College football writer
GLENDALE, Ariz. – In their pet’s native habitat, they arrived in the western desert to earn the respect they craved for decades. Dismissed by peers and conference front offices over the decades, TCU had fought for adulation and adulation in the face of doubt year after year, game after game.
On the last day of 2022, they won it all, and then some.
The Horned Frogs continued their storybook season in fitting fashion for their next destination below the Hollywood Hills, punching a ticket to the national championship game on Jan. 9 at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles by killing second-ranked Michigan, 51-45, in the wildest, highest-scoring Fiesta Bowl in history.
After entering the first of two College Football Playoff semifinals on New Year’s Eve as a decided underdog, TCU performed like the far more prepared and experienced team. After an inauspicious start by allowing a 53-yard run on the first play of the game, the Frogs answered every punch, punt and setback thrown by the bluest of blue bloods looking to make the country’s holiday like it’s 1997 all over again. .
Instead, it was the Big 12 team that moved to the brink of capturing the one gold trophy to rule them all in two weeks as they await the winner of the Peach Bowl semifinal between the top-ranked and defending national champion Georgia and No. 4. Ohio State.
Here are three takeaways for the Horned Frogs after the back-and-forth game.
1. TCU’s defense was up to the task
Coming into the contest, there was a lot of talk about the perceived mismatch TCU’s defense had to overcome. Michigan had the nation’s fourth-best rushing offense, touted the Joe Moore Award winners as the best offensive line in college football and had a number of four- and five-star recruits up front who looked good coming off the bus and they weren’t out of place in an NFL venue like State Farm Stadium.
However, defensive coordinator Joe Gillipse’s unit would have none of that kind of thinking, proving early on that it was more than up to the task of handling an offense that had typically stifled opponents. Despite allowing Donovan Edwards to rip off a 53-yard run on the game’s first play, TCU was quick, physical and flew with a purpose to hold JJ McCarthy and company to just 3-for-13 on third down , and made a wall of stone. the corn and the blue in multiple units in the red zone.
Defensive lineman Dylan Horton was a constant presence in the backfield, making six tackles, four sacks, three in the first half alone, and a forced fumble. Safety Bud Clark also set the tone that the Horned Frogs were here to play it all with his first pick of McCarthy’s 41-yarder, narrowly undercutting Ronnie Bell’s route for his fifth and biggest interception of the season . Then there was linebacker Dee Winters, whose jump pick that went 29 yards late in the third quarter appeared to bookend the team’s trip to Los Angeles for the national title game.
There’s been a misnomer about Big 12 defenses being soft that has started to be thrown around in recent years, and on the biggest stage the sport has to offer, TCU helped dispel things even further. No one in the Big Ten runs anything like Gillipse’s 3-3-5, but given the trouble they gave the Wolverines, maybe that changes some going forward after Saturday’s effort.
2. Duggan grinds it out
Heisman Trophy runner-up Max Duggan has had a lot of attention on him given the position he plays, but the veteran quarterback would likely be the first to tell you he had far and away his best game in a TCU uniform. He finished just 14-of-29 for a modest 225 yards (two TDs, two INTs) and looked frustrated after almost every incomplete pass.
Going down the field was a particular problem as many of Duggan’s passes sailed high or out of bounds despite some daylight. After throwing just four interceptions all season, he also threw two in the Fiesta Bowl, though both were out of receiver Derius Davis’ hands and should have been caught on first downs.
Still, the senior showed plenty of the moxie that earned him all those Heisman votes, grinding out several possessions with his legs (57 yards, two scores) and keeping several plays alive against a pretty ferocious pass rush. He’s been a go-to guy all season when the lights looked brightest, and he did it again in the national semifinal when his team needed a key play. Sure, the stat line may not have been stellar, but the bottom line was all that mattered in the end for someone who has been through a lot with the program over the past few years.
3. All glory to the Hypnotoad
There have been many magical and unusual seasons throughout college football’s illustrious history, and TCU’s 2022 run should be remembered for the best of them (regardless of what happens in Los Angeles on Dec. January). ).
The Horned Frogs were just the second team (after last year’s Michigan) to be in the College Football Playoff after starting the season unranked and seemed even further off the radar than the Wolverines in 2021. They were picked seventh in the preseason Big 12. poll and had the added hurdle of a new staff taking over a league that was still going through a bit of a transition. Yet here they are, playing for the school’s third national title and first since Dutch Meyer’s famous teams in the antebellum 1930s.
Duggan, who didn’t even start the season, spearheaded the rise of many players on the team who went from obscure or little-known stars to full-fledged college football stars under the spotlight during the next few days Now they’re locked into legendary status at the small Fort Worth private school that jumped from the WAC to the USA Mountain West in the years after the Southwest Conference split before finally landing to the elusive Power Five with an invitation to the Big. 12 before the 2012 campaign.
TCU became the first team since 1975 to win seven games in a row by 10 points or fewer during the streak, and capped the second-largest win improvement in the FBS this year by winning seven more games than last season. .
FOX Sports Top Stories:
Get more from college football Follow your favorites for information on games, news and more