How Michigan beat Alabama: Blake Corum’s heroics, goal-line stand on Jalen Milroe send Wolverines to CFP title game

Michigan will play in a national championship game for the first time in program history. All it took was getting past Nick Saban and perennial powerhouse Alabama in the Rose Bowl.

It appeared for much of the game that the Wolverines dominated Alabama. The Crimson Tide struggled to protect Jalen Milroe and run the ball in the first half, leading to only 10 points in the opening frame. But special team struggles and a stagnant offense halted Michigan’s progress in the second half, allowing Saban’s squad to climb back up to a 20-13 lead.

With 4:41 left, the Wolverines went to work. Michigan marched 75 yards down the field in 3:07 and scored on a game-tying Roman Wilson touchdown. The Wolverines went to overtime, scored right away and survived a fourth-down, goal-line stand to defeat Alabama and punch its ticket to the national championship.

How did the victors get it done? Here’s what you need to know.

MORE: History of Michigan’s national championships

Michigan’s fourth-down conversion

The Wolverines had been stymied for much of the second half, having been shutout in the third quarter and missing a field goal after recovering a fumble in Alabama territory previously in the fourth. And it looked early on like their season might be on the line after J.J. McCarthy threw an incomplete pass to Colston Loveland on a third-and-2 from the Michigan 33.

Jim Harbaugh had a decision to make. Punt the ball back to Alabama with 3:19 left on the clock and all three timeouts or trust his team deep in Michigan territory. The decision wound up being easy: go for the fourth-down conversion.

Star running back Blake Corum initially lined up to the left of McCarthy in the backfield, then shifted to the right of the quarterback. The shift appeared to cause some confusion among the Alabama defenders, and it showed the next play. 

Michigan’s receivers took off, and Corum snuck over to the line to gain. Without a defender in sight, Corum caught the short pass and dashed 27 yards down the right sideline to the Alabama 40. An illegal block in the back penalty brought some of the yardage back to the 50, but the damage was done, and Michigan’s drive stayed alive.

Roman Wilson touchdown

From there, it was hero time for McCarthy and his favorite wide receiver. First though, it was McCarthy, who scrambled for 16 yards to Alabama’s 34 to keep the drive alive.

The rest of the drive, it was just about all Wilson, who moments earlier had made the pivotal mistake to block Terrion Arnold and draw the illegal block in the back penalty that pushed the Michigan drive out of Alabama territory in the first place.

With plenty of time to make the throw, McCarthy looked left and saw Wilson streaking across the field. The pass was tipped, but Wilson made a leaping grab to secure the ball. Safety Malachi Moore stumbled trying to bring Wilson down at the catch, and Wilson escaped down the sideline, racing to the Alabama 5 before he was ultimately knocked out of bounds.

Michigan initially turned to its bell cow running back to try and punch in the touchdown, but Corum was denied for only a pickup of a yard. Alabama used its second timeout with 1:38 left, still hoping to stuff the Wolverines.

The next play, however, McCarthy ran the play-action perfectly, faking the handoff to Corum and flipping an easy pass to Wilson, who strutted into the end zone to make it a 20-19 game. The point-after sealed the tie game, and ultimately helped send the game to overtime.

Near disaster on special teams

“Disaster on special teams” is a phrase that could often be used to describe Michigan on Monday. The Wolverines muffed a punt and turned the ball over in the first quarter that led to an Alabama touchdown. It botched the snap on a point-after try that kept the lead at just 13-7. It also missed a field goal that would have cut the Alabama lead down to 17-16 in the fourth quarter.

The Michigan defense, as it had done for much of Monday’s contest, did its job in containing the Alabama offense to just 18 yards on the drive after Michigan’s touchdown and forced a punt with 54 seconds left. Michigan had all three timeouts left and was eyeing the chance to mount a go-ahead drive.

But disaster nearly struck again. James Burnip’s booming punt backed Jake Thaw all the way up to the Michigan 6, where he waved for a fair catch. But he mishandled the punt, and just barely managed to fall on the ball at his team’s 1-yard line.

All of a sudden, the focus for Michigan became not mounting a game-winning drive, but avoiding a game-ending safety. Corum ran for a yard to give the Wolverines breathing room, and after a series of timeouts, they were able to kneel out the extra yard and go to overtime.

Blake Corum overtime touchdown

Alabama won the coin toss and elected to defend to begin college overtime, a sensible decision given the rules of college football overtime. Then Corum, who has already made quite the legacy at Michigan, added another incredible chapter to his storybook career.

Corum picked up eight yards on the first carry. The next play, he ran up to the line, skipped left and bolted toward the end zone. The Alabama defense caught up to him at the 3-yard line. Corum continued fighting through the contact and ultimately fell into the end zone for the go-ahead score.

With the touchdown, Corum not only gave Michigan the lead, but also cemented himself further in Michigan record books, setting the program record for the most rushing touchdowns in team history.

Overtime stop

Alabama had a chance to respond. And for a bit, it looked like the Crimson Tide might do just that.

The Crimson Tide picked up only a yard to begin the drive, then Milroe carved through the Michigan defense up to the 9-yard line. Jase McClellan was bottled up on the next play and pushed back five yards to set Alabama up at a critical third-and-goal from the Michigan 14.

Milroe looked right and fired a missile to Jermaine Burton, who caught a pass three yards shy of the end zone. Despite fighting through contact, he could not force his way into the end zone.

Then came the wait for the fourth-and-goal play. Burton had an injury timeout followed by a timeout used by Michigan. Alabama used its timeout as well as the Crimson Tide waited to dial up their final play.

There were likely many who knew what play was coming next: a run by Milroe. A low snap, a recurring problem for the Crimson Tide on Monday, slowed Milroe down on his way to the end zone. But even a perfect snap might not have made much of a difference.

Michigan was ready and quickly stopped Milroe for only a gain of a yard, ending the game and sending Michigan to the national championship.

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