The Horror. RichRod. Brady Hoke (and the Shane Morris incident). Trouble with the Snap. JT was Short. The Don Brown Game. 2-4. TCU. Signgate. None of that matters anymore, as the Michigan Wolverines are NATIONAL CHAMPIONS. Jim Harbaugh could leave, advanced scouting penalties could come down, next season could be 8-4, and yet none of that can take away what the 2023 team has accomplished.
The first half of the season was about as straightforward as it could be for the Wolverines, as they charged through overmatched opponents. The second half was anything but that, as the schedule toughened up and the outside noise became unbearable. Nevertheless, the team persevered, and for one last time this season, Michigan got the play it needed.
The play: Mikey calls game
After J.J. McCarthy and the offense finally found the end zone again to make it a 14-point lead thanks to Blake Corum’s first touchdown, it was now or never for the Washington Huskies. Michael Penix led the offense down the field in short order, but the defense forced a 4th-and-10 on the Michigan 30. The Wolverines would get the stop, and much more.
Did Mike Sainristil need to pick it? Of course not, an incompletion would be just fine. Did he need to take it all the way down the field? Just a bonus, and one appreciated by Corum, who soon punched in his second score of the night as well. However, it just felt perfect to secure the national championship via one of the most important players of this turnaround.
The impact: Those who stay will be champions
It became very clear that this game was always going to be won by the defense. After an early 17 points on the first three possessions, the offense got just three points on the next seven drives combined, entirely due to a short field set up by a Will Johnson interception on the first play out of halftime.
After Washington responded with a field goal of its own to make it a 20-13 game, the defense would not surrender another point. From 8:58 in the third quarter until seven minutes left in the fourth, the Michigan defense protected a one-score lead. So while Sainristil’s pick came with an extended lead, it was absolutely fitting for that side of the ball to close things down.
The bigger picture: Who’s got it better than us?!
Rejoice! Bask in it. I know most of us are going to watch highlights of this game over and over again to the point that our kids will be begging us to stop playing them in the 2030s. Really, there is no singular turning point for this game, or even this season – in fact, in my game preview I talked about how the 2021 Washington game felt like a turning point for the entire program, at least in the modern era.
No, Monday was the long-awaited culmination of critical plays and legendary players, all amounting in the sport’s crowning achievement. Every single player on this roster has made an impact this season, and really every player at least in the Harbaugh era feels like they have played a role as well. There will be plenty of time to look back and relive the journey that has brought us here, but for now we can celebrate the national championship that started as Sainristil sprinted down the field.