February 24, 2024

Fittingly, the last football game in the history of the Pac-12 Conference was played in the unmistakable style of the brawny Big Ten.

Pretty does not often win in America’s oldest power conference. Gritty often does. For the 15th time this season, the Michigan Wolverines led their opponent into a war waged on their terms Monday night, and the pristine passing attack of the Washington Huskies had no answers for the nation’s best defense.

After Blake Corum’s second fourth-quarter touchdown put Michigan’s 34-13 victory on ice, chants of “It’s great to be a Michigan Wolverine” echoed throughout Houston’s NRG Stadium, where coach Jim Harbaugh’s family motto became realized as an undeniable fact across the land: Who has it better than Michigan?

Nobody, thanks to the toughness and togetherness of the Wolverines’ 144th team, which put to rest narratives that have been hovering over the program since the days of Bo Schembechler.

Michigan can win the big game. And, for the Big Ten to produce greatness on the national stage, it doesn’t have to be Ohio State.

The Wolverines, 15-0, won the program’s 12th national championship, the second since their postwar triumph in 1948. As sweet as Michigan’s 1997 AP poll national title was, it won’t have to share this one with anybody.

Michigan’s defense led the way when the offense couldn’t find its rhythm in the second and third quarters, flummoxing Heisman Trophy finalist Michael Penix Jr., who completed 27 of 51 passes for 255 yards and two uncharacteristic interceptions in the second half.

Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy and coach Jim Harbaugh celebrate the Wolverines' national championship.

Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy and coach Jim Harbaugh celebrate the Wolverines’ national championship victory over Washington.

(David J. Phillip / Associated Press)

Michigan became the first team in the 10 years of the College Football Playoff to feature two 100-yard rushers, with Corum pounding away 21 times for 134 yards and two touchdowns and Donovan Edwards blasting through the Huskies’ defense six times for 104 yards and two touchdowns.

So much of the narrative around this Michigan team centered on the Wolverines’ methods of advanced scouting and whether or not the iPhone footage collected by former analyst Connor Stalions’ network of spies gave them the advantage that led to back-to-back-to-back Big Ten championships.

No evidence has been brought to light connecting Harbaugh to Stalions’ alleged scheme, but that didn’t stop the Big Ten from suspending him for Michigan’s three biggest games of the season.

Michigan defensive lineman Kenneth Grant celebrates after sacking Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr.

Michigan defensive lineman Kenneth Grant celebrates after sacking Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. during the first half Monday.

(Godofredo A. Vasquez / Associated Press)

Sunday, one day before the Wolverines played in their first national championship game in program history, Harbaugh let reporters in on one aspect of film review that hadn’t been revealed previously. He said he had Michigan watch nature videos of a “pack of wolves” because they were the “perfect fighting unit.”

In the first quarter Monday, whether it was Michigan’s scouting of wolves or the Washington Huskies, the Wolverines looked well-prepared for the spotlight. The Michigan offense brought calculated aggression, happily running the ball down Washington’s throat until Edwards sped out of a gaping hole to the left side for a 41-yard touchdown burst.

Not long after it was announced that Edwards’ touchdown run was the second-longest in CFP final history, Edwards squeaked through the line again untouched for a 46-yard touchdown, giving the Wolverines an early 14-3 lead.

After a Corum 59-yard run on the next drive ended the first quarter, the Wolverines already had compiled 174 rushing yards and seemed to be making an emphatic statement about what the four West Coast additions to the Big Ten could expect from their new league.

Defensively, the Wolverines’ ferocious front affected Penix far more than Texas’ group was able to in the Sugar Bowl. Penix uncharacteristically missed a wide-open Rome Odunze on a fourth-and-seven in the second quarter, but the Wolverines could not add to their 14-point cushion.

Michigan surprisingly went away from the ground game in some key spots, showing faith in quarterback J.J. McCarthy. But McCarthy completed just two of seven passes for 26 yards in the second quarter.

Washington defensive end Bralen Trice walks off the field following the Huskies' loss in the national championship game.

Washington defensive end Bralen Trice walks off the field following the Huskies’ loss in the national championship game.

(Godofredo A. Vasquez / Associated Press)

You can only give Penix so many opportunities before he’s going to hurt a defense. Finally, in the last minute of the first half, Penix hit Jalen McMillan on fourth-and-goal from the three, pulling Washington to within 17-10 at halftime.

After a terrifying start to the game, it was Washington who ran to the locker room being serenaded by its fans with chants of “Let’s go Huskies!”

But in the second half, Michigan’s defense simply wouldn’t relent, holding Washington to 301 total yards. Meanwhile, Michigan rushed for 303.

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