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Three Key Matchups for the National Title Game

Looking at the individual matchups that are most likely to decide who ends up the national champions

NCAA Football: Sugar Bowl-Texas at Washington Sara Diggins/American-Statesman-USA TODAY Sports

1. Washington EDGE Bralen Trice vs. Michigan LT LaDarius Henderson

Most of the national eyes are focused on the Michigan defense versus the Washington offense since that is more of a traditional strength vs. strength battle. But there are plenty of interesting showdowns happening on this side of the ball. Trice generally lines up going against the offense’s right tackle to give him the best chance for success but the Huskies may find better options if they move him around to the other side.

The Wolverines won the last two Joe Moore awards before the Huskies earned that distinction this season. It’s a remade unit this year for Michigan as they imported several familiar pieces to Husky fans for their offensive line. A pair of Stanford transfers are featured on the unit as Myles Hinton played nearly 300 snaps across both tackle positions and Drake Nugent has started at center. Another Pac-12 transfer, LaDarius Henderson from Arizona State, though currently holds down the left tackle job. And he’s the weak link of the line.

Henderson took over as the starter in week 4 but still has given up more pressures (30) than any other member of the Michigan offensive line per Pro Football Focus. That’s 9 more pressures than any member of the Washington OL and Henderson has done it in 300 fewer pass blocking snaps. His 46.8 PFF pass blocking grade is dramatically lower than the worst member of the Husky line (Nate Kalepo at 63.6).

The Wolverines are likely to run the ball a ton so Trice likely won’t have as many pass rush attempts as he did in the Sugar Bowl when he had 2 sacks. JJ McCarthy is also much more athletic and elusive than Quinn Ewers. But it would be a bit of a surprise if Trice can’t consistently leave Henderson in the dust when he does get the chance to pin his ears back and go after the passer.

2. Washington LB Edefuan Ulofoshio vs. Michigan RB Blake Corum

I noted just above that Michigan was liable to run the ball a ton and that’s because they trust Corum as their dependable bell cow. At only 5’8, Corum doesn’t look like your traditional power back but he’s powerfully built at 215 pounds. Last season Corum was one of the best running backs in the country putting up nearly 1,500 yards before a leg injury allowed him to play just 4 snaps in Michigan’s final 3 games.

He hasn’t been quite the same player this year while returning from injury. Corum’s yards after contact per attempt are down from 3.35 to 2.45 and his missed tackles forced per rush is down by almost 3x from 0.29 to 0.11. He just isn’t as explosive as he has been in the past. It also hasn’t helped that he has lost 3 fumbles this year after losing only 2 in his career prior to 2023.

But if you like touchdowns, Corum is your guy. He has put up 25 of them on the season and has scored in every single game for Michigan this year. The Wolverines have only played 3 truly close games this year and Corum’s stat lines have been: 28 for 94 and 1 TD, 22 for 88 and 2 TDs, 19 for 83 and 1 TD (plus 1 rec). Michigan has no problem giving Corum 20+ carries and Washington has to find a way to keep him to under 100 yards to keep the game close enough to come out with a victory.

Enter Ulofoshio who will be Washington’s best chance at reliably stopping Corum from the linebacker spot. DT Tuli Letuligasenoa is the most impactful part of Washington’s run defense but it will usually be up to Ulofoshio to bring down Corum on the first try. The Wolverines have one of the most diverse run games in the country and Alabama’s linebackers were often confused by the motions and formations UM ran in the Sugar Bowl. Ulofoshio (plus his fellow LBs) will have to be at the absolute top of their game to diagnose Michigan’s run schemes and flow downhill to make the tackle.

3. Washington WR Rome Odunze vs. Michigan CB Will Johnson

The Michigan Wolverines have one of the best pass defenses in the country. The Washington Huskies have one of the best pass offenses in the country. Something’s gotta give. The one area where Washington has been able to go reliably when the chips are down this season is to Rome Odunze.

Odunze was denied the Biletnikoff because Marvin Harrison Jr. is viewed as the better pro prospect but it’s impossible to deny Odunze’s impact as a college player (and he’s also a very probably top-ten NFL Draft pick). The advanced stats are eye-popping. He’s now eclipsing 3.0 yards per route run despite running the 5th most routes in the country (and will almost certainly move to #2 during the title game). He has caught 75% of his contested catches while dropping less than 4% of targets. Those are stats for a player made in a lab.

Most teams have absolutely no shot to defend Odunze on the outside but Michigan is one of the ones that could very well attempt to challenge him 1v1. Listed at 6’2 and 202 pounds, Johnson has the pedigree as he was the #15 player in the 247 Sports Composite in the class of 2022. He started as a true freshman and has had 3 interceptions in both of years in college so far.

Johnson has for the most part completely shut down his side of the field this year. He has only been targeted 32 times across 10 games and opponents have a 35.4 NFL QB rating when challenging him. There has only been one game this season when Johnson has allowed a catch over 35 yards or more than 60 total yards. And it just so happens that was against Ohio State who had the aforementioned MHJ on their side. In that game, Harrison Jr. caught 5 balls for 118 yards while Johnson gave up 3 catches for 82 yards including a 44-yarder to Harrison Jr.

Washington with Michael Penix Jr. prefers to challenge teams on the outside rather than throw over the middle. The Huskies are going to need Odunze to win matchups with Johnson late in the game and it’s certainly possible that he does but if any team has a player who could theoretically hold him down, it’s Michigan with Will Johnson.

*****

The Huskies are a 4.5 point underdog to Michigan per the Draft Kings Sportsbook. Think that line is right?

Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.