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Welcome from The Staff

Steve, Craig, Tim, and Steve B welcome you to The Wolverine Den! For a preview of the next game, see below. For a look back (and to see the incriminating pictures), choose a game on the Last Week menu. If you plan on attending a tailgate at The Den for the first time, see the blog menu for Den Law and the house rules to many of the usual tailgate "activities". Click on Buy Gear for TWD shirt! See you on Saturday.

This Week at The Wolverine Den

Game Weather

Houston, Texas (click here)

College Football Playoff National Championship

Michigan vs. Washington

NRG Stadium

January 8, 2024 - 6:30 p.m. CT

Game Preview

The University of Michigan Wolverines are in the National Championship game on Monday at NRG Stadium in Houston. The opponent is the Washington Huskies. These are the last remaining undefeated teams in college football, both 14-0 on the season. Washington plays in the PAC12 this year but is moving to the B1G starting next season. In fact, Michigan and Washington will play a conference game against each other this October. But THIS game is the only game on anyone's mind. The game is a matchup of contrasting styles. Washington is one of the best passing teams in the nation but not one of the best defenses. Michigan is a balanced offensive team with the best defense in the country. The matchup is intriguing. And it is for all the marbles.

The Huskies are led by QB Michael Penix. He originally started out at Indiana for 4 injury-riddled years. He played one game against Michigan and beat the Wolverines in 2020. He transferred to Washington in 2021, following his former offensive coordinator from Indiana, now head coach at Washington, Kalen DeBoer. DeBoer is unique in that his coaching experience includes NAIA, Indiana, Eastern Michigan, Fresno St and now Washington. Penix has thrown for over 4500 yards each of the last two seasons. He was runner up in the Heisman this year. He is left-handed and uses a signature bow and arrow move after a great play (more on that later). His receiving corps is outstanding. Both Rome Odunze and Ja'Lynn Polk had over 1000 yards this year. Jalen McMillan missed half the season but is back healthy. TE Jack Westover caught nearly as many balls as Colston Loveland. And the O-Line won the Joe Moore Award this season as the best offensive line in the nation, the same award that Michigan won in 2021 and 2022. Washington can throw the ball. A big issue might be the health of RB Dillon Johnson. He was carted off the field near the end of the CFP semifinal against Texas, but is rumored to be available to play on Monday.

Pre-game Menu

Garlic Shrimp
BBQ Ribs

On defense, the Huskies give up over 400 yards per game and 5.7 yards per play. They have given up 316 first downs this year, nearly 10 more per game than Michigan has allowed. Their best defender is edge rusher Bralen Trice, who leads the team in sacks and TFLs. Hybrid LB/Safety Dominique Hampton is the leading tackler while CB Jabbar Muhammad was 1st team all-PAC12. It is not a strong defense but there are some talented players.

Special teams are a tossup. Michigan has statistically a better punter and better kicker, but after last week, the special teams need to play better.

The Wolverines will have their hands full with Penix. He can throw with great accuracy on both long and short passes. He has only been sacked 11 times this year. But he has not faced a defense like Michigan's. Pennix can slide in the pocket and has a quick release, but he is not a real threat to scramble. The Maize and Blue need to apply pressure and force Penix to throw before the routes develop. And his signature bow and arrow? He releases the bow rather than the arrow. Anyone who has ever done archery knows that if you release the bow, the bow will sling back and hit you in the face!

My keys to the game:

  1. Control the ball and limit the possessions for Washington. If Michigan can run the ball, throw short passes, and keep the clock running, Washington will not get as many chances to score. The Wolverines are ranked #1 in game control this year and they need to punctuate it in this game.
  2. Big games are needed from Josh Wallace and Rod Moore. We expect Will Johnson will lock down one side. But Wallace has been sneaky good at the other cornerback position. He is ranked by PFF as the 16th best CB in P5 this year and has committed only 1 pass interference penalty all season, Against Alabama, he allowed only 2 catches for 17 yards. A similar performance on Monday would be awesome. Rod Moore will be called upon to cover the third wide receiver or the tight end (Mikey Sainristil gets the other). Moore plays safety but is excellent at coverage and led the team in the interceptions last year.
  3. Michigan needs to be good at what we are best at. That means don't commit penalties, win the turnover battle and win the special teams game. Michigan leads the nation with the fewest penalties. Washington is 129th (out of 130 teams). Michigan has the best net turnover margin in the nation at +17. Washington is 54th at +2. Michigan is 7th in the SP+ special teams ranking, Washington is ranked 47th. These are all areas that can turn a close game toward the opponent. Or can make the better team even better.

While this team is truly a team, they are led by their stars. JJ McCarthy is 26-1 as a starter at Michigan. If he comes back for his senior season, he might hold every Michigan passing record. Blake Corum now holds the Michigan season and career records for rushing touchdowns. He has scored in every game this year. He is also Michigan's all-time scoring leader for a season. JJ and Blake are the stars on a team full of team players.

Mixhigan leads the all-time series 8-5. They have split 4 bowl games (all in the Rose Bowl). The teams met last in 2021 and Michigan dominated in a 31-10 victory at the Big House. Washington has won 21 games in a row but each of their last 10 wins have been by 10 points or less. Michigan is 39-3 over the past three years and is looking for its 12th National Championship and first since 1997. Washington is looking for its 3rd National Championship and first since 1991.

The Wolverines are a 4½-point favorite.

Craig's Prediction


Steve's Prediction


Tim's Prediction


Brown's Prediction


Steve 41½, Brown 35½, Craig 32, Tim 31

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