It’s been nine years in the making, but Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines will finally get to stand on college football’s biggest stage.
After a hard-nosed Rose Bowl battle ended without a regulation winner, Michigan running back Blake Corum scored the winning touchdown in overtime, rushing 17 yards for the 27-20 victory and the right to appear in the College Football Playoff championship. After winning its first CFP game, Michigan will face the victor of Washington-Texas for the national title on Jan. 8.
Tied at 20 with 1:34 to go in regulation, Alabama couldn’t get past its own 43-yard line and James Burnip punted it back to Michigan on a monster 51-yard punt that, after a Michigan fumble and recovery, placed the Wolverines on their own 1-yard line. Michigan took a knee to send the game to overtime.
For Michigan, quarterback J.J. McCarthy completed 17 of 27 passes for 221 yards and three touchdowns. Corum added 83 yards and the game-winning touchdown on the ground to go with an earlier receiving score. Three different receivers put up points for Michigan on the day.
With the win, the Wolverines improve to 2-6 in bowl appearances under Harbaugh and Alabama is left out of only the fourth national title game of the modern CFP era. It is only the second time since 2005 that an SEC school will not play in the championship.
Alabama coach Nick Saban said “this is one of the teams I will always remember most and be most proud of” after Alabama was largely discounted as a CFP contender following its Week 2 loss to Texas and Week 3 benching of Milroe. “This team probably improved from the (USF) game and the Texas game early in the season as much as any team I’ve ever coached,” Saban said.
In the first half, Michigan got to Milroe with ease, limiting him to 53 yards and sacking him five times. The five sacks were the most any Alabama quarterback took in a half under coach Saban, according to the ESPN broadcast. The Wolverines held a 13-10 halftime lead after missing the extra-point attempt after their second touchdown, a point that would’ve put them up 21-20 with a minute and a half to play and essentially ended the game in regulation. Heading into the matchup, Michigan had won 28 straight games when leading at halftime, the second-longest active streak in the FBS behind Georgia (39), per ESPN Stats & Info.
McClellan opened scoring with a 34-yard TD run minutes into the first quarter to take the first lead of the game. Michigan responded with 13 straight points until Will Reichard nailed a 50-yard field goal to bring the Crimson Tide within three heading into half.
Alabama’s special teams unit, headlined by Reichard and Burnip, dazzled all game. Reichard hit two 50-plus field goals, accumulating eight points, and Burnip posted 352 yards on seven punts with a long of 62.
How did Michigan prevail?
Michigan’s playmakers made plays when it counted. From Corum’s reception on fourth-and-2 to Roman Wilson’s touchdown catch to tie the score to Corum’s TD in overtime, the Wolverines’ best players came through in the end. Many of those players were part of CFP losses to TCU and Georgia and had to live with the disappointment of falling short on this stage. Corum injured his knee last November and didn’t play in the Fiesta Bowl. For all of those reasons, this was a redemption win for Michigan.
Don’t forget about Michigan’s defense, which made life difficult for Milroe all night. The final stand, a fourth-and-goal stop from the 3, will go down as one of the great plays in Michigan history. — Austin Meek, Michigan beat writer
Old Alabama warts reappear in biggest game of the season
Monday night’s game closely resembled an Alabama game in early September — marked by poor snapping issues and inconsistent offensive line play that halted any forward momentum. Milroe was sacked on four of his first six drop back attempts. Overall, Michigan recorded six sacks and nine tackles for loss, dominating the Alabama offensive line for long stretches in the game.
It was a particularly tough game for center Seth McLaughlin, who had several poor snaps, some of which resulted in losses of double-digit yardage as the ball raced past Milroe and an additional false start penalty. On the opening drive of the second half, Alabama appeared to be gaining momentum but two consecutive bad snaps derailed the drive resulting in a punt. It served as a reminder that Alabama’s issues weren’t fully in the rear view mirror. — Kennington Smith III, Alabama beat writer
A heartbreaking Alabama end
Michigan answered quickly and definitively to begin overtime — two Corum runs that totaled all 25 yards and the touchdown. Alabama’s possession was much more dramatic: negative plays followed by positive and a continuous cycle that culminated in a fourth-and-goal from the Michigan 3-yard line to decide the game. Each team called a timeout before the final play, trying to size up the other’s formation to gain an advantage. Alabama put the ball in Milroe’s hands but a quarterback keeper was stuffed and Michigan prevailed.
A heartbreaking end to a miraculous playoff run by Alabama. In a matchup of two powerhouses, it was Michigan’s night. — Smith
Pivotal special teams plays
Michigan’s lone turnover, a muffed punt early in the first quarter, gave Alabama its only touchdown of the first half. Aside from turnover margin (-1) Michigan dominated every statistical category in the first half, but that wasn’t the only blunder that cost the Wolverines points. Midway through the second quarter, Michigan took a 13-7 lead and seemed to have the momentum on its side, however missed the extra point which put them at a disadvantage situationally for the remainder of the game.
In the fourth quarter, with Alabama leading 17-13, a Milroe fumble gave Michigan an opportunity to score with the drive starting near midfield. However, the Wolverines missed a 49-yard field goal attempt. Alabama bled several minutes off of the clock on its next drive which helped salt the game away. In the last momentum shift before overtime, Michigan muffed another punt inside its five-yard line which extinguished any hope for a game-winning drive in regulation, which forced the game to go to overtime.
Conversely, Alabama made 50-yard and 52-yard field goals, averaged more than 50 yards per punt and recovered a punt that hit an Alabama player who was blocking a return — the insertion of Caleb Downs at punt returner was felt biggest Monday night. — Smith
(Photo: Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images)