In what seemed like the latest painful chapter in the Michigan Wolverines’ postseason failures, the No. 1 seed kept its composure with the game on the line and completed a comeback that will not soon be forgotten. A win over Alabama in the Rose Bowl sends the Wolverines to the National Championship Game next Monday, as the team finally got over the semifinal hurdle.
Down 20-13 with 3:19 to play, Michigan faced a 4th-and-2 on its own 33-yard line; ESPN gave the Crimson Tide a 85.3 percent chance to win at this moment. Jim Harbaugh did not hesitate and kept the offense out there, despite the previous four drives resulting in three punts and a missed field goal (on a short field). Who would the Wolverines look to in this moment? I think we all knew the answer.
The play: Trust your playmakers
This team is absolutely loaded with talent, but there is no doubt which player best encapsulates the requisite combination of ability, leadership, and experience. So when the Wolverines were staring down the end of their season, it had to be Blake Corum to save the day. A massive catch-and-run took Michigan into Alabama territory, though a Roman Wilson penalty did negate a bit of the extra yardage.
While going to Corum seems like a no-brainer, the avenue of getting him the ball was gutsy. Corum is probably the best running back in Michigan history, but he does all of his damage on the ground — coming into the game he had just 12 catches on the season. On Monday he added two more, which is certainly something Alabama did not expect. The result: the opening touchdown and this season-extending reception.
The impact: A series of excellence
Even getting to this point was not a certainty, as the defense had to hold the Crimson Tide to a field goal to keep the game within a possession. When Alabama got the ball to the Michigan 30 with the clock ticking under seven minutes, it felt like there was a chance the Wolverines would not even get a shot to tie at all.
Instead, the defense held and this drive will go down in Wolverine lore. Those next four plays could all be seen as turning points as well, including the J.J. McCarthy tipped pass that was snagged by Roman Wilson, as well as his touchdown catch soon after. However, none of that happens without the right play call to the right player.
The bigger picture: What got you here
After avoiding disaster (for the millionth time) on the Jake Thaw muffed punt, it did feel like momentum had swung back to Michigan to start overtime. It might have been a blessing to get the ball first, as the Wolverines could turn to Corum in a more traditional function. Two plays later, the 27-20 lead was taken with all of the pressure on Alabama.
This was an extremely frustrating game with dozens of uncharacteristic mistakes, but it was comforting to see the best players step up when it mattered most. McCarthy stepped up big on that final drive, the defensive line won the game in overtime, and the offensive line did enough late. This team is embodied by Corum, though, and he came through like he always does.