Top-ranked Michigan survives No. 4 Alabama, 27-20 in overtime, to win thrilling Rose Bowl

Bryce Miller

The Rose Bowl, 110 laps in, almost certainly has not experienced a game where so much of the country hoped beyond reason and logic that both teams would lose.

The matchup between No. 1 Michigan and No. 4 Alabama, a College Football Playoff semifinal, became a grainy Western where both sides wore black hats. Outside of their home states, the teams were about as popular as robo calls and tax season.

Then they went and made the Grandaddy of Them All a delicious, delightful dandy all the same.

Bile gave way to bedlam. Disdain gave way to drama.

In just the second overtime in Rose Bowl history, Michigan survived one last Alabama charge on a fourth-and-goal stop of fleet-footed quarterback Jalen Milroe at the 2, winning 27-20 in front of 96,371 who were left breathless.

“Epic game,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said.

When the teams lined up for kickoff on another sun-splashed day at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains, the “Michigan vs. Everybody” T-shirts were sprinkled across the concourse and Wolverines seating section — birthed from thorny sign-stealing allegations that led to a three-game suspension for Harbaugh.

On the opposite sideline, you could almost feel the national loathing swirl.

This was Alabama, the team that has made eight trips to the playoffs in the system’s decade-long run. Stir a fat dollop of SEC fatigue in with the Crimson Tide fatigue, coming on the heels of Georgia’s dominant run.

Rage aplenty swirled around Alabama when it leap-frogged unbeaten Florida State to reach the playoffs at the wire, quarterback and strength-of-schedule arguments be damned. Though the College Football Playoff committee probably got it right, it did not stop the state of Florida and purists from burning white hot.

Some would say the grumbling about Alabama is misguided, simply childish jealousy of a program that continually is knocking on the door. Pile on an Iron Bowl miracle on fourth-and-31 that stunned Auburn, though, and it ramped up frustration across the football landscape.

Alabama, again. The SEC, again. A Houdini act for the ages made the blocking-and-tackling universe feel like a rigged game show.

The pair spun enough late-game magic to make America forgive and forget, proving why they both found themselves slugging it out in Arroyo Seco.

“It just means everything,” Michigan quarterback and offensive player of the game J.J. McCarthy said. “Just think(ing) about how far we’ve come, all the hardships that we went through as a team and as a brotherhood, just being able to do it on this stage.”

The fuse on the stretch-run fireworks was lit with 12:47 to play and Alabama leading 17-13. The Tide had held Michigan to a deflating three-and-out before Milroe juked his way past a Wolverines defender.

Quinten Johnson’s tackle, however, caused the slippery spark plug to fumble. It sent a jolt through the stadium and infused Michigan with new life.

Two plays later — after a 20-yard completion from McCarthy to Roman Wilson — the Wolverines tripped on a trick play. Running back Blake Corum spun around and pitched the ball back to McCarthy for a flea flicker, but the ball ended up on the ground for a loss of seven yards.

Michigan kicker James Turner then hooked a 49-yard field goal wide left.

Alabama answered with a drive capped on Will Reichard’s 52-yard boot to push in front 20-13 with 4:41 to go. Michigan, shouldered to the brink, converted a fourth-and-3 play where McCarthy found a wide open Corum out of the backfield.

The Wolverines stacked up back-to-back chunk plays — a 16-yard keeper by McCarthy and a 39-yard pass to Wilson — to sprint to the Tide 5.

On 2nd-and-goal, McCarthy, who finished with an efficient 221 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions, flipped a pass in the flat to Wilson for a 4-yard score. The extra point tied up the dizzying fistfight with 1:34 remaining.

Michigan nearly experienced a disastrous finish when punt returner Jake Thaw mishandled an Alabama punt with 44 seconds left. Though he was tackled and rolled into the end zone, what appeared to be a possible safety, officials ruled he was down at the 1.

In OT, Corum spun like a top at the goal line to polish off a 17-yard run. The second snap for Alabama was a 15-yard quarterback draw by Milroe. The last snap was Milroe running the same play from the 3, gobbled up and undercut at the 2 by edge rusher Derrick Moore.

“We called three plays,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “One they called timeout, one we called timeout and the last one, that didn’t work. The fact that it didn’t work make it a really bad call. You know what I mean?

“But we called timeout because we had a bad look. We had a good look on the first one. They must have known it.”

Said Milroe: “We just failed on that play. That’s all it was. At the end of the day, I just trusted the guys up front for believing in me on the last play to have the ball and, unfortunately, we just missed.”

Confetti rained down. Michigan fans screamed deliriously. Alabama fans crumpled in seats.

No matter how you felt about the two teams that orchestrated the frantic finish on the first day of 2024, it would have felt appropriate for Russell Crowe’s character Maximus from”Gladiator” to stand defiantly at midfield and proclaim: “Are you not entertained?”

Michigan found itself fighting the matchup on dual fronts.

The Wolverines faced a stout Alabama team that built late-season steam like a boulder tumbling downhill. They also were yoked with the perception that they might have bent the rules to get there.

“All the things that, you know, the team has gone through, I mean, we don’t care anymore,” Harbaugh said. “We don’t care what people say … we just know we’re going to overcome it.

”… I just felt there was nothing we couldn’t overcome in this stadium today.”

Michigan carried elevated and unfulfilled expectations as the top-ranked team in the country. It was a report-card moment for Harbaugh as well after losing a half-dozen bowl games in a row coming in.

In the end, hail to the victors felt like more than a song.

“Glorious,” Harbaugh said. “That was glorious. … That was a tremendous win.”

America can’t argue with that.

Bryce Miller

2024-01-02 03:32:54 , Oceanside

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