3 takeaways from Washington's 34-13 loss in the CFP National Championship
Washington’s magical season came to an end in disappointment on Monday night inside NRG Stadium.
The Huskies lost 34-13 to Michigan in the College Football Playoff National Championship to end the year 14-1. Here are three takeaways from the game.
Pass game comes up short at the worst time
All season long, Michael Penix Jr. has been unbelievable. In the national championship game, he was off. But it wasn’t just him. Everyone shares the blame.
With 12 minutes to play in the game, Washington finally connected on a shot play. Penix fired over the top to Rome Odunze, his contested catch star, who had broken free from his man and hauled in an over-the-shoulder catch for 32 yards to move Washington into scoring territory.
And then it was called back because of a holding penalty on right tackle Roger Rosengarten.
The Huskies were explosive all season. It was the one thing you could rely on with UW. “The Takers,” as the pass-catching trio of Odunze, Ja’Lynn Polk, and Jalen McMillan have come to be known as, would make some kind of play to light a fire and then Washington would get into a rhythm and then Washington would roll.
That just didn’t happen on Monday.
On Washington’s first drive, it settled for a field goal after Penix missed Odunze on third-and-goal from the 8. Credit the defensive back for playing the cross well, but we’ve seen Penix put this in a spot where Odunze can go get it and that didn’t happen.
#Michigan Safety Keon Sabb (#3) with an excellent job staying on top of Rome Odunze on this crossing route on third and goal. Disrupts the timing and forces a throw that was too high. pic.twitter.com/A7RGI5Jb24
— Devin Jackson (@RealD_Jackson) January 9, 2024
On a fourth-and-7 from midfield, Penix tried to hit Odunze again on a corner route. Odunze kept going upfield instead of turning to the boundary and just wasn’t in position for the pass.
Washington turnover on downs! 😳
— ESPN (@espn) January 9, 2024
On a third-and-4 in the fourth, Will Nixon dropped what would have been an easy completion.
Penix was pressured in ways he just hadn’t been. As time started to salt away and Washington fell deeper into a hole, Penix started to press. He missed open players in favor of trying to fit balls into tight windows. With Washington trailing 27-13 in the fourth and Penix trying to make something out of nothing, he threw his second interception of the game — only his second multi-interception game all year.
— ESPN (@espn) January 9, 2024
Washington entered the game with a 24.5% explosive pass rate on the season. Penix had just four explosive pass plays in 51 attempts (7.8%). That was the game. He finished with 255 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions on 27-for-51 passing.
Odunze had five catches for 87 yards. Jalen McMillan had six catches for just 33 yards. Ja’Lynn Polk was effectively neutralized, with just four catches for 37 yards. The big three were targeted 30 times. UW just couldn’t get them going.
Michigan wins the line of scrimmage
Even the most optimistic Washington fans thought Michigan could cause problems at the line of scrimmage.
That battle — on both sides of the football — leaned heavily in favor of Michigan. Michigan only sacked Penix once, but it was able to get consistent pressure with base packages. Penix was picking himself up off the deck time and time again in the fourth. As the quarter wore on, the effects were more and more evident.
And then there was the ground game. It was a pulverizing ground game.
In the first quarter, Michigan was running through, over, and around. The Wolverines had 174 rushing yards on nine carries. U-M tailback Donovan Edwards had a 41-yard rushing score and a 46-yard rushing score.
quick little 1Q recap from the national championship game: pic.twitter.com/wCz3Vt8pED
— Derek Peterson (@dr_petey) January 9, 2024
Michigan got away from the ground game in the second quarter and it let Washington back into the game. When it rediscovered the ground game in the second half, Michigan rediscovered that Washington couldn’t stop it.
The Wolverines finished with 307 yards on the ground (adjusted for sacks) at 8.3 yards per carry. The 303 net rushing yards were a championship record, BCS or CFP. Michigan had more rushing yards than Washington did total yards. Blake Corum had 134 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. Edwards had 104 yards on six carries. JJ McCarthy had a 22-yard scramble on third-and-8 in the third.
For a stretch in the second and third quarters, it felt like Michigan was trying to force a square peg into a round hole, trying to prove something with its quarterback. At one point, McCarthy missed eight of his 10 throws. In the fourth quarter U-M got back to its bread and butter and Corum put the game away with a 12-yard score with 7:09 to play and then a 1-yard score with 3:37 to play.
When Michigan wanted to run the football, it did so with little impunity.
Washington’s magical run ends with tears, but what a ride
Washington’s draft-eligible players put off the NFL to return in 2023 and chase something special. They openly talked about chasing championship No. 3. They believed from the very beginning that this run was possible. They believed even when no one outside Seattle did.
When the clocks inside NRG Stadium hit zero and confetti fell and Michigan celebrated the ending of a drought, Washington walked off in tears. Penix walked off with a towel draped over his head and a hand around his midsection.
It wasn’t supposed to end like this. All season long, Washington had faced adversity and found ways to win. Washington had run into a wall and found an adjustment that helped them over it.
Remember this team for that. I’ll remember the pick-six against Arizona State. I’ll remember the touchdown to Odunze in the closing moments against Oregon. I’ll remember the fourth down run in the Apple Cup.
Washington set a program record for wins in a season. Kalen DeBoer proved in two short years he’s one of the sport’s elite head coaches, and so long as he’s in Seattle, Washington will be playing in important games.