The biggest stages are set and the College Football Playoff will be played Saturday.
The Wolverines and Horned Frogs are in a unique situation. Big 12 and Big Ten teams don’t meet too often, unless it happens in bowl games. On Saturday Michigan and TCU will meet on the gridiron for the first time.
Michigan has had a surreal year, going undefeated in the regular season and beating Purdue in the Big Ten Championship. TCU had a really great year, going 12-1 with a loss to Kansas State in the Big 12 Championship.
We are going to preview both sides of the ball and our staff will predict the outcome of the game.
By the numbers: Stat comparisons
Photo: Isaiah Hole
Michigan 7th (40.1 points per game)
TCU 6th (40.3 points per game)
Michigan 5th (13.4 points allowed per game)
TCU 57th (25 points allowed per game)
Michigan 93rd (210.5 yards per game)
TCU 25th (273 yards per game)
Michigan 22nd (191.8 yards allowed per game)
TCU 83rd (235.6 yards allowed per game)
Michigan 6th (243 yards per game)
TCU 25th (200 yards per game)
Michigan 3rd (85.2 yards allowed per game)
TCU 64th (149.4 yards allowed per game)
Michigan 27th (453.5 yards per game)
TCU 16th (473 yards per game)
Michigan 3rd (277.1 yards allowed per game)
TCU 74th (385.1 yards allowed per game)
TCU offense vs. Michigan defense
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
With TCU playing in the Big 12 there is a giant misconception about its offense. If you don’t watch the Horned Frogs play offense, you assume they are like any other Big 12 team, air raid based.
But as the stats show, TCU is just as efficient running the football as it is throwing the ball with Heisman finalist Max Duggan.
So let’s start off with the Heisman runner-up. Duggan has had an incredible season and is considered the ‘heart and soul’ of the Horned Frogs’ offense. The baffling thing is he didn’t start the year. No, Chandler Morris began the season as the starter, but a knee injury quickly elevated Duggan to the starter. He never looked back. He threw for 3,321 yards this season, led the Big 12 in passing touchdowns (30) and gave away only four interceptions.
Duggan has a hefty number of playmakers to throw the football to. TCU will use four receiver looks, and on the outside, it has 6-foot-4 Quentin Johnston and 6-foot-5 Savion Williams. Johnston is slated to be a high first-round NFL selection in April. He led the team with 53 receptions for 903 yards and five touchdowns. While Williams is extremely tall, he was fourth on the team with 29 receptions. He tied for second on the team with four touchdowns.
The Horned Frogs have two slot guys that have serious speed and could be daunting for the Wolverines. Taye Barber, the 5-foot-10 receiver, was second on the team with 593 yards on 34 receptions while hauling in four scores. Derius Davis, the other 5-foot-10 slot receiver, was tied with Johnston with five touchdowns caught.
How can Michigan defend four receivers? The Wolverines have the playmakers that can get it done. The maize and blue have had a resurgence from their secondary in the second half of the year against better competition. The leader of the pack is freshman Will Johnson, who had two interceptions in the Big Ten Championship game against Purdue. According to PFF, Johnson leads the team with an 88.4 coverage grade, which is elite status. The Wolverines have a pair of shutdown safeties, Makair Paige (81.0) and Rod Moore (80.6). Both DJ Turner and Mike Sainristil have been solid all season. Of the starters, Turner leads Michigan by allowing 46.9% of targets thrown his way to be caught.
But if Michigan can limit Duggan and the passing attack, the Wolverines will need to be leery of the TCU run game. Kendre Miller was fourth in the Big 12 with 1,342 yards and was second with 17 rushing touchdowns. Of course, Duggan is a dual-threat quarterback, and he ran for 404 yards and six scores on the ground.
The Wolverines have been as good as anyone stopping the run game this year. Michigan has the No. 6 run defense for a reason. Kris Jenkins and Mazi Smith lead the team with 29 and 25 run stops, respectively, and have been a force in the middle. When you look at the Wolverines’ run defense grades, Mike Sainristil leads the team from his nickel position with an 89.7 grade. Kris Jenkins and Junior Colson are right behind with an 81.3 grade, and Mason Graham has an 80.1 grade.
One thing that seems to hinder the TCU offense has been its inability to score in the red zone. The Horned Frogs are the 80th-ranked red zone team, scoring points 81.8% of the time. The Michigan defense has a chance to improve upon its 32nd-ranked red zone defense allowing teams to score 79.3% of the time.
Michigan offense vs. TCU defense
Photo: Isaiah Hole
The Michigan offense has been cooking lately. In the past five games, the Wolverines have scored 52, 34, 19, 45 and 43 points.
Obviously, losing a Heisman-contending running back is never easy after Blake Corum was injured in the Illinois game, but sophomore Donovan Edwards has made filling the void seamlessly. In the past two games, Edwards has run for 216 and 185 yards against Ohio State and Purdue, respectively. In that stretch, he also ran in three touchdowns on the ground while two of them were long ones against the Buckeyes.
CJ Stokes has made for a nice change of pace back this season, gaining 273 yards. Kalel Mullings has turned into a bulldozer for short-yardage attempts after scoring two touchdowns against the Boilermakers. Like Duggan, J.J. McCarthy is not only elite throwing the football, but he can make plays on the ground. He is fourth on the team with 254 yards and third on the team with four touchdowns.
According to PFF, TCU is a middling team stopping the run. Pro Football Focus ranks the Horned Frogs as the 54th-ranked run defense giving them a 78.8 grade as a team. While linebackers Johnny Hodges (61.4) and Jamoi Hodge (69.6) do not have good run defense grades, they do lead the team in run stops with 25 and 24, respectively. TCU allowed more than 150 yards on the ground eight times this season while giving up more than 200 twice.
Going back to McCarthy, Michigan fans are starting to really see why he was a highly touted five-star quarterback. He had his shining moment against Ohio State when he was asked to shoulder the load when Corum wasn’t able to continue. In that game, the maize and blue had to establish the pass to get the run game working — a reversal. This year, he has thrown for 2,376 yards, 20 touchdowns, and three interceptions.
The Wolverines don’t have any 1,000-yard receivers, but they do have playmakers for McCarthy to get the ball to. Ronnie Bell leads the team with 56 receptions and 754 yards while hauling in three scores. Cornelius Johnson has been the touchdown threat for Michigan, catching six on the year and he is second on the team with 469 yards. As we all know, Jim Harbaugh likes his tight ends and Luke Schoonmaker and Colston Loveland should both be a part of the gameplan against TCU.
It’s been noted several times, but the Horned Frogs run a 3-3-5 scheme and it’s something Michigan does not have familiarity going up against. Playing in the Big 12 conference, five defensive backs are paramount to stop the aerial assault. TCU has the 2022 Jim Thorpe winner in Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson. He allows 37.1% of targets thrown his way to be caught and has compiled three interceptions this season. On the other side, Josh Newton is a force, too. Newton led the Horned Frogs by allowing a meager 34.4% of targets thrown his way to be caught. He also had three interceptions. Both of those guys will be players to watch against Bell and Johnson.
One area to watch on this side of the ball is the turnover battle. Michigan is one of the best teams — ranked third — for not turning the ball over. The Wolverines have gifted the ball away seven times all year. But the TCU defense has forced turnovers 19 times this season — not a high number. But with the Horned Frogs playing a lot of defensive backs at once, it will be interesting to see how the Michigan offense will adapt.
Wolverines Wire staff writers Isaiah Hole and Trent Knoop share their thoughts on the game, two soft predictions, one bold prediction and the final score.
Final score prediction:
Michigan 42, TCU 24
The storyline going into this game is the TCU offense against the Michigan defense. The Horned Frogs have one of the best offenses in the country. They are led by Heisman runner-up Max Duggan. On the flip side, the Wolverines have one of the stingiest defenses in the country — especially against the run.
There is no denying the Wolverines are the more talented team. The Horned Frogs have talent, especially on offense and in the secondary on defense, but Michigan has talent across the board. It feels like Michigan should be able to stay true to its identity on offense and get the ground game working against TCU’s 3-3-5 defensive scheme.
I believe as long as the Wolverines don’t get greedy or incompetent by turning the football over, Michigan should come out on top by controlling the pace of play and doing what it wants on offense.
Donovan Edwards has at least 150 yards on the ground
J.J. McCarthy throws two touchdown passes
Max Duggan throws two interceptions
Final score prediction
Michigan 34, TCU 24