Michigan earns way into college football championship game

Jan 1, 2024, 6:56 PM | Updated: Jan 2, 2024, 3:21 pm




PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — Jalen Milroe caught a low snap on fourth down in overtime at the Rose Bowl and ran straight ahead into wall of blue and maize.

That wall of Michigan defenders had been hardened by the Wolverines’ violent practice drills. Toughened by two previous College Football Playoff losses. Made impenetrable by months of turmoil that battered the program and its beloved head coach, Jim Harbaugh.

Alabama’s quarterback went nowhere.

The Wolverines are going to Houston.

Blake Corum rushed for a 17-yard touchdown on the second snap of overtime, and top-seeded Michigan advanced to its first CFP championship game with a 27-20 victory over fourth-seeded Alabama in the Rose Bowl on Monday night.

Harbaugh’s Wolverines (14-0) will play for their school’s first national title since 1997 against Washington on Jan. 8 — but only after a fourth-quarter comeback and a hair-raising finish when the two winningest programs in college football history played just the second overtime game in the 110 editions of the Granddaddy of Them All.

“Glorious. That was glorious,” Harbaugh said. “It was a tremendous football game.”

Roman Wilson made a 4-yard TD catch with 1:34 left in regulation for the Wolverines, who hadn’t scored in the second half until that gritty 75-yard drive led by J.J. McCarthy.

Corum, who caught an early TD pass and rushed for 83 yards, needed only two snaps to score in the first overtime period, breaking tackles and spinning wildly into the end zone.

After Milroe was stopped 2 yards short of the end zone on the final snap, the Wolverines’ entire sideline sprinted onto the field, throwing a few helmets in the air while fireworks soared from behind the Rose Bowl scoreboard.

“Everything that we went through this entire year made us unbreakable, and in the biggest moments, we were going to show up,” said McCarthy, who passed for 221 yards and three touchdowns to win the Offensive Player of the Game award.

Jase McClellan rushed for 87 yards and two touchdowns for Alabama (12-2), which fell heartbreakingly short of the chance to play for Nick Saban’s seventh national title at the school. The Tide led 20-13 on Will Reichard’s 52-yard field goal with 4:41 to play, but their defense couldn’t preserve it.

“We just didn’t finish the last four minutes of the game like we would like to, and we’re all very disappointed,” Saban said. “But one thing I told them in the locker room, this is one of the most amazing seasons in Alabama football history in terms of where this team came from and what they were able to accomplish.”

Milroe passed for 116 yards and rushed for 63 for the Tide, whose 11-game winning streak ended.

Michigan is the sixth straight No. 1 seed to win its semifinal game in the CFP’s 10 years of existence — but only after surviving just the third overtime Playoff game. After everything that has happened to Michigan in the past several months, Harbaugh believes his team is primed to keep fighting.

“If ever a game was going to be won up front, it was going to be won with toughness and physicality,” Harbaugh said. “Our guys were just there in rhythm and got it done. Epic game. Epic game. The stick-togetherness — I guess what people don’t know, how could they know, what the togetherness is like? There’s just nothing that can separate these guys.”

Michigan is one win away from reaching the primary goal set by Harbaugh when he returned to his alma mater in 2015 to restore its dominance. The former Wolverines quarterback won no Big Ten titles in his first six seasons, but Michigan has been elite since 2021, winning three straight conference titles and advancing to three Playoffs.

“We broke through after the COVID year, getting here,” linebacker Michael Barrett said. “We fell short a couple of times, man, but finally doing this, especially against Alabama, especially with a great coach like Nick Saban, great athletes they have, just having this tone-setting win, it’s definitely a turning point for the program.”

The Wolverines’ pristine record masked a profoundly messy season bookended by two three-game suspensions for Harbaugh — the first issued preemptively by the school amid an investigation of possible recruiting violations, and the second mandated by the Big Ten over allegations of sign-stealing and in-game scouting.

“It’s almost been an unfair advantage, all the things that the team has gone through,” Harbaugh said. “We don’t care anymore. Don’t care what people say. Don’t care about anything that comes up. We just know we’re going to overcome it.”

Michigan defensive coordinator Jesse Minter acknowledged that the program’s infamously difficult 9-on-7 tackling drills are “definitely” done for moments just like the end of this Rose Bowl.

“You put the faith in your players and trust their training, and when the game’s on the line, you let them go play fast and don’t overthink it,” Minter said. “The game comes down to the last play. We’re going after him, and that’s what we’re able to do. So proud of our guys for the win.”

Michigan was the dominant team for long stretches of the first three quarters of the Rose Bowl, yet Alabama hung in impressively with big plays and just enough defensive stops.

The Wolverines snapped their six-bowl losing streak and survived a handful of potentially disastrous mistakes that undercut their long stretches of superiority in this matchup. The biggest was a muffed punt by Jake Thaw, who was tackled at the Michigan 1 with 43 seconds left in regulation and barely avoided what would have been one of the most spectacular safeties in football history.

McClellan made an untouched 34-yard TD run in the first quarter, and Michigan answered with Corum’s 8-yard catch for his FBS-leading 25th TD — his first on a reception. Corum has been at Michigan for three straight appearances in the CFP, but he barely played two years ago when the Wolverines were routed by Georgia, and he was injured when they were upset by TCU last year.

The Wolverines went ahead shortly before halftime when Tyler Morris made a 38-yard TD catch, but McClellan put the Tide up 17-13 with a 3-yard TD run on the second snap of the fourth quarter. Down seven moments later, Michigan finally got moving with Corum and Wilson making big plays before Wilson’s tying TD.

“It’s very frustrating, man,” Alabama defensive back Malachi Moore said. “We always preach finishing, and we’re competitors at the end of the day, so when it come down to stuff like that it really eat at you.”

The takeaway

Alabama: The Tide will go three straight seasons without a national title for the first time in Saban’s tenure, but there’s no reason to be embarrassed about this well-played game against an elite opponent. The low snap on the final play will be crushing for center Seth McLaughlin, who didn’t want to talk to reporters afterward.

Michigan: The Wolverines have broken through the penultimate barrier in Harbaugh’s tenure with a victory that emphasized the upside of everything their coach teaches.

Up next

Alabama: The Tide will return with another touted recruiting class. Saban’s program remains a gold-standard powerhouse, and it’ll likely stay that way for as long as he wants to keep coaching.

Michigan: The College Football Playoff championship game in Houston on Jan. 8.

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Michigan earns way into college football championship game