With the Fiesta Bowl just 10 days away, it’s time to take a closer look at Michigan’s opponents in the College Football Playoff semifinal — the TCU Horned Frogs. Though much of the attention has focused on Heisman finalist quarterback Max Duggan, the Wolverines shouldn’t be overlooking one of the top receivers in college football: Quinten Johnston.
What makes Johnston such a threat? Let’s dive in.
Johnston is on the bigger end of the receiver spectrum, measuring in at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds. On the Wolverines’ roster, there’s only one defensive back that completely negates the height advantage Johnston possesses — safety Makari Page. Otherwise, Will Johnson and the Green brothers come closest, all three measuring in at 6-foot-2.
Johnston’s frame isn’t the only advantage he possesses in the tool box, however. With a 4.40 40-yard-dash time and a 42-inch vertical, he has the athleticism to match.
How he can beat Michigan’s secondary
Johnston this season has been called “untackleable” — that’s not as much of an exaggeration as you’d expect. While he’s certainly got the speed to find the open field before he catches the ball, much of the wow factor he brings is from his ability to generate yards after catch.
How does he do it? With speed and power. Let’s look like at how he combines both via this clip against Kansas:
This play started at TCU’s one-yard line and finished at the Jayhawks’ 45. While his agility was on display here as well — it’s hard to ignore that spin cycle and the burst of speed that comes after — what really stands out was when the defenders caught up to him at the 35-yard line. Despite getting dragged by the jersey and having two defenders on his back, one of which trying to punch the ball out, Johnston shows little signs of slowing down until close to midfield.
Simply put, if the ball gets in Johnston’s hands, he’s dangerous no matter who’s covering him. The Wolverines will have to be on their A-games in terms of tackling fundamentals and ball pursuit, or Johnston will make them pay for it.
How Michigan’s secondary can contain him
There are two approaches to negating Johnston from the game, one rather obvious and one that requires a deeper look at the film.
The obvious approach is also a simple one — Johnston can’t light it up if he doesn’t get the ball. Double and triple coverages would certainly limit his ability to make big plays, but it’s not without potential risk. Though his receiver counterpart, Taye Barber, doesn’t have nearly the amount of volume Johnston has, he has racked up 593 yards on 34 catches and is a clear plan-B option.
The second approach is emphasizing physical press defense. Though Johnston isn’t contact-averse, he has had struggles with getting jammed at the line of scrimmage this season — something that could lean in the Wolverines’ favor.