After having to wait four weeks since the Big Ten Championship victory, it’s finally gameday for the Michigan Wolverines, as they are set to take TCU in the College Football Playoff semifinals in Arizona.
The Horned Frogs are no slouch; led by quarterback Max Duggan and AP Coach of the Year Sonny Dykes, TCU was the best team in a good Big 12. That being said, they haven’t faced a team as good as Michigan, which has a possible revenge game against No. 1 Georgia on its mind.
Here are some keys to victory for Michigan to punch its ticket to the National Championship.
Limit the Max Duggan-Quentin Johnston connection
Duggan has been one of the best quarterbacks in college football, partially thanks to the connection he has with junior wide receiver Quentin Johnston. At 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds, he is one of TCU’s best NFL prospects. He caught 53 passes for 903 yards and five scores this season.
Michigan will need to make fans forget Johnston is even out there, as DJ Turner, Gemon Green and Will Johnson will need to make him feel uncomfortable and not let him make a few big plays like this.
And the most difficult part is Michigan can’t just blanket him with two defenders or shade Mike Sainristil to that side. As detailed in this piece by The Athletic this week, TCU has a deep receiver room much like Ohio State.
TCU is very good at converting on third-and-longs thanks to Duggan finding Johnston on deep balls. If Michigan can force incompletions in those spots, it can win this game by multiple scores.
Get creative in the passing game, but don’t show too much
The Wolverines have been trying to showcase J.J. McCarthy’s arm and connect on deep passes all year, but they didn’t start executing those well until the Ohio State victory.
Co-offensive coordinators Matt Weiss and Sherrone Moore have had a few weeks to study TCU and figure out how to expose TCU, which runs a 3-3-5 somewhat similar to what the Wolverines saw from the Buckeyes.
The Horned Frogs are going to know those deep shots are coming, and they have two very good corners in Tre’vius Hodges-Tomlinson and Josh Newton who are going to be ready to defend those passes.
For the Wolverines to pick up big chunks of yards through the air, they’ll need to get creative in their passing game and show TCU a few plays we haven’t seen much this year, all while making sure to not give up the entire passing game playbook ahead of the title game.
Run the ball and the clock
The easiest way for Michigan to cruise to victory in this game would be to do what it has done all season — run the ball, dominate time of possession and tire out the defense before ultimately winning via death by a thousand cuts.
Donovan Edwards has stepped up in the absence of Blake Corum. He rushed for 216 yards against Ohio State before gashing Purdue for 185 yards.
If Edwards can rush for that many yards again behind his back-to-back Joe Moore Award-winning offensive line, Michigan should do just fine in this one.