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3 takeaways from Michigan's CFP title performance

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Michigan looked like the best team in the country for most of the season and confirmed that Monday with the program's first national title since 1997.

The Wolverines left no doubt from the opening kick that they were a cut above Washington on the night, racing out to a lead they would never relinquish en route to the win.

Here are three takeaways from Michigan's title-winning performance.

3 plays, 146 yards, championship

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The game was 60 minutes long, but Michigan essentially had the contest wrapped up after the opening three drives of the game. It wasn't done in the same steamroller fashion in which Georgia had last year's game clinched early, but three explosive running plays pushed Michigan ahead of the Huskies.

Yes, you read that correctly - the Wolverines used explosive rushing plays effectively to build the lead. Michigan is certainly known for its run game, but it's more a death by 1,000 incredibly physical papercuts than a quick and sudden demise for the opposition. The Wolverines entered ranked 78th in the country with only six running plays over 20 yards on the season. In the first quarter alone, Donovan Edwards hit Washington with scoring runs of 41 and 46 yards before Blake Corum added a 59-yard scamper that set up an eventual field goal to make the lead 17-3.

Those 17 points ended up being enough to win the whole thing. The Wolverines tacked on 17 more points late in the second half, but the opening barrage on the ground proved who would be the dominant team on the night.

Penix proved human

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The story in the Sugar Bowl - and the last two years of Washington football overall - has been the brilliance of Michael Penix Jr. The star passer's 430-yard showing against Texas was arguably the best tape of any quarterback in the 2023 season. However, there would be no repeat performance against Michigan on Monday, with the sixth-year senior missing on open throws throughout the night.

One of the first indications Penix was off came early in the second quarter with Kalen DeBoer rolling the dice and going for a fourth-down conversion while trailing by 14 points. Penix missed a wide-open Rome Odunze with a throw that likely would have led to a walk-in touchdown.

Despite not firing on all cylinders, Washington hung tough and cut the lead to 17-10 with a touchdown late in the second half. That gave the team plenty of momentum coming out of the locker room. But that positivity lasted exactly one play, as Penix couldn't escape a collapsing pocket and was hit as he threw to the sidelines. The resulting wobbly ball was intercepted by Will Johnson and set the Wolverines up in great field position.

Penix's final line saw him complete just 27 of 51 passes for 255 yards - a paltry 5 yards per attempt. He was intercepted twice for just the second game this season and finished with his worst passer rating of the year.

Penix likely needed another superhuman effort for Washington to pull off the upset and take down the top-ranked Wolverines. Unfortunately for the Huskies, that just wasn't in the cards for the graduating star - largely because of the next point.

Michigan's secondary stands tall

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The most entertaining matchup of the night was the Michigan secondary against the nation's top-ranked passing attack and Washington's trio of star receivers. Rome Odunze, Ja'Lynn Polk, and Jalen McMillan absolutely torched Texas for 305 yards and two touchdowns in the Sugar Bowl. Deep completions are a huge part of the Huskies' offense, with the team ranking second nationally in plays over 20 yards on the season.

The Wolverines showed from the jump this wouldn't be Texas again, holding Washington to zero completions over 20 yards in the first half - the first time that has happened in two seasons under DeBoer. The Michigan game plan was to keep everything in front and not allow anything over the top. The trio grabbed 15 catches on the game but was limited to just 157 yards total through the air.

The two stars in the Michigan secondary outshone the receiving core, with Johnson and Mike Sainristil both picking off Penix in the second half. Johnson's interception was a huge backbreaker on the first play of the third quarter, while Sainristil went nearly the length of the field on his return to set up another Corum touchdown.

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