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TCU Outlasts Michigan in Fiesta Bowl Shootout

Fireworks came early and often in the Fiesta Bowl as TCU jumped to a two-touchdown lead in the first quarter. A pick-six by the TCU defense followed by a 76-yard Horned Frog touchdown drive had the two-score underdogs out in front in the first College Football Playoff Semifinal. Michigan began to find success in the third quarter as the Fiesta Bowl became a shootout. TCU and Michigan traded scores incredibly quickly in the second half before Sonny Dykes’ program outlasted the Wolverines 51-45 in a shootout.

TCU’s First-Half Critical Stops

Michigan’s first play from scrimmage was a 54-yard rush all the way down to the TCU 21-yard line. The Wolverines had all the momentum at that moment. TCU regrouped and held them out of the end zone for a turnover on downs. The crucial stop inside their own red zone was a momentum shift that would be a theme of the first half. 

After punting on the ensuing possession, TCU went back on defense. On the first play of Michigan’s second drive, Bud Clark jumped a route and intercepted JJ McCarthys pass for a 41-yard interception return touchdown. The pick-six became the first points of the game and completely flipped the momentum in favor of the Frogs.

Early in the second quarter, Horned Frogs again came up with a critical turnover following a Michigan explosive play. The Wolverines completed a 51-yard pass for what looked to be a touchdown. After review, it was ruled just short. On the ensuing play, Michigan fumbled the handoff and TCU recovered in the end zone for a touchback. It was the second time in the first half that TCU responded to a big Michigan play with a huge stop. 

The Difference

Michigan’s identity all season, and especially late in the season, had been founded upon their explosive plays. The difference in the first half of this game was that those explosive plays did not lead to points. Their 54-yard opening run resulted in a turnover on downs. McCarthy’s 50-yard pass completion ended in a fumble at the goal line. Michigan gained momentum all season by capitalizing on those big plays and wearing out their opposition. In the Fiesta Bowl, TCU bent on those plays but did not break. 

The Wolverines began the second half driving all the way to the TCU three-yard line. It came following a 43-yard pass into the red zone – another explosive play. Just as the Horned Frogs did in the first half, they prevented six. TCU forced Michigan to settle for their third field goal of the day. 

Against Illinois earlier in the season, Michigan was put into must-pass situations. They struggled and were forced to settle for field goals. In the first half of this game, they were put in the exact same situation. This is just what TCU needed to do to put itself in a winning situation. The difference here is that field goals aren’t good enough to beat the explosive Horned Frog offense. Field goals are valuable in a Big Ten rock-fight football game. The Wolverines depended on their defense against the Illini to win that style of game, but TCU is a different animal. The Horned Frogs’ 51 points scored in this game were indicative of that. It was the most points allowed by the Wolverines since giving up 49 to Wisconsin in 2020. 

Michigan’s Answer

In the second half of the Fiesta Bowl Michigan began to find its offensive rhythm. Down 21-6 at the break, they needed just that. The third quarter became a back-and-forth battle. After getting three points to begin the third quarter, Mike Sainristil intercepted Duggan on the ensuing TCU possession. It gave Michigan the ball in Horned Frogs’ territory. The second Wolverine interception of the day led to their first touchdown of the day. Per usual, the score came on an explosive play. It was a 34-yard touchdown pass on a flea-flicker cutting the TCU lead to just five points. 

Second Half Shootout

Following the flea-flicker, the Horned Frog offense answered back. Duggan stepped up in the pocket and delivered a strike into Michigan territory that led to an Emari Demercado rushing touchdown. The score extended TCU’s lead back up to 12 points. The shootout was on. 

On Michigan’s ensuing possession, TCU had their second pick-six of the day. This time, Dee Winters got his hands on it for a 29-yard interception return for a touchdown. The score gave the Horned Frogs an 18-point lead after the failed point-after try. 

Five of the next six drives promptly ended in five touchdowns. Michigan and TCU traded the first three, making it a 41-30 TCU lead. Michigan then forced their third turnover of the game, recovering a TCU fumble at the plus-27-yard line. That TCU possession was the lone drive of the aforementioned six that didn’t end in a score. Two plays later, Michigan found the end zone for the fourth time in their last five possessions. The two-point try was good, and the Fiesta Bowl became a three-point game.

TCU Holds Off Michigan in Fiesta Bowl Shootout

TCU answered with a 76-yard touchdown reception by Quentin Johnston, making it a 10-point game early in the fourth quarter. Ten became 13 with a TCU field goal, and it was enough to hold off Michigan’s final push. The Wolverines found the end zone one more time with just over three minutes to play, but it wouldn’t be enough. 

Although TCU allowed 14 explosive plays, they kept Michigan from scoring on them in the first half. That defensive performance was the critical factor for TCU’s victory in the Fiesta Bowl. Michigan’s 39 second-half points were an incredible late-game push. However, TCU matched the Wolverines blow-for-blow with 30 points of their own. 

The TCU Horned Frogs will compete in their first-ever true National Title game against the winner of the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl later this evening. It has been since 1938 that the Horned Frogs have last claimed a National Title. This time, there will be no need to claim it. TCU has earned the opportunity to win it on the field in the College Football Playoff National Championship on January 9th, 2023.

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