In recent interviews, the Michigan Wolverines’ players and coaches have offered intriguing insights into the strengths and challenges of facing the Washington Huskies, drawing comparisons to the formidable 2021 Ohio State squad.
Washington has one of the most dynamic offenses in the country, filled with electric playmakers like Michael Penix Jr., Rome Odunze, Ja’Lynn Polk and Jalen McMillan. This season alone, Penix Jr. has 4,648 yards, 35 touchdowns, nine interceptions and a 66.7 percent completion rate. Odunze has 87 catches for 1,553 yards and 13 touchdowns.
When asked about what team, if any, Washington compared to, Michigan players were quick to say the 2021 Ohio State team the Wolverines defeated to make their first College Football Playoff.
“I think structurally and schematically they do some different things,” defensive coordinator Jesse Minter said. “I think when you look at the personnel, it’s probably a little bit more — I think you have an elite quarterback in Washington that can process, that can make all the throws. I think (CJ) Stroud was similar to that, the guy we defended the last two years before this year. Then their skill at receiver is certainly comparable. Just talent-wise and the rosters they’ve accumulated.”
Defensive tackle Mason Graham added: “I’d probably say, maybe Ohio State in 2021. Just watching that offense, a lot of high-powered receivers, good quarterback, good offensive line. Obviously, they won the Joe Moore Award, so that will be the biggest challenge for us.”
As Graham said, the Huskies took home the award for the best offensive line in the country this season, and the Wolverines’ defensive line have a tough test ahead of them.
“I think their offensive line this year — obviously, they won the Joe Moore Award, so they played at an elite level,” Minter said. “Certainly I think anybody that we’ve played — hopefully there’s experiences that we can draw upon from the different style of teams. This is a unique offense, but I think we’ve seen elements of everything that they do versus different people that we’ve played the last couple of years.”
Despite the comparison to one of the best offenses Michigan has faced in recent years, the team appears to be more than prepared. The Wolverines defeat that 2021 Ohio State team, but more than that, they have been preparing for this moment all season.
“I think (the Rose Bowl against Alabama) prepared us,” defensive backs coach Steve Clinkscale said. “Those guys were extremely fast. I think Ohio State, of course. Like I told somebody earlier, even Maryland. I think it’s not always just a receiver — it’s the scheme, it’s the run game. It’s what helped Ohio State; their run game was extremely good, too. That running back, what people don’t understand, he would have at least one or two plays where he would have 50- or 60-yard touchdown runs in a game. Eliminating that opportunity for them forced them to continue to throw the ball and try to get to Marvin (Harrison Jr.) and other people.”
Penix Jr. has shown the ability to stay in the pocket and throw the ball with precision. He also can utilize his legs, as Michigan saw firsthand in 2020 in Indiana’s 38-21 win.
With many coaches comparing Penix to Stroud and Odunze and Polk to Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, Michigan has tremendous respect for its opponent.
“Yeah, I think kind of going into this game with the same mindset (as Ohio State),” Graham said. “(Penix) can still make plays with his feet, extend plays. Obviously he’s a great player on a high-powered offense. We still have to contain the quarterback as best we can and try not to let them or allow them to extend plays because that’s kind of when explosive plays happen.”
This comparison not only highlights the evolving nature of college football, where each season brings new dynamics and challenges, but also reflects the continuous adaptation employed by teams like Michigan. As the Wolverines prepare to face Washington, drawing on their experiences against Ohio State and other teams, the players and coaches exhibit a blend of respect for their opponents and confidence in their own abilities, setting the stage for a compelling matchup.