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Key matchups: No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 3 TCU

The defense could be tested to its limits in the Fiesta Bowl.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 03 Big 10 Championship - Michigan vs Purdue Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

To borrow an old boxing phrase, styles make fights. That’s what TCU Horned Frogs are hoping for when they line up against the Michigan Wolverines on New Year’s Eve.

Smash fest versus spacing, 4-2-5 versus 3-3-5: Michigan and TCU are about as different as they come in the college football landscape. Such a contrast lends itself to several intriguing matchups Michigan fans should be aware of heading into the game. Here are three that jump out.

J.J. McCarthy against TCU’s secondary

Whether this is mere coach-speak balderdash or a true insight into his mindset, TCU coach Sonny Dykes has publicly stated the bedrock of his team’s plan to beat Michigan will be “stopping the run and make the quarterback beat us. He’s certainly capable of doing it, but we gotta stop the run because that stops their offense.”

Okay?

This certainly isn’t the first time Michigan has heard this sentiment from opposing coaches, and how he plans to do it with a base 3-3-5 defense is another matter entirely. But if the Horned Frogs do manage to find success in stacking the box, J.J. McCarthy will be called upon to ignite the Wolverines’ offense as he did in Columbus. And he will have a fairly decent shot at doing so. TCU ranks 84th in overall passing defense and surrenders an average of 235.6 yards per game, which is around where Michigan State’s passing defense stacks up nationally.

While hardly a flattering comparison, the Spartans did a fair job limiting the big play abilities of Michigan’s tight ends and slot receivers. McCarthy will need to maintain the rhythm he had against the Buckeyes and Boilermakers if Michigan is going to take advantage of Dykes’ strategy. That’s if he’s being candid.

Michigan’s pass-rushers vs. Max Duggan

Max Duggan almost single-handedly played TCU back into the Big 12 Championship and, for that matter, willed the Horned Frogs to a 12-0 regular season. He is the heart and soul of the TCU Horned Frogs, and if TCU is to hang with — or beat — the Wolverines, he will have to ball out.

For Michigan, a key to mitigating TCU’s chances of victory is to get pressure on Duggan early and often. Given enough time, his escapability and throwing abilities could stunningly end Michigan’s season. TCU’s offensive line allows 1.77 sacks per game on average, so there will be opportunities for Michigan to get home against him. Furthermore, as will be discussed shortly, big plays are the bread and butter of the TCU offense, and being able to successfully rush four in passing situations will allow the rest of the defense to keep everything in front of them.

Michigan’s secondary vs. TCU’s wideouts

Seventeen yards, 17.4 yards, 20.3 yards: These are the average yards per reception of TCU’s Quinten Johnston, Taye Barber and Gunner Henderson. As mentioned earlier, big plays are the bread and butter of their offense, and there is no indication they will shy away from that identity on New Year’s Eve. With so many weapons on the perimeter, Michigan’s secondary will face one of its toughest tests of the season. Its success or failure in this matchup will be a major factor in the outcome of the Fiesta Bowl.

Will Johnson, DJ Turner, Makari Paige and the rest of the Michigan secondary rose to the occasion against Ohio State, but will they muster up an encore of that performance in the College Football Playoff? We will know on the final day of 2022.


Provided Michigan’s running attack gets going or the offense remains multiple, the game will likely be decided when the defense takes the field. Get enough pressure on Duggan and prevent home run plays, and Michigan likely wins decidedly. Let Duggan run riot or let Johnston make plays, and the season could be in jeopardy.

What matchups are you most intrigued by? Comment below!