PASADENA, CALIFORNIA — For almost an entire decade, the Jim Harbaugh-led Michigan Wolverines ran into some sort of proverbial wall, preventing the program from reaching the heights its fanbase desperately wants it to achieve once again. On Monday afternoon, after two consecutive seasons that their journey to another national championship was rudely halted at the penultimate step, the Wolverines built their own wall to play for the national championship for the first time in almost three decades.
Running back Blake Corum ran 17 yards for the game-winning touchdown, and the Michigan defense responded by stopping a Jalen Milroe run on fourth-and-goal on the ensuing possession to send the Wolverines to a 27-20 overtime victory over the Alabama Crimson Tide in a College Football Playoff semifinal played in the Rose Bowl.
Belying the 14-0 record thw Wolverines now carry, the 2023 season came with the weight of expectations to begin the season, after back-to-back losses in the national semifinals to Georgia and TCU, and adversity during the season when Harbaugh was suspended on two separate occasions — the first imposed by the school to start the season amid an investigation of possible recruiting violations, and the second issued by the Big Ten at the end of the regular season over allegations of sign-stealing and in-game scouting.
“It’s almost been an unfair advantage, all the things that the team has gone through,” Harbaugh said. “We don’t care anymore. Don’t care what people say. Don’t care about anything that comes up. We just know we’re going to overcome it.”
What the Wolverines had to overcome to make next week’s College Football Playoff national championship game in Houston was the championship specter of Nick Saban and, specifically during the game, a fourth down and two yards to go from inside of their own 33 with less than three minutes to go and down 20-13. Harbaugh decided to go for broke, and his gamble paid off with a completion to Corum from J.J. McCarthy that went for 27 yards. Some of the yardage was lost due to a block in the back penalty downfield on wide receiver Roman Wilson, but he made amends by making a leaping catch on a deflected McCarthy pass for 29 yards later in the drive. Wilson completed the must-have drive by catching a touchdown in the left flat from four yards to tie the game with 1:34 remaining in regulation.
“Roman previously had a mistake, and he said, ‘I promise, I’m going to make a play.’ That’s what Roman did,” Corum said. “We all had faith in him. We all believed in him. He was just playing hard, and things happen.
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Monday evening’s game, with all photos taken by Detroit-area photographer Aaron J. Thornton. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 17 pictures in total.