Washington wide receiver Rome Odunze can’t get a hold of a pass against Michigan during the second half of the national championship NCAA College Football Playoff game Monday, Jan. 8, 2024, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Washington wide receiver Rome Odunze can’t get a hold of a pass against Michigan during the second half of the national championship NCAA College Football Playoff game Monday, Jan. 8, 2024, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

CFP CHAMPIONSHIP: Huskies fall short against Michigan in title tilt

HOUSTON — Jim Harbaugh raised the championship trophy as gold and white confetti sprayed over his team and “We Are the Champions” blared.

Nine years after he took over at Michigan, Harbaugh delivered on the lofty expectations that he brought with him to his beloved alma mater.

Blake Corum ran for 134 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns as Harbaugh and the top-ranked Wolverines — undeterred by suspensions and a sign-stealing case that shadowed the program — completed a three-year surge to a national title by beating No. 2 Washington 34-13 Monday night in the College Football Playoff.

“We’re innocent. We stood strong and tall because we knew we were innocent,” Harbaugh said when asked about off-field issues, jumping in to answer a question posed to his players. “(The season) went exactly how we wanted it to go. It went exactly how we wanted it to go.”

The Wolverines (15-0) sealed their first national title since 1997 when Corum, who scored the winning touchdown in overtime against Alabama in the Rose Bowl semifinal, blasted in from the 1-yard line with 3:37 left to put Michigan up by 21 and set off another rousing rendition of “The Victors.”

After nine seasons coaching his alma mater and in his third consecutive playoff appearance, Harbaugh delivered the title so many expected when he took over a struggling powerhouse in 2015 — despite missing six regular-season games this season while serving separate suspensions.

“That man, he’s the reason we’re here today,” Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy said of his coach.

And he did it with a team his old coach, Bo Schembechler, would have adored. The Wolverines ran for 303 yards against Washington (14-1), and their defense held Michael Penix Jr. and the Huskies’ prolific passing game to just one touchdown while intercepting the Heisman Trophy runner-up twice.

“There are more than 100 Michigan men who are on this team,” Harbaugh said. “What they’ve done is amazing. They will forever be known as national champions.”

Penix’s remarkable six-year college career ended with maybe his worst performance of the season. Usually unfazed by pressure, Penix was not nearly as precise against a Michigan defense that took away his signature deep throws.

“That was a spectacular game by our defense,” Harbaugh said.

The Indiana transfer who came back from two knee surgeries and two shoulder injuries was roughed up by the Wolverines, limping at times, stepped on another time.

Asked how he was feeling, Penix said: “Better than I was three years ago.”

Penix finished 27 for 51 for 255 yards and a touchdown as the Huskies had their 21-game winning streak snapped.

“They’ve given me everything they possible can,” coach Kalen DeBoer said of a group of players who went 4-8 just two seasons ago and 25-3 since he took over in 2022.

Michigan’s J.J. McCarthy had a modest game, throwing for 140 yards and running for 31. But it was enough for him to improve to 27-1 as a starter for the Wolverines.

Michigan gave Washington a taste of life in the Big Ten, where the Pac-12 champions are heading next season, and the Huskies were up for the grind for a while.

Two long touchdown runs by Donovan Edwards and 229 yards rushing in the first quarter put the Wolverines up 17-3 early in the second and conjured up memories of last year’s historic Georgia blowout of TCU.

Washington stabilized and didn’t allow the Wolverines another point in the first half. After the Huskies stopped Michigan on a fourth-and-2 from the UW 38 with 4:46 left in the second quarter, Penix went to work.

He found Jalen McMillan on a fourth-and-goal with 42 seconds left for a 3-yard touchdown. After being on the verge of getting buried by the Wolverines, the Huskies fans sang along to “Who Let the Dogs Out,” happily down 17-10 at half.

Will Johnson’s interception of Penix on the first play of the second half gave Michigan another opportunity to open up a two-touchdown lead, but the Huskies forced another field goal by James Turner to make it 20-10.

Michigan nursed a touchdown lead until halfway through the fourth quarter, when it put together 71-yard drive, capped by Corum’s tackle-breaking 12-yard touchdown that finally gave the Wolverines some room with a 27-13 lead and 7:09 left.

Corum, the engine of ground-and-pound offense and heart and soul of team loaded with fourth-, fifth- and even sixth-year players, missed the CFP last year with a knee injury. He was named offensive player of the national title game in the final four-team College Football Playoff before it expands to 12 teams next year.

“Michigan, this is for you,” Corum told the Wolverines fans.

Michigan seemed to be steaming toward a third consecutive Big Ten championship and playoff appearance when in October it was revealed the NCAA was investigating the program for potentially breaking rules that prohibit in-person scouting of opponents and using video equipment to attempt decode opponents’ play signals.

The scandal turned Connor Stalions, the low-level Michigan recruiting staffer accused of orchestrating the scheme, into a household name and threatened to derail the Wolverines’ season. The NCAA process will linger well into 2024 and it is unknown what penalties Michigan could face. The Big Ten, though, decided to act more quickly and punished Michigan by suspending Harbaugh for the final three games of the regular season, including matchups with Penn State and rival Ohio State.

Michigan at first said it would fight the penalties in court, but within days backed down and accepted the punishment. The Wolverines were undeterred. With offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore taking Harbaugh’s place, it became Michigan vs. Everybody and nobody could stop the Wolverines.

Harbaugh returned for the postseason, completed the mission and got to celebrate with his father, Jack — himself a former college football coach — as he accepted the trophy.

“Who has it better than us?” Jack Harbaugh asked the fans during the trophy ceremony. They replied with a boisterous: “Nobody!”

Now the question is whether Harbaugh has coached his alma mater for the last time, with the NFL seemingly beckoning the former 49ers coach again.

Harbaugh said it felt good to no longer be the only coach in the family without a national championship after his father won one in college and brother John won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens by beating Jim’s Niners.

“Me personally,” Jim Harbaugh said, “I can now sit at the big person’s table in the family.”

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.appodcasts.com.

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AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-football

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