PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. — They say that football games are won in the trenches. For Michigan football, that’s proven to be true all season long. But TCU isn’t shying away from the challenge.
The Wolverines and Horned Frogs are destined to meet in the College Football Playoff semifinal in the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl on Saturday, and TCU head coach Sonny Dykes is aware of the challenges that his team faces.
Michigan’s offensive line won the Joe Moore Award for the second-straight year, the first team to ever do so, earning the right to call itself the school with the best line in the country. Dykes feels that the Wolverine offense is predicated on the run, with that establishment set by the line play up front.
“They’re big and they’re physical, they’re well-coached, they’ve got a lot of experience,” Dykes said. “And they have a good scheme, you know what I mean? “They do a nice job of playing to their strengths. I think that’s been the thing that I’ve been impressed with, when you look at their team, it’s just the way it’s constructed, they’ve done a nice job of saying, ‘OK, what do we have here? What’s our strengths? What’s our weaknesses? Let’s play to our strengths, or stay away from our weaknesses.’
“And they’ve done a really good job coaching, not everybody does that. A lot of times coaches have a system, and they’re gonna run their system, and maybe the players don’t fit the system. Well, at Michigan, they’ve done a really, really good job of knowing what they want to do, having a goal in mind, having a personality, and then having the players to go out and fill those roles and execute that vision. And as a result, you get a really good team. I feel that way about them really on offense and defense. I think the team is constructed in a way that makes sense in the Big Ten.
“And I think that they’ve done a really nice job of playing to their strengths, and they’ve got tremendous running backs. They’re powerful guys. And, you know, the thing I’m impressed with is their ability to stay patient with the run game. That’s one thing they’ve been able to do and I think that’s why they’ve had so much success in the second half of games, still grind it out. They start to pull away from teams late in the third, early in the fourth quarter.”
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But what about the other side of the ball?
Much of the attention in the game is going toward the battle between the TCU offense and the Michigan defense. And while the premise revolves around the Horned Frogs’ skill position players, again, the battle will likely be resolved in the trenches.
Dykes was, again, very complimentary of what the Wolverines do up front, but notes that it’s an attack that works well in the Big Ten.
“I love their tackles — really physical, good players, play with their hands well, do a great job getting off blocks,” Dykes said. “Really impressed with those two tackles. I think those guys are really, really good football players. They’re very well-coached and good technicians.
“The ends are big guys. We don’t see ends that are maybe as big as these guys. It’s kind of not that typical, really in the Big 12. It’s built a little bit for speed as opposed to the length and size these guys have. And they can still run and that’s the thing about the Michigan guys. They’re long and they’re athletic, and they got great speed, they can run. But the fronts are impressive. I think that, to me, is the strength of the defense.
“They’ve got really good linebackers, a lot of length and athleticism on the back end. But, I think they’re built up right.”
Michigan football and TCU will kick off at 4 p.m. EST at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.