Fiesta Bowl 2022: Breaking down the Michigan-TCU matchup
PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. — The Post’s Ethan Sears breaks down the Fiesta Bowl (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN) between No. 2 Michigan and No. 3 TCU:
When Michigan has the ball
The Wolverines are missing star running back Blake Corum, but their bread and butter will still pass the ball – to second Donovan Edwards instead. TCU had a middle-of-the-road running defense, and it was in the faster, less physical Big 12. Finding a way to follow Michigan’s offensive line, which won the Joe Moore Award as the best in the nation for the second straight year, will be vital. Otherwise, Edwards can win this match on his own. Wolverines’ JJ McCarthy is a terrific quarterback, but the second has been inconsistent at times. Keeping Michigan down and forcing the ball into McCarthy’s hands is the best route here, but it’s a tough climb and the quarterback’s talent shouldn’t be underestimated.
When TCU has the ball
First of all, it’s about Max Duggan. The senior quarterback isn’t as talented as Ohio State’s CJ Stroud, who Michigan slowed down enough to beat the Buckeyes, but he’s a much tougher player and one who might be better suited for a big game . Under head coach Sonny Dykes, TCU runs an RPO-heavy offense that can outnumber defenses and present easy decisions for Duggan. It worked to give the Horned Frogs the 13th-largest offense in the nation, and the pass-catching trio of Quentin Johnston, Taye Barber and Derius Davis is also terrific. Running back Kendre Miller is another star, with 1,342 rushing yards this season. The Michigan defense has answered the call at every opportunity this season, but stopping the Horned Frogs completely probably won’t happen.
Michigan might have the best kicks in the nation. Jake Moody won the Lou Groza award for top college kicker last year, has a perfect record on extra points and has had 26 of 32 field goal attempts this season. TCU’s Griffin Kell has a slightly better percentage, but with significantly fewer attempts (16 for 18), and missed two extra points. Michigan’s Brad Robbins also has a slightly higher average for yards per punt (42.0) than TCU’s Jordan Sandy (39.6). Both teams’ leading returners — Davis for the Horned Frogs and AJ Henning for the Wolverines — can be dynamic at times, but Michigan has a decisive edge in kicks and clearances.
Jim Harbaugh is prone to the occasional clock management mishap or unfortunate idea, but what he’s done to bring Michigan back from the dead over the past two seasons is a feat in itself, and his Game planning against Ohio State was a masterstroke. Sonny Dykes himself deserves a lot of praise for turning TCU from a rock-bottom 4-8 program into a playoff team, and has had many narrow wins this season, but Harbaugh has already coached on the biggest stages and should be well-equipped here.
Players who could decide the game (non-quarterback)
Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU
Johnston might be the best receiver not named Marvin Harrison Jr. the Wolverines have faced all year. The junior is 6-foot-4, weighs 193 pounds and has the explosiveness to make a play when needed. The trio of Gemon Green, Mike Sainristil and DJ Turner have played in every game so far this year for Michigan, but that will be another tough question. Johnston (along with fellow WRs Taye Barber and Derius Davis) can shake things up – and they’ll be needed for the Horned Frogs to win this game.
Ronnie Bell, WR, Michigan
Bell is the old soul of this Michigan team – his debut came back in 2018, when he was an unheralded freshman who staff convinced to come to Ann Arbor to play football instead of taking a scholarship basketball at Missouri State. After tearing his ACL in Game 1 last season, Bell has been McCarthy’s favorite target this season with 56 receptions for 754 yards, 22 more catches than the player with second-tightest Luke Schoonmaker. Expect McCarthy to seek him out as security cover in tight spots.
Dee Winters, EDGE, TCU
The senior outside linebacker has 7.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss, both of which lead the Horned Frogs. His tackle has been suspect at times, but Winters might be TCU’s best chance to pressure McCarthy. He’ll face a tough matchup in Michigan left tackle Ryan Hayes, and it’ll be worth keeping an eye on where the pendulum swings between the two.
Unlike most CFP semis in recent years, this won’t be a blowout. Both offenses prove capable of moving the ball, and TCU hangs on until the end of the fourth quarter. Duggan will rise to the occasion and could deliver another performance to remember after his bloody, overtime-forcing effort in the Big 12 title game. But it ended in a loss to TCU, just like this game. Michigan ultimately has too much physicality, too much talent and too much experience — a significant portion of its roster suffered a loss in last year’s Orange Bowl and wants redemption — to lose this game.
Michigan 34, TCU 23