Before leaving Houston and potentially college football, Jim Harbaugh addressed media the morning after the national championship and said: “I think about Bo Schembechler in heaven, him looking down. I think there’s some things he’d be talking about, coming off the ball with lower pad level. But I think he would be really pleased. We rushed the ball for, like, 300 yards.”
Michigan rushed for 303. Washington rushed for 46.
J.J. McCarthy outplayed Michael Penix, or at least was more efficient than Penix, but the Wolverines are national champions because of their control of the line of scrimmage, not their edge at quarterback.
If Schembechler, immortalized for “three yards and a cloud of dust” football, is looking down at that show of force smiling, I know two coaches who are looking on nodding.
Mike Gundy and Brent Venables.
Expect each to huddle with his starting quarterback soon, put on Monday night’s championship game and reinforce some dos and don’ts based on McCarthy and Penix.
Meantime, here are two things I’ll bet Gundy and Venables share with their entire programs first:
1. Those Wolverine and Husky rushing totals, and
2. The tweet from Pro Football Focus in which the data-driven outlet rated the top 10 players from the national championship game.
The first three were Michigan defensive linemen. Then came Michigan running back Blake Corum and Wolverines safety Keon Sabb. Next were two Michigan offensive linemen and a Wolverines edge rusher.
McCarthy didn’t make the cut. He completed 10 passes for 140 yards and had the game’s most important scramble when he escaped for 22 yards on third-and-8 inside his 10-yard line late in the third quarter.
But he is a national champion because his line blew things open for Corum and Donovan Edwards, and his defense blew things up for Penix and crashed Washington’s high-wire offense.
Michigan’s defensive front led the charge by pressuring Penix the entire night, taking him far from his comfort zone, while ganging up on 1,000-yard rusher Dillon Johnson.
Venables has insisted the defense line lead Oklahoma’s charge dating back to the summer before his first game as head coach.
“Great D-lines do it together,” he said at Big 12 Media Days in July of 2022. “One, to develop chemistry, develop mindset. Like, ‘Man, it all starts up front.’ Well, we gotta be together. We gotta have an edge where we’re gonna set the tempo.”
Wind that attitude all the way through this past season, where OU’s defensive progress was measured by the line’s progress, symbolized by a glorious goal-line stand against Texas.
Wind it through the Sooners’ continued growing pains, Bedlam week included, when Venables considered the task of defending Ollie Gordon and Oklahoma State and said: “You’ve got to play well, first of all, up front. If you’re getting whooped up front, and we got whooped way too much last week (at Kansas), it’s going to be a problem.”
Over in Stillwater that week, Gundy said: “It’ll be important in this game, as always, that we play physical up front.”
OSU outrushed OU 35-13 in the fourth quarter (before Alan Bowman’s two game-ending kneel-downs), outscored OU 10-3 in the fourth quarter and won Bedlam 27-24. The Sooners didn’t necessarily get whooped up front, outrushing the Cowboys by a yard for the game, but Gordon still managed 138 yards and OSU still outmuscled its rival in that decisive fourth quarter.
The Monday after Bedlam, Gundy considered the Cowboys’ offensive progress since their measly September and said: “The reason we’re playing good is because our offensive line is playing good. Early in the year, for whatever reason, we weren’t and we couldn’t manage anything.
“They’ve picked it up the last however many games in a row playing physical, covering guys up, which allows us to throw passes, allows us to become better pass protectors and we’re more balanced and that gives us a chance.”
Gordon’s and Bowman’s emergence mattered, too, but Gundy’s point was worthy. He’ll make it again when he shows OSU offensive linemen film not just of Michigan’s precision and tenacity from Monday night, but Washington’s repeated blocking and penalty breakdowns.
The Wolverines took the fight to the Huskies and won as a result, something both Washington’s offensive and defensive fronts must live with.
Huskies linebacker Edefuan Ulofoshio was talking postgame about Michigan’s blocking schemes and Washington’s mistakes against them, then landed on all that needed to be said: “They did a really good job of being physical, staying on blocks, and that’s what happened.”
You can picture Venables rolling tape of Michigan’s schemes for his defensive front all offseason, hollering at Da’Jon Terry, Jacob Lacey, Ethan Downs and Trace Ford: “Get off those blocks! Go make a dang play!”
You can picture Gundy rolling tape of Michigan’s schemes for his offensive front, emphasizing to Dalton Cooper, Joe Michalski, Cole Birmingham and Jake Springfield: “See how easy that was for 2 (Corum) and 7 (Edwards)? See how you guys make things easier for 0 (Gordon)?”
Schembechler will no doubt smile down at that, too.