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ROSE BOWL / No. 1 Michigan 21, No. 8 Washington State
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Throne to Wolves : Michigan Beats Washington State, Lays Claim to National Title

Rose Bowl: Griese throws three touchdown passes to take the spotlight from Leaf and beat Cougars, 21-16.

January 02, 1998|From Associated Press

With a close but clear victory in the Rose Bowl, Michigan needed only one more thing to claim the national championship: a final college football poll with its name still on top.

The Wolverines came back to beat No. 8 Washington State, 21-16, on Thursday as Brian Griese threw three touchdown passes and Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson played his usual tough defense.

All that remained to validate Michigan's first national title since 1948 was balloting by the voters in the Associated Press' final poll. The poll will be released Saturday morning, after No. 2 Nebraska plays No. 3 Tennessee in the Orange Bowl tonight.

No top-ranked team entering a bowl game has won and not been the national champion.

The game ended in controversy as Washington State's Ryan Leaf tried to spike the ball on the Michigan 26 with two seconds remaining. But by the time the play ended, the clock had run out and the Wolverines rushed onto the field to celebrate.

The Cougars stood stunned on the sidelines as the Wolverines gathered at the 20-yard line to receive the Rose Bowl trophy.

Entering the game, Michigan had a commanding lead over Nebraska in the AP poll, 69-1 in first-place votes. In the coaches' poll, Michigan led Nebraska in first-place votes 53 1/2-8 1/2.

The Wolverines (12-0) should stay on top thanks to Griese. He had touchdown passes of 53 and 58 yards to Tai Streets, and 23 yards to Jerame Tuman early in the fourth quarter.

Woodson helped too, intercepting a Leaf pass in the end zone after the Cougars were poised to a take a 14-0 second-quarter lead.

With the victory, Michigan is set to give the Big Ten its first national title since Ohio State won it in 1968 and brings to an end 52 years of Rose Bowls exclusively featuring the Big Ten champ against the Pac-10 champ. Next year, the Rose Bowl becomes part of a four-bowl alliance.

In front of a crowd of 101,219--half in Cougars' crimson and gray, the other half in the Wolverines' maize and blue--Griese stole the spotlight from Leaf, who finished third in the Heisman Trophy race and completed 17 of 35 for 341 yards, one touchdown and an interception.

Griese, the son of NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Bob Griese, was 18 of 30 for 251 yards in his final game for the Wolverines.

Washington State (10-2) played most of the game without 1,000-yard rusher Michael Black, who left late in the first quarter with a bruised right calf. He did not return until midway through the fourth quarter and was stopped for no gain on his only play.

It was 7-7 at halftime but the Cougars took a 13-7 lead on a 14-yard reverse by Shawn Tims with 8:33 left in the third quarter. Rian Lindell's extra point attempt was blocked by James Hall.

The Wolverines came right back and took the lead for good as Griese, who hit Streets with the 53-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter, connected with him again, for 58 yards. This time, Streets streaked past Dee Moronkola, hauled in Griese's pass at the seven-yard line and scored with 5:07 left in the third. Kraig Baker's extra point gave Michigan a 14-13 lead.

The Cougars, who entered the game averaging 42.5 points per game, were unable to respond against the nation's top-ranked defense.

Michigan's offense, though, took control in the fourth quarter, moving 77 yards on 14 plays, capped by Griese's 23-yard pass to a wide-open Tuman on a play-action pass.

Lindell kicked a 48-yard field goal with 7:25 left to pull the Cougars within 21-16, but Leaf and the Cougars fell short in the end.

Washington State took over with 29 seconds left and no timeouts from its seven. After two incompletions, Leaf connected with Nian Taylor for 46 yards--a play on which Taylor appeared to push off Woodson. After a five-yard penalty against the Cougars, Leaf hit Love Jefferson, who lateraled to Jason Clayton and the play went to the Michigan 26.

But Leaf ran out of time and the Wolverines had their first perfect season since their title season of '48.

In the first half, the Cougars' defense looked more like the Wolverines', shutting down Michigan's running game. But Griese was still completing passes more consistently than Leaf, who had six balls dropped in the first half.

Griese overcame an interception by Lamont Thompson on the Wolverines' first series and tied the score at 7 with his 53-yard hookup with Streets, who beat cornerback Ray Jackson with 7:08 left in the half.

Leaf, meanwhile, survived two early blitzes from Woodson and came back on the Cougars' second series to throw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Kevin McKenzie.

Leaf had the Cougars poised to score again, completing passes of 22 yards to Shawn McWashington and 35 yards to Chris Jackson down to the Michigan 14. But two plays later, Woodson stepped in front of McKenzie in the left corner of the end zone and pulled in his eighth interception of the season.

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