Texas, Penix was beaten and battered. The pinpoint accuracy and explosive plays that wowed observers against the Longhorns were nowhere to be found Monday night.

In the end he appeared to be in physical pain, although the loss of a perfect season probably hurt more. There were opportunities for big plays, but Penix was uncharacteristically out on several opportunities. And when he was on goal, he got hurt by bad passes. — Jim Trotter, senior writer


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Credit to Washington’s defense

It soon looked like Michigan would run away with the game, literally, after two Edwards touchdowns of 40-plus yards. But credit to Washington’s defense for its resilience and tenacity in allowing the Huskies to stay in this game, even with Penix not as sharp as he was a week ago in the Sugar Bowl.

After all the fireworks in the first 17 minutes of the game, Michigan went to punt, turnover on down, punt, field goal, punt, punt, punt; the longest drive the Wolverines put together was just 41 yards… until that touchdown drive midway through the fourth quarter that ended with a Corum touchdown and put Michigan up by two scores. — Nicole Auerbach, senior college football writer


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A Pac-12 swansong

Monday night’s game was a bittersweet moment for the Pac-12 conference. The Huskies finally make it to the CFP and break a seven-year conference drought, then win a thrilling semifinal to reach a national championship game… and it’s the very last game for the Pac-12 as we’ve always had it known , with 10 of its 12 teams set to leave for other power conferences next season. This Washington team was great to watch all season, as was the entire Pac-12, with up-and-coming 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 had the season it had this fall a year or two ago, its demise would never have happened. TO.

But the Big Ten is thrilled to boast both title game participants as league members in August. A national championship rematch will be a Big Ten conference game, Oct. 5. Auerbach

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(Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)