TCU Outlasts Michigan After Explosive Second Half

By Terrance Turner

Dec. 31, 2022

GLENDALE, ARIZONA – DECEMBER 31: The TCU Horned Frogs celebrate after defeating the Michigan Wolverines in the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium on December 31, 2022 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Today the No. 2 Michigan Wolverines faced the No. 3 ranked TCU Horned Frogs in the VRBO Fiesta Bowl. A one-sided first half gave way to an explosive third quarter, in which the two teams traded scores.

Team Overview & First Half

Texas Christian University (12-1) has emerged as an unexpectedly strong contender this season, thanks largely to the dogged effort of quarterback Max Duggan. Michigan (13-0) is undefeated through the season helped along largely by the powerful legs of running back Blake Corum.

But with Corum out due to a knee injury, the Wolverines started Donovan Edwards in at RB. And Edwards got the Wolverines off to a great start. Edwards rushed right through a hole in the TCU defense, running 53 yards on the first play of the game.


Two plays later, quarterback J.J. McCarthy threw to wide receiver Roman Wilson for first and goal. (Wilson got hurt on the play and briefly left the field.) TCU’s defense managed to hold off the Wolverines for the next two plays. Then they blitzed. McCarthy ran for his life, skirting around in a circle and then sprinting towards the end zone. He was shoved out of bounds at the 2 yard line.

Decision Time

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh had a decision to make. Should Michigan go for it on 4th down or settle for a field goal? The answer had to wait. He took a timeout.

When they returned, Michigan elected for a “Philly special”. But tight end Colston Loveland floundered in the backfield after getting the hand off and got tackled. Michigan turned the ball over on downs.

The Horned Frogs took over near the nine-yard line, but their drive ended quickly. Jordy Sandy punted after a three-and-out.

Subsequently, Michigan got the ball back. McCarthy got intercepted by TCU defensive back Bud Clark, who returned the ball 39 yards for a pick-six.


Duggan Dominates

Michigan went three and out. TCU took over. On a free play (thanks to offsides on the defense), Max Duggan took it himself and Rushed forward for a first down. Then he threw a pass complete to Jordan Hudson for 21 yds to the Michigan 26 for 1st down.

Subsequently, TCU continued to pick up short yardage on five consecutive plays. Then Duggan ran 3 yards to the two-yard line, just short of the first down. On 3rd and 1, Duggan snuck in to pick up the first down. And on 1st and goal, he scored with a one-yard rushing touchdown.

Now Michigan was down 14-0, its largest deficit of the season. But McCarthy rebounded with two huge first down throws to tight ends Luke Schoonmaker and Colston Loveland. That drive took them to the end of the first quarter.

Second Quarter

Early in the second, kicker Jake Moody nailed a 42-yard field goal attempt. That made it 14-3. Following his successful kick, possession reverted to TCU.

The Horned Frogs launched a drive that was over almost instantly. Duncan’s pass got deflected and then intercepted by Michigan safety Rod Moore. McCarthy struck immediately, throwing what looked like a touchdown pass to Roman Wilson. After bobbling the pass initially, Wilson regained control as he rolled into the end zone.


Upon review, the referees ruled that Wilson was a half yard short. The Wolverines tried a rushing play and Kalel Mullings fumbled; Bud Clark recovered the ball.

Both teams punted after that fumble. But TCU went 83 yards in 10 plays on its next drive. Max Duggan threw a complete pass to Quentin Johnston for 32 yards to the Mich 19 for a 1ST down. Then Duggan ran four yards to the 15.

Afterward, TCU running back Kendre Miller picked up nine yards, taking the Horned Frogs to 1st and goal. But a Wolverine defender latched on to his leg and wouldn’t let go, causing Miller to stumble and injure his knee. He jogged off the field. But that didn’t stop the Horned Frogs from scoring. Duggan threw six yards to wide receiver Taye Barber for the touchdown.


As the second quarter ebbed away, Michigan’s situation became desperate. But they continued to struggle on offense. They caught a big break on a pass interference penalty shortly before halftime. That moved them 15 yards ahead — far enough for a field goal attempt by Jake Moody. And Moody delivered, kicking a 59 yard field goal โ€“ the longest in school history.

It was 21-6 at the half.


Second Half

TCU got the ball back to start the second half. But the Michigan defense forced a three and out. That paved the way for the Wolverines offense to take over — for what would be a tremendous third quarter.

Third Quarter

McCarthy hurled a 20-yard pass to Wilson and then threw complete to Ronnie Bell for 43 yards. The Wolverines advanced to the red zone once again. But once again, the horned frogs kept them out of the end zone. On 3rd and goal, McCarthy passed to Ronnie Bell, who got leveled by Abe Camara. So Michigan brought in Moody for a chip-shot 21-yard field goal.

Following the kickoff return, Duggan’s pass, intended for WR Darius Davis, was intercepted by Michigan DB Mike Sainristil. The Wolverines capitalized on the turnover right away. Just a minute later, McCarthy struck gold with a perfectly thrown ball to Ronnie Bell for the touchdown. An extra point kick made it 21-16.

On the Horned Frogs drive, Duggan dazzled with a 46-yard strike to Quentin Johnson. TCU running back Emari Demercado rushed 15 yards to the Michigan 14-yard line. He carried the ball on each of the next four plays: 2 yards, 6 yards, five yards for 1st and goal, and then a one-yard rush for the touchdown.

TCU scored again seconds later. McCarthy threw yet another pick-six as Dee Winters intercepted his pass and rushed almost untouched into the end zone.


Michigan Fights Back

Everything that worked for Michigan before had failed them. “They’ve turned it over; they can’t run the ball or stop the run, they can’t score in the red zone,” lamented a commentator. But Michigan wasn’t done yet. Bereft of any other options, McCarthy took off for a 39-yard run. Then he scrambled the rest of the way in for a touchdown.

Finally showing some life, the Wolverines elected to go for two. But the Horned Frogs defense stopped them short.

Then, on TCU’s drive, Demercado broke free โ€“ running 69 yards to the house. It’s the longest run of his career. And that it set up another score for Duggan. Just one play later, Duggan picked up the next yard to score his second rush TD. And his legs gave TCU a commanding 41-22 lead.

Remarkably, Michigan responded with yet another score. McCarthy connected with Ronnie Bell again for 44 yards. This time, Bell evaded a defender and stretched out his arm with the ball in his hand, reaching vainly in an attempt to put the ball over the goal line.

For the second time today, what looked like a Michigan touchdown was overturned upon review. Refs (correctly) ruled Bell short near the one yard line. Kalel Mullings went the extra yard (literally) to score. And J.J. McCarthy ran in for a successful two-point conversion. 

GLENDALE, ARIZONA – DECEMBER 31: J.J. McCarthy #9 of the Michigan Wolverines scores on a two-point-conversion attempt during the third quarter against the TCU Horned Frogs in the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium on December 31, 2022 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

It was 41-30 with three seconds left. The two teams scored a combined 44 points in the third quarter โ€“ the highest scoring quarter in college football playoff history. And it wasn’t over yet. With just .03 to go, Demercado fumbled the ball, giving Michigan possession.

Fourth Quarter

The fourth quarter began with Michigan in control. And Roman Wilson redeemed himself with an incredible scoring play. Running towards the goal line, Wilson went airborne and hit a sideways somersault into the end zone. 


But just when the Wolverines seemed to be within striking distance, the Horned Frogs pulled away AGAIN. Michigan’s defense rushed Duggan and left a wide open Quinton Johnston, who turned on the jets for a 76 yard score.

The scoring finally slowed down after a fruitless drive by the Wolverines. McCarthy got flagged for intentional grounding on 3rd down and threw an incomplete pass on 4th. TCU regained possession. This time, they added to their lead with a 33-yard field goal from kicker Griffin Kell.

A Dramatic Finale

Subsequently, Michigan cut the lead to six with 3:14 left on J.J. McCarthy‘s 5-yard TD pass to Wilson. Now they trailed 45-51. But TCU could essentially end the game with one more score.

TCU couldn’t ice it and Michigan got one more shot, starting from its 25 with 52 seconds left โ€” but couldn’t get the first down. McCarthy faced desperation time following an incomplete pass from Michigan quarterback J.J. McCarthy to Donovan Edwards on third down.

On fourth down from their own 25-yard-line, McCarthy fumbled the snap. After scrambling to collect the ball, he threw it to Colston Loveland. That made for a completed pass for a loss of one yard, resulting in a turnover on downs.

Final Review

Following the play, the referees gathered to discuss possible targeting. It looked like one of the TCU defenders dove headfirst at Loveland’s head/neck area, leading with the helmet — an almost textbook example of targeting. See for yourself:


The refs discussed this play for several minutes, delaying the end of the game. Finally, one of them announced that there was no foul for targeting. And so the game was over.

TCU won, 51-45.

GLENDALE, ARIZONA – DECEMBER 31: Matthew Kerr #39 of the TCU Horned Frogs celebrates after defeating the Michigan Wolverines in the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium on December 31, 2022 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, ARIZONA – DECEMBER 31: The TCU Horned Frogs celebrate after defeating the Michigan Wolverines in the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium on December 31, 2022 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
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