Texas

Please, very please: everyone continues to underestimate TCU

Texas Christian University is set to perform Monday night in Southern California, if only to ensure Georgia’s proper coronation as national college football champions. At least that’s what the experts say.

That is why TCU has every chance to make a monumental defeat and win the school’s first title in 84 years.

You know? Let’s play along. The mall doesn’t stand a chance. Tell your friends and neighbors. Remind them that the Horned Frogs are underdogs with two touchdowns, one of the biggest point gaps in a title game. Remind them that TCU’s most important player, quarterback Max Duggan, is wrapping up his worst game of the season, and that TCU’s top running back, Kendra Miller, may be out after last weekend’s knee injury.

Georgia? Wow boy. Georgia! Champions of the mighty Southeastern Conference. Defense of national champions. Winners 32 of the last 33 games, including 14 in a row this season. Georgia’s only loss during that 32–1 streak was a 41–24 loss to Alabama in the 2021 SEC Championship Game, which the Bulldogs avenged five weeks later by crushing the Crimson Tide in the championship game.

This season, Georgia’s average win is 26 points. His only close call came against Missouri, a game in which the Dougs lost 10 points in the fourth quarter before waking up after scoring a pair of touchdowns to win 26–22. As for Georgia’s traditional SEC rivals, the team beat them all, and beat them very hard: Auburn by 32, Florida by 22, Tennessee by 14, LSU by 20.

No way is TCU messing with these guys, right? Just like TCU shouldn’t have played Michigan in last weekend’s semi-finals. This was true up until TCU’s 51–45 victory.

TS-who? This is the team selected to finish seventh in the Big 12, the team that entered the game in Michigan seven and a half points down. A team that didn’t seem to cause much concern for the Big Ten champions. TCU coaches and players watched a video in which Wolverines linebacker Junior Colson appeared to be unaware of which conference the Frogs were playing in. “Well, now you know,” TCU guard Bud Clark said after the game.

Michigan quarterback JJ McCarthy added fuel to the fire by telling reporters that if the Frogs stayed with their usual defensive scheme, they would get a lesson in Big Ten football. “If they stay in this 3-3-5 formation, then it will be very cool,” he said.

TCU really did their 3-3-5. Michigan didn’t break him, rushing for 186 yards, well below the team’s average of 239 yards this season. On New Year’s Eve, TCU hit the ground running with 488 yards of attack against a Michigan defense that allowed 277 yards per game. “Going into [Michigan game] people didn’t think we were a physical team and we had to show it,” TCU defenseman Dylan Horton said. “I feel like we surprised some people, but we need to keep the same spirit in the upcoming game.”

Across the country, words like “overwhelming” were used to describe TCU’s dissatisfaction with Michigan. “We’ve been hearing all week about Big Ten football and how they were going to line up and run around us,” TCU coach Sonny Dykes said on the field, moments after winning the semi-finals. Later, at the post-match press conference, he added: “At some point, you just stop listening to what everyone is saying. . . . I think we are a physically strong football team. It bothered me that we had been hearing all week that we were going to line up and run.”

Almost everyone believed TCU was going nowhere in Dykes’ first season after Gary Patterson was fired. TCU has gone 16–18 in the previous three years, hasn’t been in the Associated Press top 25 since 2019, and hasn’t won a game since beating Cal in the 2018 Cheez-It Bowl. In the Big 12 pre-season predictions, TCU is relegated to “winner” status. (The Horned Frogs quickly went 12–0 in the regular season.)

This is part of what confuses college football watchers when it comes to TCU. The Horned Frogs have continued to win and win in 2022, but have also been constantly flirting with defeat. They trailed Kansas by 7 points in the second half, Oklahoma State by 14, Texas Institute of Technology by 4, Baylor by 8. TCU won all of those games, although sometimes they barely managed to win, like that day in Waco when the Frogs behind Baylor. less than three minutes left. TCU did not win this match until its field goal team ran onto the field with sixteen seconds left, with no timeouts and with the clock running. Griffin Kell’s game-winning kick split the posts at 0:00, leading to a 29–28 win.

Georgia is loaded with five-star recruits and future first-round NFL draft picks. Defensive tackle Jalen Carter is likely to be either the first or second non-quarterback to be selected in the NFL Draft next spring. Corner Keli Ringo is another likely 2023 first-rounder likely to be tasked with covering for TCU star wide receiver Quentin Johnston on Monday night.

So how can the Horned Frogs even stay competitive with these SEC juggernauts in the championship game? When Sports asked coaches across the country what impressed them most about the two national finalists, one pointing to Horned Frogs offensive coordinator Garret Riley. According to him, the more this coach watched the TCU attack, the more impressed he became. He saw a team that was adept at spotting opponents and building a game plan around perceived weaknesses.

“We call them schemers, offensive coaches, and all they do is look at what the opponents have done to you and try to repeat it,” the coach said. “That’s what TCU does.” He said TCU took note of how often Michigan beat their cornerbacks. When the rush came last weekend, Duggan noticed it right away and hit Johnston for 32 yards.

Another coach predicted that Riley would talk to his brother, USC head coach Lincoln Riley. Lincoln’s Oklahoma team passed for 531 yards against Georgia in the 2018 Rose Bowl. Georgia won that game 54–48 in double overtime, but USC’s strategy worked spectacularly. “Oklahoma is attacking fast, the formations are mixing up, and Georgia is on the heels a bit,” the coach said. Sports. “I’m sure [Garrett Riley will] have the same thought process this time. Be aggressive, use the pace and attack.”

To focus on one aspect of TCU play is to overlook the size and power of the Horned Frogs’ offensive and defensive lines. Texas running back Bijan Robinson has rushed for at least 100 yards in nine of his last ten games. TCU was an exception, holding the country’s best record of just 29 yards on twelve carries.

Even if Michigan wasn’t sure which conference TCU was playing in, the Wolverines learned that the Frogs were equally comfortable playing both loud Big Ten football and fast-paced Big 12 play. “I think they’ve never played a fast team like us and I don’t think they realized it,” TCU running back Emari Demercado said. “They spoke a little prematurely, not knowing what we were capable of.”

Unlike Michigan, Georgia doesn’t give the Horned Frogs any motivational material. Georgia head coach Kirby Smart hasn’t skimped on TCU’s praise, and he seems determined not to let his team make the mistake of ignoring the Frogs. “Their kids believe,” Smart said. “They have, I just want to read and hear about them, a lot in common with our children in terms of the culture created there, the way they play, the way they believe. Their conference has been in a lot of tough matches and they’ve won those tough matches and they’ve done an incredible job with what they’re doing.”

Perhaps Smart is reinsured. Maybe he is justifiably concerned that a 13-1 team is standing between Georgia and back-to-back national titles. TCU is a reminder of the new normal in college football, where Texas and Oklahoma are nothing special and Tulane, Tennessee, Kansas and Kansas State can beat just about anyone. “The college football landscape has changed and I think the perception of the Big 12 has changed,” Dykes said. “I think all of that got us into the playoffs and then we had to do something about that opportunity.” And, well, it may be a little easier to take advantage of this opportunity if big-name opponents continue to underestimate TCU.

Georgia is too good. The frogs don’t stand a chance. Pass it on.

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