It is finally here! The College Football Playoff matchup we’ve all been waiting for: No. 3 TCU taking on No. 2 Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl. Both of these teams have had impressive seasons and are ready to square off in what promises to be a thrilling matchup.
Fiesta Bowl: No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 3 TCU
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 31 at 4 p.m. ET
Location: State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona
Spread: Michigan -7.5 (courtesy of Fanduel Sportsbook)
The University of Michigan Wolverines will face the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs in the College Football Playoff (CFP) semifinals on Saturday. This will be TCU’s debut in the CFP, while Michigan is looking to redeem itself after a blowout loss to Georgia in last years semifinal game.
Both teams will be facing an opponent with a style they haven’t seen much of this season, making for an interesting clash. The team that can best adapt or play to its strengths will have the upper hand in the Fiesta Bowl matchup.
In order to come out victorious, both teams will need to focus on key areas of the game to minimize the strengths of their opponent. Here are five keys to victory for each team:
Keys to victory for Michigan:
- DOMINATE the Line of Scrimmage: Michigan’s offensive line won the Joe Moore Award for the nation’s best offensive line. The big boys in the middle will need to continue their dominance at the line of scrimmage. Consistently opening up holes for the running game and protecting McCarthy are priority number one for this unit. If the Wolverines get continuous push at the line of scrimmage, it could be a long night for the Horned Frogs.
- Another Strong performance from quarterback J.J. McCarthy: McCarthy will need to continue his strong play from the Ohio State game. He made some big throws but, more importantly, he protected the ball and managed to Michigan’s strengths. A lot is riding on this kids shoulder, which is as healthy as its been since he showed up in Ann Arbor.
- Be AGGRESSIVELY-Patient: Force TCU quarterback Max Duggan to make mistakes. Michigan’s defense will need to contain Duggan and the Horned Frogs’ passing attack. Duggan has thrown for 3,321 yards and 30 touchdowns this season. He has the ability to beat you in the air and on the ground, but he also has the ability to beat himself. Stay aggressive, and force him into situations where he will want to do “too much.”
- CONTAIN TCU weapons at ALL costs: Michigan will need to keep an eye on TCU receivers, particularly Quentin Johnson. He has the size and speed to create depth for the TCU passing attack. Big plays, especially early, could crush the Wolverine dreams.
- DO WHAT YOU DO. Run the ball: Don’t get cute. Michigan should focus on their bread and butter: their running game. TCU has shown vulnerability in this area, yielding 4.1 yards per carry and ranking No. 68 against the run for the season. Even after the loss of Heisman-hopeful Blake Corum, the Wolverines have depth at RB and Donovan Edwards to carry the workload. You have the best OL in the nation. Run behind them.
Keys to victory for TCU:
- BE PHYSICAL from the First to the last Snap: There will be no killing them with kindness in Glendale. TCU has been a physical team all season but they’re going head-on with the big bad bullies of the Big Ten. Instead of simply handing over their lunch money, this is the moment to fight back. The whole school is watching.
- Organized CHAOS: Joe Gillespie and the defensive unit will need to do everything possible to disrupt Michigan’s offensive game plan. TCU will need to execute in ways that surprise the predictable-yet-efficient U of M offense, possibly through creative defensive schemes. If they can consistently force Michigan into 3rd-and-long situations, their chance to win will improve drastically.
- Make the most of Offensive Opportunities: TCU’s offense will need to take advantage of any opportunities they get against a Michigan defense that can be vulnerable to the pass. Quentin Johnston is a legitimate star, and an early rhythm between he and Duggan could be Michigan’s kryptonite. Whether feeding him the ball behind the line of scrimmage, or taking a deep shot in the first quarter, TCU should get him involved early.
- WIN the Special Teams matchup: The Horned Frogs will need to rely on their special teams. They have been solid this season and a spark in this matchup could be the X-factor TCU desperately needs. Even without a spark, if TCU can use their punt game to impact field-positioning, they may find themselves in the drivers seat in the second half.
- CONTAIN Michigan’s running game: TCU has no chance at completely shutting down the Wolverine’s running, but it’s imperative that they find a way to CONTAIN it. Preventing the Wolverines from dictating the tempo of the game.
Michigan’s robust run game is (obviously) crucial to their success against TCU in the College Football Playoff semifinals.
The Wolverines rank fourth nationally in yards per carry at 5.64, fifth in first downs per rush at 31.1%, and fourth in rushing success rate at 50.3%. Without injured running back Blake Corum, Donovan Edwards stepped in and performed well. He rushed for 216 yards and two touchdowns against Ohio State, picking up Michigan in the most important game of the season. The ability to run the ball effectively allows Michigan to control the game and keep their opponents on their heels. The game plan is predictable but, to this point, it’s also been unstoppable.
On defense, the Wolverines have been excellent at not allowing opponents to finish drives, ranking fourth nationally in points allowed at just 13.4 per game. While their pass rush may not have been as strong as in previous seasons, Michigan has still been effective in this area. They rank 58th nationally in pressure rate and 34th in sack rate. They’ll need a better performance than that in the College Football Playoff. The Wolverines have also been successful at forcing opponents to sustain long drives and then snuffing them out when they get into scoring position. Opponents scored on only 21.1% of their possessions against Michigan, the third-lowest mark in the country. They also scored touchdowns in the red zone just 37.9% of the time, also ranking third nationally.
TCU will likely rely on their passing game, including short screens, to counter Michigan’s strong run defense.
Quarterback Max Duggan is a true dual threat, with the ability to beat you in the air or on the ground. He is particularly effective on passes behind the line of scrimmage and getting the ball into his playmakers hands. Wide receiver Quentin Johnston is Duggan’s top target and a projected 1st-round pick, with 85 targets on the season. He is a physical pass-catcher who’s known for his fluid route-running and ability to evade tackles.
On the opposite side of the field is Savion Williams, who is having a breakthrough season. He’s caught 4 touchdowns and making several spectacular catches throughout the season. Williams uses his tall, 212-pound frame to outmaneuver and leap over shorter cornerbacks. The trio of senior starters in the slot pose a threat to defenses with their speed, reliable hands, and extensive experience. Derius Davis is known for his blazing speed and has the potential to score on any play. Geor’Quarius Spivey, a big-bodied player, causes matchup problems for nickel backs and linebackers from the flex position inside.
In order to defend against TCU’s passing game, Michigan’s secondary will need to tighten up coverage and play aggressively. They did this successfully against Purdue in the Big Ten Championship Game, but TCU will be a tougher test. Michigan’s defense also excels at not allowing opponents to score, ranking fourth nationally in points allowed at just 13.4 per game. TCU has had success in comebacks this season, ranking seventh in the country in second-half points per game. In comparison, Michigan has dominated the second half all season. Something’s got to give.
The College Football Playoff matchup features talented players on both offense and defense.
As discussed briefly, the matchup will feature a showdown between Michigan’s defense and TCU’s high-scoring offense. With so much talent on the field, this game is sure to be a must-watch for any college football fan.
- Quentin Johnston: Wide receiver for TCU. He is the primary target in the team’s passing game. He has the ability to make big plays with the ability to win jump balls and catch deep passes. He had 17 catches for 20 or more yards in 2022. Projected draft stock for 2023: Round 1.
- Kendre Miller: Running back for TCU. He had a standout season in 2022 with over 1,300 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns in his first year as a starter. He is a powerful runner with deceptive speed. If TCU is able to pull off an upset, it is quite possible that a strong performance from Miller is the X-factor. Projected draft stock for 2023: Rounds 2-3.
- Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson: Cornerback for TCU. He is known for his energetic style and ball skills that allow him to shut down elite receivers. The senior had 3 interceptions and 12 pass breakups in 2022. He will likely be matched up against Michigan’s Ronnie Bell in the game. Projected draft stock for 2023: Round 3.
- Max Duggan: Quarterback for TCU. He was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy in 2022 and TCU’s leader. He is a dual-threat quarterback with strong passing skills and the ability to run the ball effectively. He had 30 passing touchdowns and just 4 interceptions in 2022, as well as over 400 rushing yards and 6 touchdowns. His Total QBR was 80.2. Projected draft stock for 2023: Rounds 6-7.
- DJ Turner: Senior cornerback for Michigan. He had just one interception in 2022 but kept opposing offenses away from his side of the field. He will likely be matched up against TCU’s star wide receiver, Quentin Johnston. Turner broke up 9 passes in 2022 and kept opponents to a 37.5% completion percentage when targeting him. Projected draft stock for 2023: Rounds 2-3.
- J.J. McCarthy: Quarterback for Michigan. He is known for his conservative style of play with 20 touchdowns and 3 interceptions in 2022. He will need to step up against TCU’s explosive offense. McCarthy is more of a distributor than a playmaker and may need to be more creative in the playoffs. He is a sophomore and eligible for the NFL draft in 2024.
- Donovan Edwards: Running back for Michigan. He stepped in as the featured back after an injury to starter Blake Corum. He had strong performances against Ohio State and Purdue, and is poised for a big game against TCU’s defense that allowed 205 rushing yards in the Big 12 title game against Kansas State. Edwards is eligible for the NFL draft in 2024.
Michigan’s offensive line is the best in college football for the second straight year.
The group is not only skilled in the fundamentals and technique of the position, but they are beasts. They have experience and depth, combined with elite trust across the unit. This ability to balance technique with instinct has contributed to Michigan’s success on the field. This success led them to back-to-back Joe Moore Awards for the nation’s top offensive line.
Leading the way for the offensive line is center Olusegun Oluwatimi, who was awarded the Rimington Trophy and Outland Award this season. Oluwatimi and the rest of the unit have a strong sense of trust in each other. They can rely on their teammates to make the necessary blocks on any given play. This trust allows them to make quick decisions on the field and execute with precision.
Much of the credit for the success of Michigan’s offensive line goes to coach Sherrone Moore. Moore has quickly risen through the ranks of the coaching staff and is a future star play caller. Moore has transformed the unit into a formidable force that not only excels at blocking, but is also feared by opponents. Under Moore’s guidance, the offensive line has become more physical and focused on moving opponents rather than simply defeating them. This new approach, combined with Michigan’s ability to mix and match their formations, makes them a tough challenge for any defense.
Coaching Matchup: Jim Harbaugh and Sonny Dykes have a history of facing off against each other, dating back to their days in the Pac-12 conference.
Dykes served as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Arizona from 2007-2009. At the time, Harbaugh was at Stanford building a strong program with Andrew Luck. Despite their past battles, both coaches have a great deal of respect for each other. They are eagerly looking forward to getting to know each other better during this College Football Playoff matchup.
Harbaugh has a reputation for building strong and physical football teams, a trait that Dykes recognized in his time facing off against Harbaugh’s Stanford teams. Under Harbaugh’s leadership, the Wolverines have made significant progress, improving from a 2-4 record in 2020 to a 12-2 record and a trip to the Orange Bowl in 2021. This year, Michigan continued to excel with a 13-0 record and a Big Ten title, thanks to a powerful ground attack and strong defense. Advancing in the College Football Playoff would be an important piece of Jim Harbaugh’s legacy.
Meanwhile, Sonny Dykes had about as good as a season as you could ask for if you’re a TCU faithful. His efforts were recognized on Monday when he was named The Associated Press Coach of the Year, receiving 37 of 46 first-place votes and 120 points from AP Top 25 voters. This marks the second time a TCU coach has won the award, with the first two being won by Gary Patterson (2009 and 2014), the coach that Sonny Dykes replaced. In the voting for Coach of the Year, Harbaugh came in fourth with 28 points and five first-place votes, while Georgia’s Kirby Smart received 15 points and a first-place vote in fifth.
The highly anticipated matchup between Michigan and TCU in the College Football Playoffs is sure to be a thrilling game. Both teams have strong offenses and solid defenses, and it will be intriguing to see how they match up on game day. The outcome of the game could come down to an x-factor, such as a standout performance from a key player or a crucial mistake that changes the course of the game.
Don’t miss this epic showdown between TCU and Michigan. Tune in to ESPN on December 31st at 3 p.m. ET to catch all the action. Will the Horned Frogs come out on top, or will the Wolverines defend their undefeated record? Only time will tell. Make sure to tune in and find out!
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