Michigan’s Rose Bowl Victory

Michigan made their 21st Rose Bowl appearance and won for the ninth time in their storied history.  USC has the most Rose Bowl appearances and wins followed by Michigan.  This is the third college football playoff appearance in a row for the Wolverines.  They are finally moving on to the championship game after losing two heart breakers against Georgia and TCU.

This game will go down as an instant classic.  It was a defensive slug fest.  Two heavy weights pounded on each other for sixty minutes and when that wasn’t enough, the game carried on into overtime.  Nick Saban and Jim Harbaugh are among the very few old school coaches left in college football.  They believe in winning at the line of scrimmage, tough defense, and a great running game.  Saban has started to incorporate the spread game over the years.  Harbaugh is a quarterback at heart, but he knows a strong run game makes the quarterback’s job much easier.

A B-2 stealth bomber flies over the venue before the Rose Bowl CFP NCAA semifinal college football game between Alabama and Michigan Monday, Jan. 1, 2024, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

The opening minutes of the game were frenetic.  Alabama won the toss and opted to defer.  On the first play of the game, J.J. McCarthy threw an interception. It was a horrible moment for Michigan fans but as the referee’s conferred, hope began to blossom.  The defender stepped out of bounds and did not re-establish himself in the field of play before touching the ball.  Michigan retained possession and the play goes down as an incomplete!  Though Michigan failed to score in their opening drive, that play turned out to be the first game defining moment of this year’s Rose Bowl.

There is one thing Michigan and Alabama do exceptionally well; run the football.  During Alabama’s first offensive possession, the Michigan pass rush ate Jalen Milroe alive, sacking him for a 13-yard loss and an 11-yard loss forcing a punt.  Unfortunately, special teams play plagued the Wolverines throughout the game and this possession started the madness.  Semaj Morgan fumbled the punt and Alabama was back in business on the 35-yard line.  Nick Saban and company quickly adjusted their offensive approach.  Two plays later, Jase McClellan gashed the Wolverine defense for a 34-yard rushing touchdown.

The Sherrone Moore, Jim Harbaugh mind meld went on display the next drive.  Blake Corum kicked off Michigan’s next possession with a 21-yard rumble down the field.  Then, in a beautiful mix of play calling, Michigan matriculated the ball down the field to the Alabama eight-yard line.  On a 2nd and four, Michigan lines up in 11 personnel (one back and one tight end) with two receivers tight on the left side of the formation next to the tight end and one receiver on the opposite boundary.  At the snap, the tight end, and the two receivers flood from left to right carrying three defenders with them and Blake Corum releases thru the middle of the formation into the space vacated by the defenders in the opposite flat and catches an easy touchdown to tie the game.

Michigan’s defense lived in Alabama’s back field for much of the first half, securing five sacks and forcing four 3 and outs.  Michigan finally broke the tie with a big play to Tyler Morris.  On third and ten with four minutes left in the half, J.J. McCarthy takes the snap and finds Tyler Morris streaking from his X position across the field in front of McCarthy.   As Morris’s speed outran the linebacker guarding him, he caught the ball, turned up the sideline and ripped off a 38-yard touchdown play.  Unfortunately, the Wolverines special teams bobbled the ball on the extra point and the score was 13 to 7, setting up drama at the end of the game.

Michigan wide receiver Tyler Morris (8) scores a touchdown past Alabama defensive back Jaylen Key (6) and linebacker Deontae Lawson (32) and during the first half of the Rose Bowl CFP NCAA semifinal college football game Monday, Jan. 1, 2024, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Michigan started the second half with slight lead and the third quarter was uneventful as neither team scored.  It was clear Alabama was playing the long game as they continued to force Michigan further and further back on their punts.  Finally, early in the fourth quarter, Alabama was able to capitalize and score a touchdown on a short field.

The Crimson Tide executed classic old school patient football.  They had a chance to go up by two scores after the forced Michigan into a three and out.  However, the Wolverines forced Jalen Milroe to fumble.  Alabama had another chance to go up by two scores after the Wolverines missed a field goal attempt.  Again, the Wolverines defense stood tall and held the Crimson Tide to a mere field goal.

With 4:41 on the clock, seven points was the difference.  Michigan’s last drive of regulation was key.  Alabama forced Michigan into a fourth and two situation on their own 33 yard line with three minutes on the clock.  Coach Harbaugh still had three timeouts in his pocket.  Many coaches would have punted and relied on defense to get the ball back for one last shot.  Not Jim.  He isn’t built that way.

Coach Harbaugh put J.J. McCarthy in the gun.  It was 12 personnel (1 back, two tight ends) with one tight end lined up slot right next to the other inline tight end.  The coverage was man with free safety over the top.  When the tight ends and receiver released, they helped vacate a huge space in the flat where Blake Corum ran his route allowing McCarthy an easy completion.  Blake Corum turned it up field for a huge gain.  The play would have been longer than 27 yards but for a down field block in the back.   J.J. McCarthy executed a designed quarterback run on the next play.

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, left, celebrates with quarterback J.J. McCarthy (9) after a touchdown catch by running back Blake Corum during the first half of the Rose Bowl CFP NCAA semifinal college football game against Alabama Monday, Jan. 1, 2024, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

With 2:20 on the clock and Michigan on the Alabama 34-yard line, we all expected Michigan to slow things down and bleed the clock.  Coach Harbaugh had a different idea in mind.  On the next play, Michigan lines up in the pistol in 11 personnel.  The ball was downed on the right hash.  Two receivers and a tight end were aligned to the right with a receiver wide to the left.  A receiver motions from right to left and at the snap, and Roman Wilson runs a deep over route from the short side of the field.  J.J. McCarthy uncorks a laser to Wilson, who catches it at the top of his route and runs it for a few yards into the redzone.

Coach Harbaugh had confidence in his defense.  He just wanted to score.  After executing a 1-yard rushing play, he and Coach Moore dialed up seemingly simple pass play to Roman Wilson for a touchdown.  At the snap, Wilson released behind the line of scrimmage from right to left into the flat where McCarthy found him on a roll out for an easy touchdown.  With the extra point the game was now tied.  Michigan’s defense stood tall and forced a punt, eventually sending the Rose Bowl into overtime.

Alabama once again won the toss and Michigan started with the ball.  Michigan went back to their bread and butter.  Corum’s first carry in over time was for eight yards.  His last carry scored the winning touchdown.  Michigan lined up in the pistol with 22 personnel (two backs and two tight ends).  The fullback went in motion from the left wing.  At the snap, the right guard pulled and led Blake Corum into the second level.  Once he cleared the guard’s block, Corum had to juke left to avoid a defender.  The down field receiver missed his block and Corum broke two tackles as he pounded into the endzone for the go-ahead score.  Michigan’s run defense ended the game.

Michigan running back Blake Corum (2) runs in for a touchdown past Alabama defensive back Kool-Aid McKinstry (1) during overtime at the Rose Bowl CFP NCAA semifinal college football game Monday, Jan. 1, 2024, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

Winning the Rose Bowl and reaching the College Football Championship is a career defining moment for Jim Harbaugh.   He won the Rose Bowl for his Alma Mater as a coach, propelling them to an opportunity to win the title for his team.

Michigan is finally on to the Championship.  They will be severely tested by the highflying Washington offense.  If they can win the line of scrimmage like they have all year, the Huskies won’t have a chance against this hardened veteran Wolverine squad.


Michigan running back Blake Corum (2) celebrates after a win over Alabama in the Rose Bowl CFP NCAA semifinal college football game Monday, Jan. 1, 2024, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)








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