Michigan wins the Rose Bowl and is headed for the National Championship Game
January 4, 2024
It was not the traditional Big Ten Conference vs. Pac-12 Conference that is usually played on January 1 of each year at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. It was even better. In a game that became an instant classic, the Michigan Wolverines of the Big Ten Conference defeated the Alabama Crimson Tide of the Southeastern Conference (SEC) in overtime at the Rose Bowl, 27-20, in a college football semifinal playoff matchup.
A crowd of 96,371 fans were in attendance at the beautiful setting that is the Rose Bowl on Monday afternoon and witnessed only the second overtime game in the 100+ year history of the Rose Bowl game. The game was televised nationally on ESPN and the network announced on Tuesday that the game averaged 27.2 million television viewers, making the game a top-ten cable telecast of all-time.
Michigan running back Blake Corum ran 17 yards, breaking tackles and dragging defenders into the end zone for a touchdown to give the Wolverines a 27-20 lead in overtime. The Michigan defense held on a fourth-and-goal from the Michigan 3 yard-line, stopping Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe short of the goal line to clinch the victory over the Crimson Tide and set off a wild celebration among the Michigan players and their fans at the Rose Bowl.
The victory clinched a berth in the national championship game against the Washington Huskies of the Pac-12 conference, who beat the Texas Longhorns of the Big 12 conference in the Sugar Bowl semifinal playoff game in New Orleans, 37-31. The Wolverines became the sixth consecutive No. 1 seed in the ten-year history of the College Football Playoffs to make the championship game.
The game between the two college football powers quickly became a heavyweight fight, with the Crimson Tide taking advantage of an early Wolverine miscue, a fumbled punt recovered at the Michigan 44-yard line. Four plays later running back Jase McClellan ran 34 yards untouched into the end zone to give the Crimson Tide an early 7-0 lead with just over five minutes gone in the game.
The Wolverines responded quickly with a ten play, 75-yard drive that culminated with quarterback J.J. McCarthy tossing an eight-yard touchdown pass to Corum to tie the score at 7-7 with 4:23 remaining in the first quarter. McCarthy connected for another scoring pass in the second quarter, this time hitting wide receiver Tyler Morris on a third down dig route for 38 yards.
That gave the Wolverines a 13-7 lead over the Crimson Tide. The extra point was no good. At this point of the game, with 3:49 remaining in the 2nd quarter, Michigan had 199 yards in total offense and Alabama had 39 yards in total offense, yet the Wolverines led by just six points, 13-7. That Michigan touchdown seemed to wake up the Alabama defense and they began to assert themselves.
The Crimson Tide cut the lead to 13-10 just before halftime on a Will Reichard 50-yard field goal and after a scoreless third quarter, finally took a 17-13 lead early in the fourth quarter on a three-yard McClellan touchdown run. A Milroe fumble gave the Wolverines the Michigan 49-yard line and an excellent opportunity for points, but Michigan kicker James Turner missed a 49-yard field goal attempt.
Alabama followed that miss with another long field goal from Reichard of 52 yards, giving the Crimson Tide a 20-13 lead with just 4:41 remaining in the game. The season was on the brink for Michigan, and they needed a touchdown drive. The Wolverines had gained just 41 yards in offense in the second half at that point.
McCarthy found Corum on a 27-yard reception to the 50-yard line on a fourth-and-2 and that play seemed to ignite McCarthy and the Michigan offense. McCarthy, who was named the Offensive MVP of the Rose Bowl game, used his legs for a key 16-yard run and his arm to get the Michigan offense to the Alabama five-yard line, where he connected for a five-yard scoring toss to wide receiver Roman Wilson to tie the game at 20-20, setting up the overtime drama and an epic ending of the game for Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh.
"Happy new year," Harbaugh said at his press conference after the game. "Great way to start the new year off. Glorious. That was glorious. It was a tremendous football game. Congratulate Alabama on a terrific game and their great players and coaching staff and their fans. It was an epic game. Glorious is how I feel. That was a tremendous win."
While Harbaugh found the ending "Glorious," Alabama head coach Nick Saban did not quite see it the same way, although he did enjoy the environment and the experience of playing in the Rose Bowl game.
"Yeah, I grew up in the Big Ten, coached in the Big Ten for 12 years, and it was win the Big 10 Championship and go to the Rose Bowl," Saban said. "That was always special. We've had several opportunities to do it, but this is a great atmosphere here today. It was a great football game. Congratulations to Michigan. They played a really good game."
Saban continued, "I just wish that we could have finished a little better, but it was a great experience for our players, and we really appreciate all the Rose Bowl folks who did a wonderful job of creating some really, really fine hospitality for us all week long."
Harbaugh was asked about the resiliency his team showed in coming from behind late in the game and winning in overtime. "I would just say that it's just the way this team depth is built and how connected they are as players, and we are as a team. It's unanimous support for each and every guy." Harbaugh added, "The team was just not going to be denied."
Michigan will take on the No. 2 seeded Washington Huskies at NRG Stadium in Houston in the CFP championship game on Monday Night in Houston, Texas at 4:30 pm. The game will be televised on ESPN. The Huskies have the top passing attack in the nation, led by quarterback Michael Penix, who won the Maxwell Award as the best all-around player in the nation.
Washington head coach Kalen DeBoer was named the winner of the Eddie Robinson National Coach of the Year award. The Washington offensive line won the prestigious Joe Moore award for the most outstanding offensive line in college football. Wide receiver Rome Odunze is a consensus first-team All-American at wide receiver. With these two talented teams, this should be another epic battle for Harbaugh and his Wolverines.
Harbaugh was asked about his future amid the rumors that he might be leaving Michigan for the NFL after the championship game. "My future consists of a happy flight back to Ann Arbor, Michigan. Can't wait." Neither can the Los Angeles Chargers.