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Will Johnson vs. Rome Odunze: The matchup to look for

Michigan cornerback Will Johnson will have to guard one of the nation’s best receivers on Monday in Rome Odunze.

Rose Bowl Game - Alabama v Michigan Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Jacob Singer Jake Singer is a junior at the University of Michigan majoring in Political Science. He is a Michigan Football and Basketball Writer for SB Nation's Maize and Brew

The Michigan Wolverines have faced a lot of talented players this season. Only one, however, may match up to the skillset of Washington Huskies wide receiver, Rome Odunze.

With all eyes on the final two teams, the National Championship game is setting the stage for a highly anticipated matchup between Michigan cornerback Will Johnson and Odunze. This face-off is not just a test of skill but a showcase of potential future NFL talents.

Johnson has been the Wolverines’ top cornerback this season with the only thing slowing him down being injuries. After missing the first few games of the season, Johnson looked sharp coming back to the Michigan secondary and stayed a lockdown corner through the end of the second quarter against Ohio State until an injury took him out of the game.

After missing the Big Ten Championship Game against Iowa, Johnson returned to the primary cornerback position against Alabama where the secondary held the Crimson Tide to just 116 passing yards, no plays of more than 40 yards in Monday’s Rose Bowl, and there were only two combined plays of more than 30 yards.

On Monday, however, Johnson and the Wolverines’ secondary will face a Washington team that features arguably the most explosive offense in the country, which has played a significant role in getting the Huskies to the National Championship.

In this matchup, Johnson will most likely go up against Odunze, one of the nation’s top receivers, in a matchup for the ages.

“It’s a tremendous challenge,” Michigan defensive coordinator Jesse Minter said. “They have elite skill. Their whole receiving corps is really, really good. They have draft choices all over the field at the skill positions and on the O-line and at quarterback and at running back. It’s a different type of challenge than the Alabama offense where the O-line was that big, physical group and then they had speed. They had a quarterback that could do different things.

This is a little bit more of a matchup game where it’s an elite quarterback who can get the ball to his guys and is not afraid of throwing in tight windows, is not afraid to give his guys chances in one-on-ones. We expect the ball to be thrown downfield and look forward to the challenge of trying to defend that.”

This season, Odunze has 87 catches for 1,553 yards and 13 touchdowns. He has 10 games with over 100 receiving yards and eight games with a touchdown (five with two or more TDs). It’s safe to say that he is a threat to any defense.

“I think it’s his ability to make those contested catches that separates him,” Minter said. “He has a great skill set. He is big. He is fast. He runs really good routes, but he very rarely doesn’t come down with the ball in the contested catch opportunities…

I just think he is a really good overall receiver, so he has that ability to wiggle. He has that ability to run good routes. We went against Marvin Harrison Jr.) and people have kind of compared the two. I think they’re both elite. They’re probably going to be the first two receivers picked. So it’s another great challenge for us. We have to know where he is at all times, not let him wreck the game. And look forward to the challenge.”

With a lot of talk surrounding the special receiver, however, Johnson is still confident in his skill set.

“I’m confident in myself in most matchups, so it’s really just about the preparation,” Johnson said. “That’s the biggest way I think about it. Preparing myself the best I can before the game and go out there and finish it and execute it.”

For Johnson, his preparation led to his ability to lock down the top receiver on good teams all season. Before he got hurt against the Buckeyes, he held Harrison Jr. to under 30 yards. Before that game, he had been targeted 30 times, allowed 15 receptions, 256 receiving yards and zero touchdowns. The Huskies cannot take him lightly.

“I think it’s going to be a great battle. 2 for Michigan is a really, really talented corner,” Washington offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb said. “Saw him in the Ohio State game just matching up with Marvin Harrison Jr. and following him around the field. You just know the type of confidence that they have as a defense in him.”

Odunze added: “I think that they do a lot of different things well, and that kind of keeps offenses on their toes as well as receivers. They got a bunch of great guys back there on the secondary that know the scheme. Strong, physical guys that can also run and be there competitively on every single pathway. So it’s gonna take a lot of just focusing in on our game plan where we have all our details down and go out there and execute.”

Defensive backs coach, Steve Clinkscale, told the media that Johnson will ‘match up with the best guy,’ so it’s expected fans will see a battle between the two on Monday.

This National Championship game is more than a title decider; it’s a clash of titans between two of the best in college football. As Michigan’s defense, spearheaded by Johnson, readies itself to contain Washington’s dynamic offense led by Odunze, the stage is set for a memorable encounter that promises to be a strategic and talent-filled spectacle.