In one of the craziest games of the 2023 bowl season, the TCU Horned Frogs outlasted Michigan, winning the VRBO Fiesta Bowl 51-45, and advanced to their first national championship game ever, and has the chance to win their first title since 1938.
In a game that TCU never trailed, the Horned Frogs took it to the Wolverines on the ground and racked up 264 yards on the ground and ran their way to a College Football Playoff semifinal win.
Here are four thoughts on the game and what it means for the Horned Frogs going forward.
TCU’s Red-Hot Start
The first play from scrimmage indicated that Michigan might just run away with this game as Wolverine’s running back Braylon Edwards took a carry up the gut and turned it into a 54-yard gain that set them up in deep in TCU territory. However, the Frogs settled in and held Michigan out on a 4th and Goal try to end that drive. Then, after a punt, TCU safety Bud Clark picked off J.J. McCarthy and returned it 41 yards for the first score of the game. Then, after holding Michigan to a three-and-out, the Horned Frogs went on a 12-play, 76-yard drive and capped it off with a Max Duggan rushing touchdown from the one-yard line to make it 14-0 Frogs. By halftime, TCU had scored another touchdown via a Taye Barber 6-yard catch, making it 21-3 at halftime. In several games this season, we’ve seen TCU have to come back from a first-half deficit to win games, but in today’s game, it was a fast start for the Frogs.
TCU’s Defense Up to the Challenge
The biggest question entering this game was whether TCU’s defensive front could handle Michigan’s running game behind the best offensive line in the country. UM’s offensive line has won back-to-back Joe Moore awards, to be fair. However, the Horned Frogs’ defense didn’t seem to get that memo as they held the Michigan rushing offense in check, and certainly were more aggressive at the point of attack. TCU’s defensive line forced pressure throughout the game and dominated in the red zone, holding Michigan out of the endzone each of the first three times it got inside the TCU five-yard line. Perhaps the biggest difference-maker for the TCU defense was a trio of turnovers that were absolutely game-altering plays. Bud Clark’s pick-six was the first turnover, but the second was a fumble recovery in the endzone by none other than Bud Clark. A Michigan touchdown was taken off the board after Michigan wide receiver Roman Wilson was deemed to be down at the half-yard line. Then, on the very next play, Michigan fullback Kalel Mullings fumbled the ball and Clark scooped it up. The third turnover, and perhaps the biggest was another pick-six, this time by Dee Winters, making the score 34-16 at that point in the third quarter.
Horned Frogs “Out-Physical” Michigan
Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy said earlier this week that if TCU brought their 3-3-5 defense into this game, it would be a “smash fest” for the Wolverines, and that UM would have to bring some Big Ten football to the Big 12. Well, that’s not exactly how things went as the Horned Frogs were certainly the more physical team on Saturday. TCU’s offensive line started to wear down the Michigan front in the second half as the Horned Frogs’ rushing offense opened up in the second half and totaled 264 yards on the ground today, outgaining Michigan 264-185. In fact, Michigan had to turn to the passing game to get their offense rolling in the second half, as TCU’s penetration kept the Wolverines in check on the ground. About midway through the third quarter, both teams started trading haymakers and the by the end of the third quarter there were 44 points traded, the most in one quarter of College Football Playoff history.
TCU National Championship Bound
TCU has done it. The Big 12 was 0-4 in playoff appearances (0-5 if you count Cincinnati in 2021) coming into this game, but now they are one of the two teams that will play for a national championship on January 9th. Michigan certainly came into this game confident that they could handle the Horned Frogs, and that just simply wasn’t the case. Even with Max Duggan struggling on the day, Sonny Dykes and TCU had enough in the tank to hang on for a program-defining victory over a 13-0 Michigan Wolverines team. Now, as Horned Frogs’ fans celebrate a victory in the highest-scoring Fiesta Bowl in history, TCU will await the winner of Georgia and Ohio State in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl.