Michigan’s defense dominated Washington in a 34-13 victory to capture the 2024 College Football Playoff National Championship on Monday night. The Wolverines flustered star Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. all game long, forcing key turnovers and holding the high-powered Husky offense in check to secure Michigan’s second national title in the last three years under head coach Jim Harbaugh.
First Half Dominated by Stout Defenses
The two vaunted offenses struggled to find their footing early, as stingy defense was the story of the first half. Both teams punted on their first two drives before Michigan finally broke through on its third possession. A methodical 14-play, 69-yard drive ended with a 2-yard touchdown plunge from Blake Corum to put the Wolverines on top 7-0.
Washington responded with an impressive drive of its own, going 75 yards in 10 plays, aided by a key fourth-down conversion from Penix. But the Husky offense stalled in the red zone, settling for a 23-yard field goal from Giles Jackson to cut the Michigan lead to 7-3. The two rugged defenses traded stops for the remainder of the half, sending Michigan into the locker room with a 7-3 advantage.
While the impressive defensive play resulted in limited scoring, it still provided some notable first half moments:
Costly Washington Turnovers Shift Momentum in Second Half
The Michigan defense made its mark early in the second half, forcing a massive momentum swing. On the first play after halftime, defensive back Will Johnson undercut an out route and returned an interception 30 yards deep into Washington territory. Two plays later, J.J. McCarthy hit Ronnie Bell on a 15-yard touchdown pass. Then, after forcing a three-and-out, running back Donovan Edwards ripped off a 60-yard touchdown run.
Suddenly, what was a tightly contested 7-3 game ballooned to a 24-3 Michigan advantage. The back-breaking scores left Washington scrambling for answers against Michigan’s attacking, ball-hawking defense. Another McCarthy touchdown pass with just over two minutes left in the third quarter extended the lead to 31-3 and essentially put the game out of reach.
Washington finally found the end zone early in the fourth quarter on a 22-yard strike from Penix to Taj Davis and tacked on a field goal drive with under four minutes remaining. But it was too little, too late against Michigan’s swarming defense, which was clearly the dominant unit of the game.
Costly Mistakes Spoil Penix’s Otherwise Stellar Season
While Penix entered the game generating plenty of Heisman Trophy and NFL Draft buzz, he was unable to spark the Husky attack consistently against Michigan’s stifling defense. He still showed impressive toughness, absorbing a number of crushing hits while delivering occasional flashes of brilliance. But his final college game will likely be remembered more for the handful of critical errors that the Wolverines turned into game-changing scores.
Still, despite the championship game disappointment, Penix’s lone season directing the Washington offense after transferring from Indiana was an overwhelming success:
With several other offensive standouts set to return next season, including leading receivers Rome Odunze and Jalen McMillan, expectations will remain high for the Husky offense. But they will unquestionably have massive shoes to fill in replacing a record-setting talent like Penix.
Michigan Completes Improbable Championship Run
Entering the season unranked with significant questions at quarterback and an unproven group of receivers, Michigan was not considered a leading national title contender. But fueled by a culture of toughness instilled by Jim Harbaugh and a roster brimming with talent recruited from the Harbaugh era, the Wolverines systematically checked every box on their championship to-do list:
- Beat rival Ohio State on the road ✅
- Win the Big Ten Championship ✅
- Make the College Football Playoff ✅
- Defeat #1 ranked Alabama in the semifinals ✅
- Claim the National Championship trophy ✅
Quarterback J.J. McCarthy delivered an MVP performance in the title game, efficiently leading the offense with 253 total yards and three total touchdowns. But the most encouraging development for the Michigan program is the wealth of young talent, including McCarthy and standout running back Donovan Edwards, that will form the cornerstone of future championship runs.
The Wolverines have clearly separated themselves from rival Ohio State and reestablished Michigan as an elite championship contender under Harbaugh. With the current trajectory, their sensational 2023 season may just be the start of another long run of Big Ten dominance.
What This Means Moving Forward
In the immediate aftermath, the Michigan program will celebrate their epic championship journey while Washington processes falling agonizingly short of a storybook ending for Penix and first-year coach Kalen DeBoer. But the ripple effects from Monday night’s game will shape the college football landscape for years to come:
- Michigan is positioned to remain a leading national powerhouse
- Recruits were surely taking notes on the Wolverines’ talent and developmental ability
- Expectations at Washington won’t decrease with loads of talent still on the roster
- DeBoer proved he can coach with the best after a 10-win campaign in his first season
- The loss for Pac-12 champ Washington may impact national perceptions of the conference
Michigan and Washington both have rosters stocked for sustainable success. While only one could hoist the championship trophy this year, expect both programs to remain major players on the national stage moving forward.
For Michigan, the long wait since their last national title in 1997 is finally over. For Washington, the hunger to capture their first championship will only continue to intensify after agonizingly coming up short this season.
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