Five Keys To The Michigan v Washington National Championship Game

This Monday night from Houston, the Michigan Wolverines will take on the Washington Huskies in a battle of the only two unbeaten teams in the final version of the four-team FBS playoff. Michigan has the best defense in the country but has not faced an offense like Washington’s. The Huskies have the most prolific passing game in the country but haven’t seen a defense like Michigan’s. This figures to be the biggest key to the game, but there are others.

Keys to the CFP National Championship

Michigan’s Offense

Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy had a very efficient game in The Rose Bowl against Alabama. going 17/21 passing for 221 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions. However, even though McCarthy needs to avoid the turnovers against Washington, the Wolverines’ best offensive strategy is to run, run, and run some more.

This should be the day when running back Blake Corum has at least 30 carries. Running back Donovan Edwards also needs to step up after a subpar season. He’s a solid receiving threat out of the backfield and this is a game where that will be needed.

The bottom line is this: as good as their defense is — and boy is it good — the game plan must be to win the time of possession battle and keep Michael Penix, Jr., his three NFL-ready receivers, and two stud tight ends watching from the sidelines.

Michigan’s Defense

Pressure, pressure, pressure. The Wolverines’ defense has to make Penix, Jr. uncomfortable. Make his passing lanes difficult to see and make him throw the ball before he wants to. All three stud receivers, Rome Odunze, Jalen McMillan, and Ja’Lynn Polk, have the size to go and beat this secondary. That’s not a slight on the Wolverines’ back-end players, it’s just not a recipe for success to allow this to happen.

Huskies running back Dillon Johnson was hurt very late in the semi-final game against Texas. The injury looked bad but he says he’s going to play. Undoubtedly, he is not going to be 100%, so Michigan’s defense shouldn’t have to worry about him as much as under normal circumstances.

As if Washington’s three stud wide receivers aren’t enough to contend with, they have two very capable tight ends in Jack Westover and Devin Culp. They can’t be ignored or they will do damage. Again though, putting consistent pressure on Penix, Jr. is the key. A poor Arizona State team did it. Can the men in blue?

Washington’s Offense

Get the ball out quick and in rhythm. Use injured running back Dillon Johnson enough so Michigan has to take him seriously.

Short passes to Westover and Culp to keep the chains moving may frustrate the Wolverines and allow the downfield passing game to open up for the big three wideouts. Westover is especially difficult to deal with as he’s a reception machine, especially in big games. Penix, Jr. doesn’t need to do much on the ground other than the occasional six-to-eight-yard rush for a first down. He will slide well before he pulls off a long run anyway. Play calling from the Huskies will be key to accomplishing these goals and keeping the Michigan defense off balance.

Washington’s Defense

Statistically, this is not a great unit. While they have shut down poor offenses during the course of this unbeaten campaign, they have been vulnerable against good offenses.

On the plus side, the Huskies’ defense has come up with big stops and turnovers every time they’ve needed to in order to secure a win. You saw the Texas game, right? Bralen Trice and Zion Tupuola-Fetui will need to put Michigan’s quarterback on the ground, especially when the Wolverines pass on first down. Doing this will put Michigan in long-yardage situations, making Corum a non-factor for certain series.

Under no circumstances does Washington want to play this game from behind and allow Michigan’s power running game to control the game and the clock, limiting the Huskies opportunities on offense.

Special Teams & Coaching

Both teams have good but not great kickers and punters. Michigan appeared to have found an explosive kick returner in Semaj Morgan who ran a punt back for 87 yards against Iowa in the BIG championship game…then he muffed one against Alabama. Then Jake Thaw almost blew the game with a late muff that he fell on at his own one-yard line. Conventional wisdom says both teams will encourage fair catches to secure possession and let their offense take control.

We also have a very interesting coaching matchup. Michigan Man Jim Harbaugh has been successful everywhere he’s been in college and the NFL but has never won the big one. This may be his last chance at Michigan as the NFL rumors are running wild.

Huskies head coach Kalen DeBoer is a pure college coach. His former teams won NAIA championship three times. He’s also served his time previously at the coordinator level. The bottom line is that he hasn’t blinked in the big moment before so we shouldn’t expect him to know. The coaching matchup looks like a push,

Sit back, relax and enjoy. This should be a good one.

Main Image: Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

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Keith Eichholz

Very well-written. Only thing I’ll push back on is the Harbaugh-to-the-NFL rumors. If you predict it every year until he actually does it, just like the media has done, you haven’t really predicted anything. But, that aside, your analysis is sound. Thanks for publishing.

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