PARADISE VALLEY, Ariz. — Just two days out from the No. 2 seed Michigan football team’s College Football Playoff showdown with TCU, things are mostly set.
The Wolverines have done their scouting, they’ve had their time to prepare mentally and get right physically. Now, essentially all that’s left to do is wait and count down the tedious hours until they take the field at State Farm Stadium on Saturday.
On Thursday, players and assistant coaches took the podium for Michigan’s portion of Fiesta Bowl Media Day, giving them one last chance to discuss their season, their growth and what they still have left to accomplish.
The Daily breaks down a few takeaways from the event.
JJ McCarthy is “a different cat”
Michigan’s sophomore quarterback has been the center of attention all week. As McCarthy entered the room on Thursday, cameras immediately surrounded his podium before he could even sit down.
All that attention is warranted. Especially since junior running back Blake Corum was sidelined with a season ending knee injury, the spotlight has been fully pointed at McCarthy, and his on-field performances have matched the heightened pressure. It’s growth that’s apparent to the coaching staff.
“I do think he’s improved in almost every area,” Michigan co-offensive coordinator Matt Weiss said. “He’s kinda learned the lesson too that the more open a guy is, the bigger a bucket you can throw into.”
McCarthy’s arm talent was on full display against Ohio State and Purdue, and his ability to connect on the deep ball makes the Wolverines’ offense far more dynamic. The Horned Frogs are preparing a game plan to slow down McCarthy but it’s still proving to be a challenge.
“It gets pretty difficult sometimes because it’s hard to emulate a guy like that,” TCU defensive coordinator Joe Gillepsie said. “You can’t go out and simulate McCarthy. He’s a different cat.”
If the Horned Frogs can’t find a way to stifle McCarthy, then he may have another swarm of reporters following him around in Los Angeles next weekend.
Growth of the linebackers
In the beginning of the season, the linebacker position wasn’t necessarily Michigan’s greatest defensive strength. The unit wasn’t bad per se, but it gave up more than 100 yards to Iowa’s tight ends on Oct. 1, as well as a season-high in passing yards for Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras.
Suffice it to say, the Wolverines’ linebackers struggled in pass coverage early on in the season. Since that game in Kinnick, however, the growth in the linebacker unit has been obvious.
“I just think with time it’s like anything else, you get more comfortable,” linebackers coach George Helow said Thursday.
Sophomore linebacker Junior Colson weighed in on his unit’s improvement as well:
“We’ve been able to play team defense better,” Colson said. “I think that’s been huge for us.”
The Wolverines’ team defense will surely be tested against TCU’s potent offensive attack, led by its star quarterback Max Duggan. If they aren’t positionally sound or if their tackling falters, Michigan’s defense could be in for a long day.
Defensive backs mentality
Sitting at the podium on Wednesday, defensive backs coach Steve Clinkscale got philosophical about the Horned Frogs.
“I think you wake up every day, you respect every man, woman and child that you meet right?” Clinkscale said. “But that doesn’t mean you have to fear them. So we definitely don’t fear them, but we respect what they do.”
Certainly, there is reason to fear the Horned Frogs’ wide receivers and passing game. Their star wide receiver, Quentin Johnson, is legitimately one of the best in the country — not to mention how good Duggan is under center.
But even still, Clinkscale has told his unit not to fear TCU, and after how well they held up against Ohio State’s passing game that’s understandable. But confidence and poise will not be enough to slow down the Horned Frogs’ passing attack alone, Michigan will need to play as well as it did in Columbus, if not better.
The Wolverines’ secondary against TCU’s passing offense is poised to be one of the determining battles in Saturday’s game.