February 25, 2024
Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. passes during a game against Arizona State in October.

Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. passes during a game against Arizona State in October.

(Lindsey Wasson / Associated Press)

As Harbaugh evaluated the deficiencies of his program after 2020, he kept coming back to the reality that, for him to get his alma mater back to the top of the sport, Michigan had to start beating Ohio State.

And what did Ohio State look like? Well, the Buckeyes were built like a bright-red Ferrari, with future NFL rookie sensation CJ Stroud at quarterback, throwing passes to future NFL wide receivers Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Ohio State was so loaded that Marvin Harrison Jr. rarely got on the field that season as a true freshman.

Harbaugh knew he had to build a defense that schematically could limit a pristine passing offense and supplement it with an offense that ate up yards — and time — on the ground. He hired a young defensive coordinator named Mike Macdonald from John Harbaugh’s Ravens staff, handing him the former task. And, after a few years toying around with a spread offense, Harbaugh went back to his roots, chiseling a dominant running attack behind a grisly offensive line.

Obviously, it worked. And what Washington fans should fear Monday night is that the Huskies’ vaunted aerial attack won’t seem so different than what Michigan has dealt with against Ohio State.

One could make the argument that the veteran Penix is a better college quarterback at this juncture than Stroud was, but, if so, certainly not too much better. One could argue that the trio of Rome Odunze, Jalen McMillan and Ja’Lynn Polk is on par with the Buckeyes trios as well.

The mind and savvy of DeBoer and his offensive coordinator, Ryan Grubb, are what could be the difference in helping Washington fare better than Ohio State has of late breaking the game open against this Michigan team.

What will Michigan do to pressure Penix?

It seemed that no matter what Texas tried in the Sugar Bowl, the Longhorns could not get to Penix. He deftly avoided trouble en route to completing 29 of 38 passes for 430 yards and two scores.

Meanwhile, no matter what Michigan threw at Alabama’s Jalen Milroe in the Rose Bowl, it seemed to work. The Wolverines sacked Milroe five times in the first half, flat-out embarrassing the Crimson Tide offensive line.

Sacking Penix will be a much tougher task, and it will be interesting to see what Michigan defensive coordinator Jesse Minter decides to do. Conventional logic is that you have to pressure a great quarterback at all costs, but if the Wolverines aren’t getting there, they’re risking giving up the big play in the secondary.

If Michigan has to blitz to get pressure, Penix has shown time and again he can create just enough time to hurt you.

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