Michigan takes down Alabama in an overtime thriller during the College Football Playoff semifinal on New Year’s Day

PHOTO: Jonathan Williams | The South Pasadenan | Rose Bowl Football 2024: No. 1 Michigan and No. 4 Alabama face-off in the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Rose Bowl Game.
PHOTO: Jonathan Williams | The South Pasadenan | Rose Bowl Football 2024: No. 1 Michigan and No. 4 Alabama face-off in the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Rose Bowl Game.

Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy went 17 of 27 for 221 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions to lead the Wolverines to a 27-20 victory Monday night on New Year’s Day over the Alabama Crimson Tide in front of over 96,000 at the Rose Bowl, notching their first win in the College Football Playoff.

On the last play of the game in overtime, Alabama’s Jalen Milroe had the ball on the Wolverines’ two-yard line.

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On 4th down, he was buried by the Michigan defense, which had six sacks in the first quarter, setting an all-time College Football Playoff record. The ball was down, confetti flew, and the Michigan faithful knew the game was over.

“It’s indescribable just because the last two years being able to watch the opposing team celebrate, it’s just different when I see the maize and blue confetti on the field,” McCarthy said. “I’m nothing without this head coach, nothing without my teammates, nothing without that defense. Everything was so amazing. It’s just really, really amazing.”

Michigan put up 351 yards, with 221 yards passing to Alabama’s 116. Michigan’s Blake Corum ran for 90 yards and one touchdown, Roman Willson catching 4 balls for 73 yards with one touchdown.

For Coach Harbaugh, it’s his first win against Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide, sending the Wolverines to their first national championship appearance since 1997.

“Yeah,” Harbaugh said. “It’s what it means to these guys, to our players the most, to them, to be champions, for their parents to have their son be a champion, their brothers and sisters, their grandparents, for our coaches, for my kids to have a dad be a champion, my parents, just those people to get to feel what that’s like.”

Michigan moves on to the CFB Playoff final and a perfect 14-0 on the season, setting a single-season program record. In McCarthy’s 27 career starts, the Wolverines are 26-1, the best mark by any starting quarterback in 20 years.

“This game means so much to me, and I have a superstition like back in hockey like they do with the Stanley Cup,” McCarthy said. “I didn’t touch it all week and I just was waiting for this moment to be able to put it in my mouth.”

Alabama fell to 12-2, Saban’s first playoff semifinal loss in seven seasons, which was the 2014 Sugar Bowl. Prior, he’d won six national semifinals in a row, going all the way back to the 2015 Cotton Bowl against the Michigan State Spartans.

“Well, obviously we’re very disappointed about the outcome of the game,” Saban said. “I don’t think we played great in the first half, but I was really, really proud of the way our players played in the second half.”

“But one thing that I told them in the locker room after the game,” he added. “This is one of the most amazing seasons in Alabama football history in terms of where this team came from, what they were able to accomplish and what they were able to do, winning the SEC Championship, and really, really proud of this group.”

Milroe finished 16 of 23 for 116 yards and no touchdowns, including a key fumble in the fourth quarter, invigorating the Michigan offense. Regardless, Milroe stood behind his team in such a tough loss.

“Coach means a lot to us,” Milroe said. “We have a lot of things to be proud of from this season.”

At halftime, Michigan led 13-10.

On the first play of the game, Michigan quarterback JJ McCarthy waffled a ball to his intended Michigan receiver. The pass was nearly intercepted, dodging a bullet.

Alabama struck first on a four-play, 44-yard drive to put them up 7-0, capping off a 24-yard touchdown run by running back Jase McClellan with 9:49 remaining in the first quarter.

Michigan struck back on a short completion to running back Blake Corum, delivering the Wolverines their first touchdown of the game with 4:31 remaining in the first quarter.

After some backyard football, Michigan went up 13-7 after a 38-yard pass by JJ McCarthy to Tyler Morris with 3:59 remaining in the half. After the play, Michigan botched the PAT.

With seconds remaining in the half, Alabama kicker Will Reichard swished a 50-yard FG through the uprights to bring the Crimson Tide to within three, bringing the score to 13-10.

Alabama secured its first lead since early on in the first quarter after a Jase McClellan 3-yard run into the end zone with 14:35 remaining in the game.

Milroe fumbled on a 5-yard run around midfield with 12:58 remaining, and it was recovered on the 49-yard line by Michigan’s Josh Wallace, breathing life into a tempered Wolverine crowd.

After the fumble recovery, the Wolverines missed a 50-yard field goal from the Alabama 31-yard line, sending the ball back to the Crimson Tide with 10:30 remaining.

After an Alabama touchdown, the Michigan offense had one more chance to score with 4:48 remaining. JJ McCarthy completed a pass to Roman Willson at the Alabama 4-yard line to tie the game, sending the game into overtime.

Just when it looked like they were down, the Wolverines continued to survive in front of 96,371 screaming fans in one of college football’s greatest games. The press box shook under the drums of the Michigan loyalists beneath it.

In overtime, it was all Michigan, opening with a Corum 17-yard touchdown run, securing the Wolverines’ first bowl win this century.

Michigan’s JJ McCarthy finished 17 of 27 for 221 yards and three touchdowns, nabbing a 91.9 quarterback rating.

Next week, Michigan heads to the final. For Alabama, their magical season comes to an end after an impressive win in the SEC championship against Georgia, along with another missed opportunity for head coach Nick Saban to add to his already storied legacy among college football legends.