ATHENS — Remember all that talk about how Michigan was going to roll TCU in the CFP Fiesta Bowl semifinal?
It only made sense when you consider how dominant the Wolverines looked for most of the season, and even more recently, blowing across Ohio State at Columbus by a 45-count. 23, then dominating Purdue 43-22 in the Big Ten Championship Game.
This Michigan team, with a more mobile quarterback in JJ McCarthy and the two-time Joe Moore Award-winning offensive line, would be much better than the one Georgia convincingly beat in the Orange Bowl by a 34 count. -11 last season.
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Wolverines players said they wanted another chance against Georgia this year because that’s what fueled their hard work in the offseason and made them realize where the bar was set.
Instead, TCU pulled off a stunning upset, 51-45, and so here we are with the No. 1-ranked Bulldogs preparing to face the Horned Frogs at 7:30 p.m. Monday in the CFP Championship Game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California
Stetson Bennett was once again at his best and worst in the same contest, saying after the match he played “30 minutes of bad football”.
Bennett’s mistakes potentially cost Georgia up to 14 points and led coach Kirby Smart to publicly criticize his quarterback after the game, much to the surprise of those caught up in a jolly program moment:
• an interception at UGA 30 that OSU converted into a TD (7 points)
• an unfortunate side at OSU 3 who pushed the ball back towards 13 leading to a field goal (3 points) instead of the points awarded for a TD and an additional point (4 points),
• take a sack that returned the ball from Ohio State 29 which led to a missed field goal from 52 yards (3 points)
And yet there was Bennett in the fourth quarter, throwing for a CFP record 190 yards on 10 of 12 passes, including the game-winner with 54 seconds left at AD Mitchell.
Smart said sternly after the game that Bennett should play offense and play better for UGA to win the championship, and yet the head coach clearly loves the 25-year-old Georgia folk hero as much as anyone.
Bennett vowed on Tuesday to “clean up” what was wrong, and most believe that if he does – and matches his stellar performances against Oregon, Tennessee and LSU – Georgia should cover the gap of 14 points with which the match started.
But first, a look back at the TCU-Michigan game with a friend from DawgNation and Aaron McMann, MLive Featured Reporterwhich covers the Wolverines for Michigan’s award-winning statewide outlet:
1. What was the biggest surprise or surprise for you from the TCU-Michigan game?
Aaron: Frankly, that’s the number of unusual mistakes Michigan made in the first half. They executed a double backhand on the fourth and 2 goal that TCU was prepared for, fumbled early in the second quarter along the goal line, and quarterback JJ McCarthy intercepted a few passes and came back for a touchdown.
It looked like the Horned Frogs were always in the right place at the right time and threw Michigan off their game plan early on, resulting in a 21-6 halftime hole.
2. CJ Stroud threw effectively against Georgia before Harrison’s injury and showed mobility. How would you compare TCU’s Max Duggan to Stroud?
Aaron: Similar, but Duggan seems to have a bit more mobility than Stroud (and a go-ahead to go). He reminds me of Tim Tebow when he was in Florida; this player who is ready to put everything on the line for his team, whether in the air or on the ground.
Duggan didn’t have a particularly strong game against UM (he was just 14-29, 225 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs) but made the big play when TCU needed it. He may not beat you too often on the field, but he likes to hit short to middle pitches and let his receivers deal with it.
3. TCU rushed 41 times for 263 yards on a Wolverines self-defense. How were horned frogs so effective and do you think they can do this in Georgia?
Aaron: It’s a good question. No one had rushed for more than 200 yards on Michigan all season, and I think TCU’s four-receiver sets did just enough to stretch the Wolverines defense to make the difference.
The Horned Frogs averaged 6.4 yards per carry but broke just two runs from 15+ yards (both by backup Emari Demercardo, including one from 69 yards) – getting enough big yards to keep moving sticks at times. Michigan just doesn’t have the depth in the middle to withstand that kind of balance, and it really showed on Saturday.
4. TCU plays a unique 3-3-5 alignment. What worked for Michigan against this, and how could the Horned Frogs cause problems for a Wolverines-like UGA defense?
Aaron: TCU really frustrated Michigan with its 3-3-5 lineup, dropping a safety (and in some cases two) to help guard against the run. Wolverines have had a harder time dealing with football than expected, which has been their daily bread and butter throughout the season.
So after first-half mistakes, trouble managing the football, and a deep hole, Michigan was forced to throw the ball more in the second half. It played right into what TCU wanted to do, dropping five and six players at a time to plug areas and keep the Wolverines from connecting on deep balls. They did, at times, but it took some tweaking and really frustrated JJ McCarthy and his group of receivers.
5. What’s the biggest key to this game and how do you think the Bulldogs’ National Championship game against TCU will go next Monday?
Aaron: It’s important to note that this is the first time TCU has performed on a stage of this magnitude. I think a lot of us on Michigan Pace thought the moment was too big for them, but they showed poise and confidence like a team they belonged to.
It’s a credit to head coach Sonny Dykes, who rose from the Texas high school ranks through the Air Raid system at Texas Tech to his final job at Southern Methodist. He made sure his team played under control and disciplined against Michigan, who I think were a bit caught off guard by the Frogs’ performance.
Now can they do it two weeks in a row? I have my doubts, especially after watching Michigan play with both Ohio State and TCU, but I urge Georgia fans not to overlook this Horned Frogs team.
They’ll move the football and score runs (Quinten Johnston might be the best open-field receiver I’ve seen play all season)…it’ll be up to Georgia to limit them inside the red zone and possibly get them suffocate with their size and talent advantage.