GLENDALE, Arizona — JJ McCarthy stood with his back to the camera row, perfectly framed against the background of the TCU celebration.
For a minute or more, McCarthy remained on the field. Consciously or unconsciously, he was recreating the scene from last year’s Orange his bowl that motivated Michigan to return to college football his playoffs. Last year, McCarthy and Donovan Edwards stood on the turf of Hard Rock Stadium as Georgia players threw oranges at the crowd. It should have been adversity before triumph.
Life is not a Disney movie. Or sometimes it is and you realize too late that the movie isn’t about you, that’s the destiny of this Michigan team and the star of college football’s ultimate underdog story murdered by TCU remembered as a giant who was
“It’s been a great season,” said coach Jim Harbaugh. “It ends a week early.”
The Fiesta Bowl itself was a great show. After years of explosive blows in the CFP semifinals, TCU and Michigan put together his 51-45 thriller that made him go down as one of the best games in the fleeting era of the four-team playoffs. will be
That was a small consolation for the Wolverines, who started the season with a clear goal of winning a national championship. Michigan didn’t need another motivational picture. A coronation was scheduled for this year.
From McCarthy to Wilson for Six!
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) January 1, 2023
Instead, Michigan felt the pain. Although they struggled last year, the Wolverines kind of knew they weren’t ready to beat Georgia. This year’s team believed in their destiny until the moment TCU ruined the story.
“Obviously not,” left tackle Ryan Hayes said. “This guy stings. We knew we overmatched last year and didn’t play enough. This is in our hands and we let it go. This will definitely get worse .”
After the game, tight end coach Grant Newsom gathered with his position group in the hallway outside Michigan’s locker room. He repeated a refrain that was uttered countless times in the Michigan locker room, telling his players to grow from the experience.
“I’ve seen it two years in a row,” he said. “We have to improve.” And, to emphasize, “This is the worst.”
Michigan’s misery was everyone’s pastime. The Wolverines and Horned Frogs had a great second half, trading big plays and upping the ante on every possession. Michigan didn’t fold after he lost 21-3.
Saturday’s game was all Michigan signed up for when they benched last year’s starter Cade McNamara and went with a five-star sophomore. Although he excelled at keeping it down, his inner gunslinger emerged as the Fiesta Bowl turned into a shootout. McCarthy threw for his 343 yards and scored three touchdowns, but also threw his two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns by TCU.
“I’m going to win this game,” McCarthy told his family in the stands before Michigan’s touchdown drive in the third quarter, according to the telecast. At times, he convinced the entire stadium that it was possible. With his 52 seconds remaining, McCarthy had the chance to get the ball and drive the game-winning touchdown.
The drive had few first downs and finished with 4 and 10 unsuccessful snaps. At the drive, officials reviewed and determined that there was no penalty for targeting TCU.
The play at the end of the fourth quarter was reviewed and the play was not targeted. pic.twitter.com/fzVUgISaag
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) January 1, 2023
McCarthy didn’t come to a magical ending, but he gave Michigan everything he had.
“A truly phenomenal effort by a giant of effort, JJ,” Harbaugh said. “I’m so proud of him, just like he was my son.”
The Wolverines didn’t lose the game on their final drive. They lost it in the first half when they failed to score twice inside the TCU 5-yard line, once on an unthinkable trick play on the opening drive and then when the officials flipped a touchdown pass. It was a goal line fumble by later Karel Mullings, who found the ball just shy of the goal line to Roman Wilson.
“I wasn’t really upset,” Wilson said. “I was just happy to be out there and play. I was confident I could score, but I didn’t.”
On top of these Red Zone disasters, the uncharacteristic collapse in defense was enough to tear down the façade of Michigan’s dominance. struggled with their defensive quickness and creativity.
“In a game like this, mistakes have a bigger impact on the game,” said defensive tackle Maji Smith. “As a defensive unit, we’ve made a lot. You can’t expect everything to go your way. Life is hard. I don’t know what to say.”
In 13 games, almost everything went Michigan’s way. The Wolverines got everything they wanted: a victory over their biggest rival, a Big Ten Championship, and a return to the CFP. It was easy to speculate that they would also take the Fiesta Bowl.
It has been both a blessing and a curse to have such a great season in 2021. His 25-3 record in two seasons is an astounding record, but considering that his two losses were in his CFP semifinals, the success is bittersweet.
“I had two big chances, and neither worked out,” Smith said. “It just raised the bar as a program.”
McCarthy and Edwards are back with some other key elements of this year’s team, so Burr is unlikely to be upset next season. “We will be back,” he promised before leaving the conference.
The Wolverines said the same thing last year in Miami, and they were right. But getting back here wasn’t the end game. Taking the next step this season, last year’s Orange he was all about avenging his bowl loss and playing for a national championship.
Instead, the season ended with McCarthy recreating a scene the Wolverines remembered well: Michigan was the team that was here before. Now Michigan is the team stuck here again.
(Photo by JJ McCarthy: Chris Coduto/Getty Images)