5 takeaways from College Football Playoff semifinals

Michigan running back Blake Corum (2) celebrates after a touchdown in the first overtime with teammates during 2024 CFP Semifinal at the Rose Bowl Game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Michigan Wolverines on January 1, 2024 at Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, CA. Credit: KATELYN MULCAHY For the Rose Bowl

The College Football Playoff National Championship is set.

No. 1 Michigan will look to defend its top-seeded position against No. 2 Washington on Monday in Houston. Both teams fought off late comeback bids to advance past the semifinals and into the CFP National Championship.

READ: No. 2 Washington holds off No. 3 Texas 37-31 in Sugar Bowl CFP semifinal

The Wolverines used two rushing touchdowns scored by running back Blake Corum to boost themselves past the Crimson Tide in overtime of the Rose Bowl.

Across the country in New Orleans, Michael Penix Jr. and the Huskies staved off Texas’ late comeback effort and held on to win 37-31.

Here are five takeaways from the CFP semifinals round.

Michgan’s defense came to play

The top scoring defense in college football proved its worth once again.

Michigan entered the Rose Bowl owning the No. 1 scoring defense holding opponents to less than 10 points per game.

The Wolverines, though, allowed more than their season average, and they had a stiff challenge in Alabama which had scored at least 17 points in every game this season.

But when it mattered, Michigan showed up in the key moments of the Rose Bowl.

Junior Colson and the Wolverines shut out the Crimson Tide in the third quarter and held them to 168 yards entering the fourth.

READ: Blake Corum’s TD in OT lifts No. 1 Michigan over No. 4 Alabama in Rose Bowl CFP semifinal

Michigan forced three punts in the second half as well as having picked up a fumble.

Michigan also forced four three-and-outs on four of the game’s first five drives. It allowed the Wolverines to go up 13-7 before they conjured up overtime magic to win the game.

In overtime, Michigan picked up the first touchdown after Corum ran 25 yards on two carries to give the Wolverines a lead.

Then, Michigan got stops on four-straight plays inside its 10-yard line, including the final one of the game that featured a low snap to Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe, who ran straight ahead into the tackle pile to end the game.

So when it mattered, Michigan’s defense stepped up. Now, the Wolverines will look to stop Penix and Washington, which boasts the No. 5 total offense and averages 332.9 yards per game.

Blake Corum proves he’s top running threat

The NCAA leader in rushing touchdowns with 24 entering the Rose Bowl, Corum provided the critical runs in overtime to help Michigan advance to its first CFP National Championship.

Corum entered the Rose Bowl without a receiving touchdown on the season. He caught his first of the campaign to put Michigan ahead first 7-0 on a route to the left as Corum waltzed into the end zone.

Corum averaged 4.4 yards per carry across 19 attempts. He totaled 83 rushing yards and 35 receiving yards, a season-high.

Corum may be reaching his peak performance this season. In each of his past five games, he’s averaged more than three yards per carry, and he’s scored a rushing touchdown in 14 consecutive games.

The Marshall, Virginia, native broke off his longest run of the game on his second carry, going 21 yards and converting the first down to position Michigan near midfield where it later scored on Corum’s 8-yard receiving touchdown.

Now, Corum and the Wolverines will take part in their first CFP National Championship.

Corum will enter the national title game the leader in total points responsible for. He’s up to 156 points on 26 touchdowns.

He’ll have his latest challenge against Washington, which allows 137.1 rushing yards per game good for No. 41 in college football. Corum and the Wolverines will be ready.

It’s hard to stop Michael Penix Jr.

The Heisman Trophy runner-up shined bright on the biggest stage.

Penix went off 29-for-38 and threw for 430 yards and two touchdowns. His performance was representative of his year this season as Penix leads college football with 4,648 passing yards.

READ: No. 8 Oregon hands No. 23 Liberty first loss 45-6 in Fiesta Bowl

Penix threw go-ahead touchdowns in the second and third quarters while he continued to pile up passing yards. He eclipsed 400 pass yards for a fourth time this season.

Perhaps Penix’s best quarter came in the third. Both Texas and Washington tied at 21 entering the second half, then Penix turned on.

The sixth-year quarterback went 12-for-13 for 118 yards and a touchdown. He began the second half 11-of-11, and his signature throw came on a 19-yard pass to Jalen McMillan.

Even the Longhorns couldn’t slow Penix, who is having a career year after knee and shoulder injuries plagued his career at Indiana.

Two seasons later at Washington, Penix is leading the Huskies to the national championship game.

Jalen Milroe will be a force to reckon with in 2024

Alabama went into the 2023 season with a new starting quarterback after former Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young was selected No. 1 overall in the NFL Draft.

Nick Saban turned to junior Jalen Milroe from Katy, Texas, and Milroe had been a four-star recruit as part of the class of 2021.

Milroe set out this season with a team mantra behind him: “Let a naysayer know.”

Milroe and the Crimson Tide put the college football world on notice after Alabama beat Georgia 27-24 in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game, snapping the Bulldogs’ 29-game winning streak.

Leading up to the SEC title game, Milroe converted a key 4th and 31 play against Auburn in the Iron Bowl, helping Alabama keep on its path toward the CFP.

It’s clear Milroe has a clutch gene. He tried to make something out of a low snap on 4th and Goal at the end of overtime before he ultimately was tackled near the line of scrimmage.

But that doesn’t mean Milroe won’t be back for 2024.

He’s already announced his intention to return to Alabama and put off the NFL ahead of the 2024 season. It’ll give Saban a second-year starting quarterback to compete in an expanded SEC that will welcome Oklahoma and Texas to the conference.

Milroe totaled 2,834 passing yards, 23 touchdowns to six interceptions and compiled a 66% completion in 2023. Saban and Alabama will be in prime position to strike in the first 12-team Playoff with Milroe under center next year.

Special teams play was sloppy

Muffed punt here, muffed punt there.

There several combined muffed punts during the CFP semifinal round. They stung the likes of Michigan and Washington, yet cost neither team the game.

Even still, special teams must perform at the highest levels of the season in Playoff games.

READ: Reports: DJ Uiagalelei to transfer to Florida State

Near the end of the Rose Bowl, Michigan lined up for a punt return while Alabama punter James Burnip got ready. When he caught the snap and prepared to boot the football, disaster struck.

Michigan punt returner Jake Thaw muffed the punt near the goal line and he recovered it at the 1-yard line. Fortunately for the Wolverines, they ran the ball once before kneeling it out and opting for overtime.

In the Sugar Bowl, Washington punt returner Germie Bernard muffed a punt and the Longhorns fell on the football. It resulted in Texas going 22 yards down the field and Byron Murphy II scoring from 1 yard out to tie the game at 14 points apeice.

Both Michigan and Washington know the detriments of poor special teams play. They’ll have one week to fine tune and reload before meeting in the final CFP National Championship of the four-team Playoff era.