People to blame for Fiesta Bowl loss to TCU
Michigan was a better football team in 2022 than in 2021, but the end result remained the same. After a 51-45 Fiesta Bowl loss to TCU on Saturday, the Wolverines return home from the semifinals for the second straight season. This season will always be memorable for Michigan football, but they now have a lot of soul-searching to do.
Michigan just watched one step behind TCU for most of the game. The Wolverines have never led and have even been three points behind on a few occasions. They almost evened the score, but in the end it wasn’t enough.
Yes, there were some very controversial calls against Michigan in this game. However, blaming the referees is just the easy way out. There are several reasons why Michigan lost this game outside of arbitration.
That said, here are the three people most responsible for Michigan football’s Fiesta Bowl loss to TCU.
3. The offensive line
Going into this game, Michigan had what many consider the best offensive line in college football. The unit won the Joe Moore Award as the nation’s best for the second consecutive season, becoming the first to do so. Four of the five starters have earned all-conference honors, and one that has yet to earn an honorable mention.
In the Fiesta Bowl, however, that so-called elite offensive line seemed completely lost. The Wolverines allowed four sacks and 13 tackles for loss, compared to one sack and three tackles for loss generated by their defense. Those numbers could have been even uglier, as JJ McCarthy seemed to be running for his life every other game.
The offensive line has played a huge role in Michigan’s success all season. Given that, it’s no surprise the team fell apart when the line couldn’t hold up.
2. Jesse Minter
Michigan defensive coordinator Jesse Minter did a stellar job in his first season in Ann Arbor. Even after yesterday’s game, the Wolverines still finished in the top five nationally in points and yards allowed this season. Considering how many starters Michigan has lost from 2021, Minter’s performance this season deserves credit.
On the other hand, Minter’s performance in the Fiesta Bowl deserves heavy criticism. He very often composed blitz games, and the rush rarely came home. There were a few games where the pressure helped, but there were plenty of others where it hurt.
The most obvious example is Quentin Johnston’s 76-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. Wolverines’ seven-man run forced Max Duggan to press, but there was no one at home to defend the pass. Once Johnston caught the ball, he was pretty much gone.
QUENTIN JOHNSTON OH MY GOODNESS!!!
— PFF College (@PFF_College) January 1, 2023
Michigan’s defense looked nothing like itself on Saturday, and Minter’s unusually aggressive scheme was the main reason for that. He’s going to have to think long and hard about his game plan if Michigan wants to return to the college football playoffs in 2023.
Jim Harbaugh deserves a ton of credit for Michigan’s turnaround over the past two seasons. After a terrible 2020 season, he guided the Wolverines to the college football playoffs in consecutive seasons. However, after two consecutive defeats in the semi-finals, it is time to wonder if he can overcome the difficulty.
Last year, Harbaugh got a small bye because he came across the circular saw known as Georgia. This year, with his Michigan team as the big favorite, he doesn’t get the same benefit of the doubt. In fact, Harbaugh made several baffling decisions that directly contributed to the loss.
Let’s start with Exhibit A: the fourth base call on Michigan’s first practice. The decision to go was a bit moot, but understandable considering the Wolverines were on the TCU 2-yard line. What wasn’t understandable was calling the Philly Special, which exploded spectacularly and caused a roll in the downs.
Michigan called the Philly Special against TCU…but they weren’t playing against a Matt Patricia defense so it didn’t work. pic.twitter.com/fG8e10UZm0
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) December 31, 2022
Then there’s Exhibit B: the fumble on the goal line at the start of the second quarter. McCarthy connected with Roman Wilson for what appeared to be a touchdown, but officials controversially dismissed it just short of the goal line. On the very next play, Michigan took a back dive with Kalel Mullings, who primarily plays linebacker, and he fumbled the ball for a TCU touchback.
Michigan fumbles him on the goal line and TCU recovers 😲
Wolverines have now driven twice inside the TCU 5-yard line and scored zero points both times 🏈pic.twitter.com/g5j2SmBESB
— 247Sports (@247Sports) December 31, 2022
These are just the two most egregious examples, but there are plenty of other bad game calls to list. At the end of the day, it marked Harbaugh’s sixth straight loss at Michigan. The last time the Wolverines won a bowling game was the Citrus Bowl in the 2015 season, Harbaugh’s first in Ann Arbor.
While Harbaugh’s success in the regular season is very admirable, he needs to start translating that success into the playoffs. Michigan fans are some of the most passionate about college football, and they won’t put up with playoff failures any longer.