TCU holds off Michigan, punches ticket to national championship


Tristen Smith

TCU head coach Sonny Dykes holds up the Fiesta Bowl trophy after beating No. 2 Michigan in the College Football Playoffs. Dec. 31, 2022. (Tristen Smith/Staff Photographer)

By Micah Pearce, Staff Writer

No. 3 TCU started hot in the College Football Playoff semifinals opening up with a lead they never relinquished, beating No.2 Michigan 51-45.

The 45 points the Frogs gave up was the most the team had given up all season. Head coach Sonny Dykes talked about how the Frogs handled it.

“The important part was that we had an answer every time,” he said.

The Frogs came into the CFP semifinal after a loss in the Big 12 championship game. Quarterback Max Duggan was visibly emotional after that loss.

On Saturday, he was happy to be able to rewrite the story on the season.

“After the Big 12 championship, it stung for everybody,” he said. “For us to battle back, avenge that loss against a great opponent and have the opportunity to play for a national championship means so much.”

TCU QB Max Duggan set up behind the offensive line. He was the runner up for the Heisman Award and helped the Frogs make it to their first College Football Playoffs, which they won 51-45. Dec. 31, 2022. (Tristen Smith/Staff Photographer)

TCU was seen as the weaker team in the matchup. Dykes normally says he doesn’t pay attention to the talk, but it was different for him this time.

“I heard it. It frustrated me,” he said. “I believe in our players and think we’re a physical, tough-minded football team and it bothered me that we heard all week we were gonna get lined up and run through.”

Running back Kendre Miller showed some physicality of his own.

Dykes said the preparation the team did was the most important aspect to the win.

“We had three weeks of outstanding practices,” he said. “We didn’t have a player miss curfew, we didn’t have anyone late to anything.”

It wasn’t just a vacation. The Frogs weren’t just happy to be here.

“They had a business mentality,” said Dykes.

TCU head coach Sonny Dykes leads the team out of the tunnel before the Fiesta Bowl. He led the Frogs to a College Football Playoffs in his first season as head coach. Dec. 31, 2022. (Tristen Smith/Staff Photographer) 

TCU had come from behind in big games all season. Michigan had one of the best second half offenses in college football. This time, it was the Frogs that jumped out front early; the deficit was too much for the Wolverines to overcome.

Michigan opened the game with a 54-yard rush to get deep into TCU territory.

It looked like Michigan was going to run the Frogs into the ground.

TCU’s defense said not so fast, forcing a turnover on downs after Michigan reached the TCU 2-yard line.

The Frogs’ offense didn’t open up the scoring either, but it was the defense that put up crooked numbers.

TCU safety Bud Clark scored a touchdown after intercepting a pass from Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy.

Dee Winters joined in on the action. He returned an interception for a touchdown in the third quarter. He said he was motivated by the talk about TCU lacking physicality.

“We feel like the Big 12 is a very physical conference,” he said. “We just wanted to come out and showcase what the Big 12 is all about.”

The high-scoring game, which had a Fiesta Bowl record-setting 96 points, reminded some of the old Big 12 games.

It was a Big 12 shootout, and the Frogs took advantage.

TCU led by 15 at the half. If the game was a shootout, the third quarter was cannons instead of guns.

TCU and Michigan combined for 44 points in the third quarter alone.

Duggan had his own interceptions; both touched a TCU receiver and bounced into the hands of a Michigan defender. On the second of the two, McCarthy took advantage.

He connected with his wide-open wide receiver Ronnie Bell for their first touchdown of the game: a 34-yard reception that cut the TCU lead to 6.

Before that, the Frogs held Michigan to 9 points in the first half, all scored by Michigan’s kicker Jake Moody.

The Frogs tried to ice Moody’s attempt at a 59-yarder with a timeout. Moody kicked it, anyway. It was no-good.

He tried again, this time without a timeout interruption.

It was good.

The 59-yarder set a Michigan program record and a Fiesta Bowl record for longest field goal. It also set Moody as the all-time scoring leader in Michigan’s history.

This win for the Frogs isn’t just about beating Michigan. It was about credibility and getting the respect they know they deserved.

“What’s great about college football is every single game matters,” said Dykes. “In order to run through and win 13 games like this team has done it takes an incredible amount of maturity and focus.”

He knew nobody thought TCU would do anything this season.

“You go back and you look at teams that played for national championships,” said Dykes. “Typically they are not picked seventh in their conference.”

He said this team is different. They knew what they wanted.

“They never listened [to the rankings or expectations],” said Dykes. “They rolled their sleeves up, they went to work every day and they care about each other.”

Duggan ran two touchdowns in himself, both inside the 5-yard line. His counterpart, McCarthy, joined in on the action. He ran for 39 yards and 20 yards on back-to-back plays. The latter was a touchdown run.

Duggan stuck to the passing game.

He found wide receiver Quentin Johnston for a 46-yard play, putting TCU inside the 30-yard line.

TCU WR Quentin Johnston caught a pass from QB Max Duggan on 3rd down. He made the Michigan defender miss a tackle and ran 76 yards for a touchdown. Dec. 31, 2022. (Tristen Smith/Staff Photographer)

They went to running back Emari Demercado on the last five plays of the drive, which ended with a 1-yard rushing touchdown.

Demercado ended with 150 yards rushing and one touchdown on 17 attempts. He came in after Miller went down with a knee injury.

TCU totaled 263 yards rushing for three touchdowns. Michigan had only allowed seven rushing touchdowns all year.

Harbaugh said he was disappointed with how his team defended the run.

“Somebody goes down, somebody else steps up,” said Dykes on how important Demercado was to the win. “He’s ready every week. When he gets the opportunity, he always makes the most of it.”

The Frogs have lived by the “never say die” and “what’s next” mentalities. After being the first team from Texas to make it to the CFP the first from the Big 12 to make it to the national championship, nothing has changed.

The Frogs will face No. 1 Georgia on Monday, Jan. 9 at 7:15 p.m. Central time. TCU is searching for its first national title since 1938 when it beat Carnegie Mellon 15-7 in the Sugar Bowl.