CFB National Championship: Player Matchups - Part 2

With the National Championship just hours away now, we are back for part 2 of our key matchups.

This article focuses in on what is probably the most intriguing battle of the whole game. Can the Michigan Wolverines defense slow down the high-octane Washington Huskies offense?

They certainly have the talent to do so but also haven’t faced the array of stars that Washington possess.

So here are the three player battles we think will have the most impact when Michigan has the ball.

Rome Odunze v Will Johnson

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Outside of the quarterback battle, this is the matchup getting the most media coverage and it’s easy to see why. A wide receiver who looks certain to be a top-20 lock in the upcoming NFL Draft vs a sophomore cornerback who has backed up a fantastic first season. Will Michael Penix Jr be able to find his no.1 target reliably or will Michigan be able to erase his threat?

Johnson has faced another top receiver this season in Marvin Harrison. It was an even battle, Harrison grabbing three receptions for 82 yards, but Johnson getting an all important interception. The difference here is that Odunze’s supporting cast is stronger than the Buckeyes. Offering help to Johnson will open up space for the likes of Ja’Lynn Polk. 

Odunze’s track background makes him a difficult cover but Johnson is a 5-star athlete himself. Perhaps the biggest factor will be Odunze’s contested catch ability. Even when Odunze’s isn’t open, he is. And Michael Penix isn’t scared to force the ball his way. The winner of this dual could be a pretty strong indicator of the overall victor.

Troy Fautanu v Braiden McGregor

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The Washington offensive line is arguably the underrated star of this offensive juggernaut. The Joe Moore award-winning group has given Penix the time to manouvre in the pocket and buy himself extra time downfield. Undoubtedly the headliner of the position group is left tackle Troy Fautanu. His position at the next level may be up for discussion (he may be better suited as a guard), but his college career as a tackle has been elite. In the 128 snaps he faced against Oregon (twice) and Texas he allowed 0 sacks and only six pressures. 

It’s difficult to isolate one player from the Michigan pass rushers. This isn’t a position group defined by one playmaker like the Aiden Hutchinson version of the Wolverines. It’s a team effort. Jaylen Harrell and Josaiah Stewart lead the team in sacks but it was the behemoth edge rusher Braiden McGregor that caught the eye against Alabama. The 6’6, 267lb defender got two sacks as he made freshman Kadyn Proctor’s life miserable.

McGregor’s length will be a great test for Fautanu. He doens’t have to break through too often to have a significant impact in this game.

Jalen McMillan v Mike Sainristil

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Back to the battle between receivers and corners. It’s difficult to ignore Washington’s other receivers especially when we will be treated to Jalen McMillan facing off against one of the top slot corners in the country, Mikey Sainristil. 

Sainristil has been compared frequently to Mike Hilton of the Cincinnati Bengals. It’s an apt description given Sainristil’s commitment and tenacity despite a smaller stature. He really is the beating heart of this group and is often seen flying around causing significant carnage to opposing offenses’ gameplans. How he holds up in coverage against a threat like McMillan will be a strong test for him.

It’s been a disappointing season for McMillan, a knee injury early in the year hampered him until he really sprung to life in the Pac-12 Championship game against Oregon. He had 131 yards receiving and followed that up with 58 yards and a touchdown in the semi-final against Texas.

If Odunze gets the lion’s share of attention from the Michigan secondary, there is an opportunity for McMillan to step up and lead the team in receiving yards.

Mock Draft

Rory-Joe Daniels

Cfb contributor

formerly writing for the inside zone, rory will be breaking down college tape and keeping you up-to-date with all things CFB for the touchdown. an avid bengals fan, you can also find some of rory’s work at