PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. — What is there to say about Max Duggan that hasn’t already been said?
TCU’s quarterback is obviously a star. He’s a great runner, an even better passer and he’s the engine that drives the Horned Frogs’ high-powered offense.
Duggan’s stardom is certainly not lost on the No. 2 seed Michigan football team. So much was said about Duggan and what he does, and yet no two players or coaches said the same thing:
“Elite, he’s an elite player,” Michigan defensive coordinator Jesse Minter said Wednesday. “He’s got the intangibles, a knack for making the plays at the key moments, a willingness to put his body on the line for whatever it takes — special player.”
“I love watching him,” senior defensive end Mike Morris said. “… I love playing guys who don’t quit and I feel like that’s what he stands on.”
“Heart, he put his heart out there,” senior defensive tackle Mazi Smith said. “It’s like you take his heart out his chest, leave it on the field and he’s cool walking away.”
All the Wolverines who spoke on Duggan recited the tales of his triumphs — such as his 30 passing touchdowns, his 3,300 passing yards or his mere four interceptions.
But the conversation about the TCU Heisman finalist didn’t stop there. Once each and every Michigan player and coach had their moments to gush about his game, they moved on to the more relevant aspect of Duggan:
How to slow him down.
No team has been able to outright stop him, that’s why the Horned Frogs are 12-1 and the No. 3 seed in the College Football Playoff. So the effort is to contain Duggan and make sure that he can’t single-handedly will TCU to victory. Containing Duggan is its own conundrum for the Michigan defense, though.
The Wolverines’ first challenge is determining what Duggan will do on any given play. He can always drop back and carve up their secondary if given the chance, so can they just send in an all-out rush and try to make him uncomfortable in the pocket?
Yes, and no.
“You can’t under pursue and you have to run to the ball,” Morris said. “When one person grabs him, another person has to finish the tackle. So we have our work cut out for us.”
Morris said that his unit will have to remain disciplined and not be overly aggressive because if they over pursue, they could leave rushing lanes for Duggan to take advantage of. And when Duggan gets in the open field, everything becomes so much harder.
“(Duggan) does not get tackled, one-on-one in the open field,” Minter said. “And so, just an endless amount of tackling power would be really helpful in this game.”
Of course, Michigan would prefer to not get into many situations that leave Duggan running in space. To do that, the Wolverines will need to play incredibly sound and be responsible for their gaps.
Morris also said that there are a few tells that can make the defense’s job a bit easier when spotting Duggan. For example, in obvious passing situations such as third and long, Duggan’s drop-back can get as deep as eight yards.
“You have to be really conscious of what you’re doing and how you’re doing it,” Morris said. “You can’t really rush up the field. … We just have to be conscious of the down and distance. Also, push the pocket, we have to collapse the pocket so he can be thrown in the phone booth and be uncomfortable.”
At the end of his answer, Morris wore a smile and a look of excitement. He likes playing in games like these, in games against players as talented as Duggan. Because lining up against a player of Duggan’s caliber forces Morris or any other player on Michigan’s defense to be at their absolute best.
If the Wolverines’ defense can slow Duggan down and lead Michigan to victory, everyone will talk about what a great performance the defense had, and how they stepped up to the occasion.
And for the first time all season, no one will be talking about Max Duggan.