Richard Justice: TCU just needs one more week of being underestimated

Dec 31, 2022; Glendale, Arizona, USA; TCU Horned Frogs safety Bud Clark (26) celebrates after returning an interception for a touchdown against the Michigan Wolverines during the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Rondone-Arizona Republic Ncaa Fiesta Bowl Game

Richard Justice: TCU just needs one more week of being underestimated

   Just one more week of being underestimated. That’s all TCU needs now. One more week of not understanding this team’s mental toughness and resilience. One more week of not getting TCU’s power and speed. One more week of not grasping that Max Duggan and Quentin Johnston are among the most gifted and unstoppable college football players on the planet.

   How else can anyone explain a team that constantly found itself behind in the second half of its 12-0 regular season? TCU trailed Kansas by seven points, Oklahoma State by 14, Texas Tech by four and Baylor by eight. TCU won all those games.

   Around the country, they’re using words like “stunning” to describe TCU’s thrilling 51-45 victory over Michigan. That’s because TCU was a 7.5-point underdog.

   They didn’t see what those of us around here saw. Only later, after TCU had rushed for 263 yards, after Michigan never led despite making run after run, getting within five points in the third quarter and three points in the third quarter, after TCU had answered every punch to the jaw with a massive counter punch, could they really get it.

   Remember how Michigan was going to pound TCU’s 3-3-5 defense into submission? Michigan rushed for 186 yards, far below it’s 239-yard average.

   “All week, we heard about Big Ten football and how they were going to line up and run over us,” TCU head coach Sonny Dykes said. “They made some plays, but we stopped the run. I think we’re a physical, tough-minded football team. It bothered me that we heard all week about how we were going to get lined up and run through.

   “At some point, you just kind of quit listening to what everybody says.”

   When Michigan got within five points in the third quarter, TCU promptly drove 75 yards in six plays to make it a 12-point game and followed that up with its second pick-six of the game.

   Michigan, trailing by 19 late in the third quarter, got within three early in the fourth. Sixty-six seconds later, a 76-yard Max Duggan-to-Quentin Johnston touchdown pass made it 48-38.

   Michigan revealed itself to be tough and smart, well-coached and absolutely worthy of playing for a national championship. But TCU was better.

   We may never know if Michigan really did underestimate TCU. But Michigan almost certainly will tell you that TCU’s combination of size and speed and TCU’s resilience decided the national semifinals.

   “I think they never played the team as fast as us and I think they didn’t realize that,” TCU running back Elmari Demercado (150 yards) said. “They did a little premature talking, not really knowing what we’re capable of.”

   Georgia surely won’t underestimate TCU next Monday with the national championship on the line. Or is TCU a team that’s impossible to fully grasp simply by watching video.

   This is not a finesse-first Big 12 team. Those dazzling offensive numbers throw people off. Nineteen plays of 50-plus yards, trailing only Tennessee. Thirteen offensive touchdowns of 50-plus yards, tied with the Vols for most in the nation.

   But this team loves to play smash-mouth football on both offense and defense. Georgia has dazzling skill plays and the nation’s most powerful defensive line.

   Maybe Georgia does deserve to be favored by two touchdowns. But Texas and Oklahoma and Baylor and Texas Tech might want the Dawgs to know that this is a complete team and a confident team.

   Sonny Dykes and his staff are going to have two extra days to prepare for Georgia, and for all its greatness, TCU is going to be prepared and TCU is going to believe.

   To go from 5-7 in Gary Patterson’s final season to 13-1 in Dykes’ first season, to work the transfer portal masterfully and to convince superstar players like Johnston to hang with the new coaching staff, TCU has given every other Power Five school a blueprint for succeeding in this new era of college football.

    TCU’s six victories over ranked opponents is the most in the nation, and five TCU victories were against teams it lost to by at least two scores last season. TCU is the first team since 1975 to win seven straight games by 10 points or less.

   Don’t be fooled. When TCU finally was invited into the Big 12 in 2011, the Horned Frogs were committed to playing at the top of the league. In the eleven years since, TCU has spent over $400 million in donor-funded athletics facilities upgrades.

   It’s not just football. Jamie Dixon’s men’s basketball team is 12-1 and ranked 18th (and climbing) in the Associated Press Top 25. When Texas passed on a chance to hire Dykes in 2020, it opened the door for TCU to add one of the nation’s very best coaches.

   TCU is one victory from its first national championship in football since 1938, and with a first-rate recruiting class heading to campus, the Horned Frogs are positioned to keep going.

   TCU coaches and players shared a video in which Michigan linebacker Junior Colson did not know which conference the Frogs played in. Coaches dream of motivational tools like that.

    “I feel like we were being disrespected,” safety Bud Clark said. “One of the linebackers was like, ‘TCU in the Big 12?’ Well, you know now. You know now.”

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