TCU survived Michigan’s frenzied second-half comeback attempts to win a wild Fiesta Bowl 51-45 and advance to the national championship game.
The Horned Frogs took a 21-6 lead into halftime before all hell broke loose in the third quarter. The teams combined for 44 points in the quarter and 41 points over the final seven minutes of the period after Michigan had briefly cut TCU’s lead to five points.
TCU scored three TDs in less than four minutes in the quarter and Michigan scored with three seconds to go in the third. After recovering a fumble that ended the quarter, Michigan shaved TCU’s lead to a field goal at 41-38 with 14:13 to go.
The lead was three points for all of 66 seconds. TCU QB Max Duggan found WR Quentin Johnston on a third-down crossing route and Johnston broke a tackle and raced 76 yards to the end zone to restore TCU’s two-score lead.
Michigan cut the lead to six points with 3:18 to go and got the ball back with 52 seconds and no timeouts remaining. But the Wolverines had a bad snap on a fourth down with 25 seconds to end the slim chances of the comeback being complete.
The Fiesta Bowl victory means TCU will be paying for its second national title in school history. TCU’s only previous national title came in 1938 when it went 11-0 as Davey O’Brien won the Heisman Trophy. The Horned Frogs are the first Big 12 team to play for the national title since Texas at the conclusion of the 2009 season.
J.J. McCarthy throws two pick sixes, Michigan struggles near end zone
TCU opened the scoring when Bud Clark intercepted Michigan QB J.J. McCarthy and ran it back 41 yards for a score. McCarthy then threw his second pick six of the game in that wild third quarter when Dee Winters returned an interception 29 yards for a score.
That pick six extended TCU’s lead to 34-16 before Michigan scored 65 seconds later to cut the lead back to 12.
Michigan also had a rough go of it in the red zone. The Wolverines got inside the five on the opening drive of the game but ran Philly Special on fourth down. The play was snuffed out by TCU.
The Wolverines then fumbled later in the first half when Kalel Mullings couldn’t handle a handoff from McCarthy (more on that in a second). And the Wolverines had to settle for a short field goal in the third quarter after getting inside and being unable to punch the ball into the end zone.
Officials have a rough day
The fumbled handoff between McCarthy and Mullings came after what looked to be a long TD pass from McCarthy to Roman Wilson was overruled on replay.
Wilson fell to the ground just short of the goal line as he caught the ball. But he didn’t appear to possess the ball after it bounced off his arm until he was in the end zone. The play was ruled a TD on the field but officials apparently saw indisputable evidence that fans didn’t at home to overturn the call and put the ball inside the one.
That TD pass that wasn’t was set up by a poor spot on Rod Moore’s interception a play before. Moore picked off the ball just inside TCU territory, but the ball was spotted inside the 50 on Michigan’s side of the field. TCU fans would also argue that Michigan committed a pass interference penalty to cause the deflection that Moore caught.
That replay sequence wasn’t the only head-scratching moment for the SEC officiating crew. They called roughing the passer against TCU’s Johnny Hodges in the first half on a hit that wasn’t late or vicious. And there was a catch on Michigan’s final TD drive of the game that clearly should have been reviewed but wasn’t.