College Football Playoff – Blake Corum, Michigan find offense just in time


PASADENA, Calif. — A bare-chested Blake Corum stood in front of his locker in the bowels of the Rose Bowl Stadium on Monday when a Michigan staffer handed him a ringing cell phone.

“It’s your father,” he told Corum.

Only minutes earlier, Corum had scored the winning touchdown in overtime on a 17-yard run to beat Alabama 27-20 in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Prudential, exorcising Michigan’s College Football Playoff demons, and more importantly, putting the Wolverines in position to win their first national championship since 1997.

Corum tried to explain to his father, who was naturally excited, that he was surrounded by a horde of media and would do his best to meet him outside when he was finished.

But no explanation was needed for what Michigan did to Alabama on a game-saving touchdown drive late in regulation that fans of the Maize and Blue will be talking about for some time nor for the Wolverines sledgehammering their way into the end zone in just two plays in overtime.

“We just kept saying, ‘Do or die. Do we want this to be the last time we play together?'” Corum said. “We were able to come together as a unit, as brothers, on that drive.”

Their timing couldn’t have been better.

The Wolverines had seemingly gone belly-up on offense. In their first four drives of the second half, they punted three times and missed a field goal, managing all of 44 yards on those possessions.

“Yeah, it goes through your mind, sort of, ‘Here we go,’ after some of what’s happened in the past when we got here,” Michigan offensive guard Trevor Keegan said, referring to Michigan’s losses in the CFP semifinals over the previous two seasons. “But we play for each other. We’ve overcome obstacles and adversity. People can say it’s adversity. People can say we cheated. But I really don’t give a f—. It was adversity, and this team relied on each other, and it showed in that last quarter on that drive and in that overtime.”

Wolverines quarterback J.J. McCarthy said the playoff frustration was on everybody’s mind when Michigan huddled for its drive after Alabama had taken a 20-13 lead and seized all the momentum.

The Wolverines dominated the line of scrimmage in the first half, but they held only a 13-10 lead at the break.

“We didn’t get what we came to get the past two years, and that’s the reason we’re here today,” said McCarthy, who threw three touchdown passes, including a 4-yarder to Roman Wilson that capped Michigan’s clutch eight-play, 75-yard drive to tie the score with 1:38 to play in regulation. “Nothing was going to get in our way this time. We believed in that huddle we were going to get it done, and so did everybody on our sideline.”

No play was bigger during Michigan’s game-tying drive than McCarthy’s short pass to Corum on fourth-and-2. Corum turned it into a 27-yard gain. An illegal block penalty brought it back 10 yards, but the Wolverines had a first down and renewed life with just less than three minutes to play.

“When I saw Blake, man, and saw his eyes, it was like there was a devil in his eyes or something,” Keegan said.

On that critical fourth-down play, Corum noticed the Alabama cornerback scooted inside with the receiver, meaning Corum saw nothing but green turf.

“We had just run a little bit of a different version of it,” he said, “and they were out there in the flats with me. And as we motioned on that fourth down and I bumped and saw that corner over there on our receiver, I was like, ‘I know he’s going with him,’ and he did — and it just opened up.”

And once Michigan tied the score, Corum said he could see in the Alabama players’ eyes that they realized they were in trouble.

“As soon as we went to overtime, I knew we had the momentum. I knew we were going to be victorious,” the senior running back said.

Michigan’s defense still had to make a fourth-down stop in overtime when Alabama quarterback Jalen Milroe was stuffed at the 2-yard line. But Wolverines defensive tackle Kris Jenkins said it was Michigan’s offense that changed the complexion of the game during those final minutes of the fourth quarter.

Those minutes won’t soon be forgotten by Michigan fans, who took over Pasadena on Monday and celebrated deep into the night.

“They never flinch, and that’s the thing we love about our offense, no matter what’s going on, no matter if the odds are stacked against them, no matter if mistakes are made,” Jenkins said. “They’re never going to flinch in the biggest moments. They’re always going to hold their ground, do what they do best, and that’s the biggest thing.

“They always ball out. It may be scary. It may get your heart pumping on the sideline. But you know they know they’re going to handle business.”

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