Dec 31, 2022; Glendale, Arizona, USA; TCU Horned Frogs linebacker Dee Winters (13) runs to score on a pick six in the third quarter against the Michigan Wolverines in the 2022 Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

CINDERELLA STORY: 5 observations from No. 3 TCU’s 51-45 win over No. 2 Michigan in CFB Playoff semifinal

No. 3 TCU continued a magical season by defeating No. 2 Michigan in the Fiesta Bowl 51-45. TCU outplayed the Wolverines in all phases of the game and was the better team all night long. Michigan turned the ball over four times, twice for pick-sixes. Up next, the Horned Frogs will take on the winner of the other CFP semifinal between No. 1 Georgia and No. 4 Ohio State.

Purple Reign: The TCU defense came ready to play in the CFP semifinal matchup with Michigan. Around the country, the Big 12 has a reputation as an offensive league, but on the biggest stage, it was the defense that made the difference.

The Frogs D got a big fourth down stop on the Wolverines’ first drive and then opened the scoring with a pick-six. Then in the second half, they added another interception return for a touchdown. In all, the TCU defense forced four takeaways.

The Horned Frogs’ three-safety look was something that Michigan has not seen a lot of, and the variety of the scheme paid dividends early in the game to keep TCU in the contest, and then actually create a lead.

One of the key elements necessary for getting stops in the modern game of football is creating negative plays. Offenses want to stay on track and ahead of the chains, but negative plays tilt the advantage to the defense, taking away play-calling options for the offense to choose from.

The unique scheme of the Frogs caused confusion in the Michigan offensive line, and Dee Winters created negative plays that disrupted Wolverine drives and gave the Horned Frogs a chance to level the playing field.

The hits kept on coming, and the TCU defense had an unbelievable start to the game when they recovered a fumble in the end zone after a long pass play that was ruled down short of the goal line.

The TCU defense was the story of the first half, if not the game.

Max Duggan: One of the great things about bowl games is all the claims of who is the best conference, the best player, or the best unit gets settled on the field. Early in this matchup, it became apparent that the TCU offense belongs with anyone in the land.

Max Duggan has complete mastery of the Horned Frogs’ offense and is one of the best players in the country. He knows where all of his receivers are, understands protections, and adds an athletic element that opposing defenses simply can’t deal with.

Even though Duggan’s stats were not as gaudy as TCU fans might have wished, the leadership and effective playmaking put in by Duggan tonight show why he was invited to New York for the Heisman ceremony and how the quarterback has led his team to the verge of a national championship.

On the second series, Duggan led his team down the field and gave his team a 14-point lead in a game where many pundits said his team had little or no chance.

It turns out when you have Duggan, there is always a chance.

Winning Situations: In big games, one of the prime areas to pay attention to is red zone efficiency. When a team gets into the opposing red zone, they have the chance to score seven but can sometimes settle for three.

The plays on third or fourth down that determine which they score are four-point plays.

TCU built a 21-3 lead because they owned these four-point plays.  

Michigan made it to the Horned Frogs red zone seven times but came up empty twice, turning the ball over on downs and fumbling on first-and-goal and settled for a field goal once to go with four touchdowns.

On the other hand, TCU reached the red zone five times, scoring four touchdowns and settling for a field goal just once.

If you want to know how TCU dominated a game they were given little chance in, look no further than the red zone efficiency.

TCU Belongs: The Horned Frogs were given little or no chance in this matchup, but it is clear that they belonged in the final four. Michigan had not given up more than 27 points in a game all year; TCU scored 41 in three quarters and surpassed the 50-point mark for the evening.

Michigan is supposed to be one of the big boys in college football, but TCU looked like the better team all night, and it wasn’t particularly close.

It was clear throughout the contest that the Wolverines had not seen an offense like the Horned Frogs, and only untimely turnovers let Big Blue in the game.

It wasn’t just the offense that performed well; the Horned Frogs put in a complete performance, making plays on special teams and the defensive side of the ball as well.

Georgia on my mind: We all expect Georgia to be victorious in the other semifinal. The next logical question is how will the Horned Frogs stack up against the defending champs.

The Bulldogs are the most physical team in the nation. They play defense like it is a sin to give up a yard, let alone a point.

Offensively Georgia has a solid lead in Stetson Bennett and one of the most dynamic athletic threats in the country in Brock Bowers.

They are as formidable a team as you could find short of the cast of bad guys in Space Jam.

But, if there is a team in the country that can defeat the Bulldogs and pull the king off his throne, it just might be these Horned Frogs.

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