Michigan booked its first trip to an outright national title game in program history with a huge win over Alabama in the Rose Bowl. The 27-20 overtime thriller will go down as an instant classic, and it serves as the latest installment in a long line of signature Harbaugh wins.
Here are some quick thoughts about the matchup.
Washington has the best passing attack in college football. Ohio State may have had the best individual receiver (Marvin Harrison Jr.), but the Huskies put it all together in a lethal package. The Huskies’ top three receivers (Rome Odunze, Ja’Lynn Polk and Jalen McMillan) are likely top-100 picks in the upcoming draft. This game will test the Wolverines’ secondary like no other matchup since 2021 Ohio State.
The best way for Michigan to counter-punch Washington’s offense is with the defensive line. The Huskies won the Joe Moore Award this year, but, honestly, I still like Michigan’s unit in this matchup. The Wolverines DL can rotate consistently, stay fresh and has more talent than any group UW has seen this season. Getting to Michael Penix is crucial to stopping the Huskies’ offense, and Michigan should be able to do that with more creative blitzes.
Washington’s defense leaves much to be desired. It is statistically one of the worst passing defenses in the country and allows over four yards a carry on the ground. Michigan can win this game by brutalizing a weak interior defensive line and capitalizing with play-action shots. Just don’t play any silly games with special teams fumbles and numerous third-down drops.
Who’s the defensive X-factor? Josh Wallace will need to have the game of his life. Michigan has one star cornerback, Will Johnson, but the other boundary spot is just OK. It will likely be Johnson on Odunze, Sainristil on McMillan and Wallace on Polk. Those are three tough matchups, but the biggest advantage is Polk over Wallace. He will probably draw safety help from Rod Moore, but that leaves Johnson on an island if Michigan blitzes five and runs man coverage. This is where the disruption comes into play. The blitzes simply need to get home or Michigan will get ripped apart by chunk plays.
On offense, it’s a tougher choice. I will not say McCarthy because the quarterback is a lazy pick, but there are a number of options. I think Roman Wilson will end up being the deciding player. Michigan should be able to run the ball pretty well, but eventually, they will need to open up the playbook and attack Washington’s stacked box. Cornelius Johnson has turned into more of an underneath possession receiver this season, so I think most of the shot plays will be designed for Wilson.
So, what’s the pick? Honestly, I like Michigan. The Wolverines should be able to score consistently against Washington and control the clock for much of the matchup. I think the Wolverine’s defense can come up with opportunistic stops and maybe force turnovers. I don’t want to assign a margin of victory, but I certainly think Michigan will bring it home.