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A quick glance at TCU and what makes them tick

TCU has a lot of good players and it’ll be a legitimate challenge for Michigan at the Fiesta Bowl.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 03 Big 12 Championship - TCU vs Kansas State Photo by George Walker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

No. 2 Michigan (13-0) will be taking on No. 3 TCU (12-1) in the College Football Playoff Semi-Finals at the Fiesta Bowl on December 31. With the game less than three weeks out the coverage is ramping up and so is our analysis of the Horned Frogs. The story begins in 2021.

TCU wasn’t a very good football team a season ago. Gary Patterson resigned after 21 years as head coach, the Horned Frogs finished 5-7 in 2021 and hired SMU’s Sonny Dykes to turn things around.

Dykes was able to get the program on the right track in a hurry. Their season has been an improbable one from the outside looking in. Just like Michigan a year ago, TCU wasn’t ranked in the preseason AP Top 25 this year. In back-to-back years these programs have shown how little stock can be put into rankings before games are even played.

When the season started Heisman finalist Max Duggan wasn’t even their starting quarterback, Duggan took back the reins after an injury to Chandler Morris in Week 1. Alignment, a lot of things aligned just right for the Horned Frogs this year to get to the College Football Playoff.

Dykes brought his offensive coordinator from SMU with him to TCU, Garrett Riley, the younger brother of USC head coach Lincoln Riley. The 33-year-old Riley is a rising talent in the coaching ranks and won the Broyles Award last week, which goes to the top assistant coach in college football.

Riley’s scheme, much like Lincoln’s, is quarterback friendly and was able to maximize the talents of Duggan. Duggan has passed for 3,321 yards with 30 touchdowns and just four interceptions this season. Duggan has also shown off his wheels, rushing for 404 yards and six touchdowns. The TCU QB has distributed the ball well and has kept opposing defenses off-balance but there’s no doubt his favorite target has been Quentin Johnston. The 6-foot-4 wideout has 53 receptions for 903 yards and five touchdowns.

As good as Duggan has played, it hasn’t just been the passing attack that’s thrived for the TCU offense — they’re balanced, ranking 25th in passing offense and 25th in rushing offense.

Running back Kendre Miller has rushed for 1,342 and 17 touchdowns this season, and the yardage is the most at TCU since LaDainian Tomlinson back in 2000. Michigan dealt with a hard runner to get down between the tackles in November in Illinois’ back Chase Brown, and Miller is of the same ilk.

On defense, there’s defensive back Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, the nephew of LaDainian Tomlinson. Hodges-Tomlinson won the Joe Thorpe Award last week, which goes to the best defensive back in college football. The corner has 42 tackles (35 solo), 11 passes defended, and three interceptions this season. Per Pro Football Focus, his 38.9 passer rating allowed in coverage is the lowest in the Big 12. The defense ranks 15th in interceptions.

Beyond Hodges-Tomlinson, the TCU D has a couple of guys that can really get to the quarterback. There’s Dee Winters, who has seven and a half sacks, and Dylan Horton with six. Horton made Bruce Feldman’s 2022 Freaks List.

While the defense has talent, they also have some vulnerabilities. The unit is ranked low in a lot of categories — 57th in scoring defense, 84th in passing yards allowed, 66th in rushing defense, 80th in red zone defense, and 74th in total defense.

TCU got off to a 12-0 start this season before being defeated 31-28 by Kansas State in overtime of the Big 12 Championship Game. TCU won by the seat of their pants a few times this season, including nail-biters against Kansas (38-31), Oklahoma State (43-40), Texas (17-10), and Baylor (29-28). While some may consider TCU lucky, the fact of the matter is good teams find ways to win. With naysayers aplenty all season long, it seems like the doubt surrounding the program only served them well.

“Nobody had any expectations for this football team at all other than ourselves,” Dykes said. “We understand that’s the way it is. Our deal has been, ‘Hey, bring it on.’ If we’ve got to win ‘em all, fine; let’s try to win ‘em all.”

Michigan will be ready to bring it on New Year's Eve.