GLENDALE, Arizona — After purple confetti fell on the lawn of State Farm Stadium and TCU coach Sonny Dykes hoisted the Fiesta Bowl trophy with a win, the Horned Frogs soaked up the winning loot.
The southeastern end of the field was filled with hugs, handshakes and photos. Four weeks ago, Dykes, surrounded by his family and holding back tears after losing his championship game to TCU’s Big 12, hugged his wife and his three children again. . This time, the Fiesta champion was smiling, wearing his bowl gray cap and his commemorative purple T-shirt. The only tears he could see were from his daughter Allie, who put her right cheek on her left shoulder and squeezed Dykes tight.
A tearful quarterback Max Duggan grinned ear-to-ear during the December 3 postgame press conference as he stopped to take pictures. He turned his right hand toward the crowd in the shape of a TCU hand sign. He bent his index and middle fingers to raise his knuckles.
“Yeah, this is a little better,” Duggan said with a laugh.
No. 3 TCU defeated No. 2 Michigan 51-45 in Saturday’s Fiesta Bowl semifinals to record the biggest upset in college football playoff history and qualify for the national championship.
Left tackle Brandon Coleman said, “This is surreal.” “I don’t think anyone thinks it’s real now.
“When I come back tomorrow, I hope I can wake up and realize what I just did.”
What TCU did was to overturn the conventional wisdom surrounding gaming. Horned Frogs was a cute story of his CFP, an emerging Big 12 team with cool, meme-worthy videos and his HypnoToad to rally. A program that once struggled at WAC, Conference USA and Mountain West has finally had its moment in the sun.
In the grand scheme of things, the horned toad was supposed to be another obstacle on Michigan’s road to national championships. After all, Wolverine was on a business trip. After losing him 34-11 to Georgia last year, Michigan didn’t upset this time. No more indulging in bowl festivities. It was a workmanlike attitude from start to finish.
Before the Wolverines left for the Fiesta Bowl, Michigan defensive end Brayden McGregor said, “I think it’s definitely a more focused mindset this year.” I know, it’s not fun, and if you beat Natty or you win this game, you’ll have fun.”
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TCU has taken the opposite approach. Horned Frog arrived in Arizona two days before his Wolverine Christmas Eve. The purpose was to give players time to relax and settle down before handling business on the practice field or boardroom.
Dykes and his staff balance the work of freeing Horned Frogs while still getting the job done, so there were no concerns on the part of TCU about the team’s readiness.
“Our kids can handle it,” said offensive coordinator Garrett Riley. “Handling it the right way was a big thing for us…it was kind of the first step.”
Dykes said not a single player has missed a curfew or been late for anything on a bowl trip.
“Look, they’re doing their job,” Dykes said. “They do it with great pride. They prepared incredibly well. We had three weeks of excellent practice. I thought I had a really good plan.”
And TCU’s relaxed approach certainly helped. On the first play of the game, Donovan Edwards ran him 54 yards down center, but the horned frogs didn’t panic. They regrouped, held the rest of the drive, and forced a turnover on downs.
The horned frogs perked up when Bud Clarke picked up quarterback JJ McCarthy and returned it for the first touchdown of the game. Duggan gave TCU a 14–0 lead on a 1-yard touchdown run, capping TCU’s second offensive possession, and suddenly the Wolverines caught up.
In the week leading up to the game, TCU players were constantly asked how they would deal with a big, physical Michigan, an undefeated Big Ten team that could bully them at the line of scrimmage. . With his high scoring ability and speed in skill positions, his TCU may have been hampered by the outdated perception of Big 12 football, which was once ground zero for basketball-like shootouts, and was known for his physical prowess. It was not
“I’m sure that motivated us,” said TCU linebacker Dee Winters.
After Edwards’ game-opening run, TCU looked a little pushed aside. TCU brushed it off when they called the Philly Special for their fourth goal at , gaining early momentum.
Throughout the game, TCU defensive coordinator Joe Gillespie’s force had little trouble handling Michigan’s strength. After the first play, Horned Frog allowed only 132 rushing yards on his 39 attempts. TCU used that speed to corner Wolverine with a runplay and pressure McCarthy with a pass down. When the horned frogs encountered ball carriers, they took them down by force.
“We were the most physical team on the field tonight, and I think it was easy to understand,” Dykes said.
Naturally, Michigan has adapted. The Wolverines settled offensively, forced turnovers defensively, and got back into the game.
But every time Michigan gave TCU a body blow, Horned Frog responded with an uppercut.
As the Wolverines cut TCU’s lead to 21-16, the Horned Frogs responded with a 6-play, 75-yard scoring drive in just over two minutes. They followed suit with a pick 6 by Winters to extend their lead to 18 points in the third quarter.
Michigan charged back again and pulled within three early in the fourth quarter, but TCU counter-punched. At the third-and-seven, Duggan found Johnston on Quentin as he backed off 10 yards to avoid pressure and threw off his back leg. Quentin Johnston adjusted the route slightly to compensate for Duggan’s deep dropback. 48-38 lead.
TCU’s resilience grew from a difficult road to the playoffs. The Horned Frog trailed in his seven games, facing a second-half deficit twice he faced Oklahoma State, Baylor University, Texas Tech University, and Kansas State. They came back to each in the Big 12 Championship in overtime where he faced K-State, falling short only once.
Despite being repeatedly counterattacked by Wolverine, Horned Frog’s coolness was the most impressive part of his victory. Leading early on with an unsuspecting team is one thing. Keeping the pressure on, like TCU did, is another thing. The Horned Frogs didn’t lose on Saturday.
“We’re depressed. We’re used to it,” said receiver Delius Davis. “We weren’t upset by it.”
With this win, the Horned Frogs gave college football what they wanted: something different. The playoffs he will expand to 12 teams from 2024. One reason for that was the general frustration of having the same small number of teams competing for the title.
Last year, Cincinnati became the first Group 5 team to reach the playoffs, but lost to Alabama in the semifinals. TCU came from his Power 5 conference, but there were similarities in how Horned Frogs looked.
TCU’s roster is different from that of Michigan, Georgia, or Ohio. Horned Frog has four stars on the roster, compared to Michigan’s 44, Ohio State’s 66, and Georgia’s 68. You have 17 leads with 5 stars and 5 stars.
But that didn’t matter on Saturday. Stars matter, but TCU threatens that logic.
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After being ousted from the sport’s power structure, a once-backed-up team is making headlines and playing for its first national title since 1938.
But just because the horned frog wins doesn’t mean the same story won’t stick. Dykes expects that to happen when he faces TCU against Georgia, who beat Ohio State 42-41 in Saturday’s Peach Bowl semifinals.
“It still doesn’t stop, you know what I mean?” Dykes said. “We’re going to play again in 10 days, and for 10 days we’ll be hearing the same crap we heard leading up to this ball game.
“We have to do what we did in this game. We have to answer that criticism, show up and do what we do.”
But TCU can worry about that next week.
— TCU Football (@TCUFootball) January 1, 2023
After this season’s win, TCU’s social media accounts posted videos of Dykes leading the locker room with the school’s nearly 100-year-old “riff rum” chant.
riff, rum, bar, zoo
Likety, likety, zoo, zoo
Whoo, wah, wah, whoo
Give me hell, TCU.
TCU certainly gave them hell on Saturday.
(Photo above: Aaron J. Thornton/Getty Images)