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 are going home after the semifinals for the second straight season. This season will still be a memorable one for Michigan football, but they now have a lot of soul searching to do.
Michigan just looked one step behind TCU for nearly the entire game. The Wolverines never led and were even behind by three scores on a couple of occasions. They came close to tying up the score, but it wasn't enough in the end.
Yes, there were some very controversial calls that went against Michigan in this game. However, blaming the refs is just the easy way out. There are several reasons why Michigan lost this game aside from the officiating.
With that said, here are the three people most to blame for Michigan football's Fiesta Bowl loss to TCU.
3. The offensive line
Coming into this game, Michigan had what many consider to be the best offensive line in college football. The unit won the Joe Moore Award as the nation's best for the second straight season, becoming the first to ever do so. Four of the five starters earned all-conference honors, and the one who didn't still earned an honorable mention.
In the Fiesta Bowl, though, that supposedly elite offensive line looked completely lost. The Wolverines allowed four sacks and 13 tackles for loss, compared to the one sack and three tackles for loss their defense generated. Those numbers could have been even uglier, as J.J. McCarthy seemed like he was running for his life every other play.
The offensive line played a huge part in Michigan's success all season. Considering that, it's no surprise that the team fell apart when the line couldn't hold up.
2. Jesse Minter
Michigan defensive coordinator Jesse Minter has done some outstanding work in his first season in Ann Arbor. Even after yesterday's game, the Wolverines still finished top five nationally in both points and yards allowed this season. Considering how many starters Michigan 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 dialed up blitz plays extremely often, and the rush rarely got home. There were a few plays where the pressure helped, but there were many more where it hurt.
The most obvious example is Quentin Johnston's 76-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. The Wolverines' seven-man rush forced pressure on Max Duggan, but there was no one 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 why. He's going to have to think long and hard about his game plan if Michigan wants to make it back to the College Football Playoff in 2023.
1. Jim Harbaugh
Jim Harbaugh deserves a ton of credit for Michigan's turnaround over the last two seasons. After an awful 2020 season, he has guided the Wolverines to the College Football Playoff in back-to-back seasons. Although, after two straight losses in the semifinals, it's time to ask questions about whether he can get over the hump.
Last year, Harbaugh got a bit of a pass because he ran into the buzzsaw known as Georgia. This year, with his Michigan team as the heavy 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-and-goal call on Michigan's first drive. The decision to go for it was a bit questionable, but understandable given that the Wolverines were on TCU's 2-yard line. What wasn't understandable was calling the Philly Special, which blew up spectacularly and caused a turnover on downs.
Michigan called the Philly Special against TCU… but they weren't playing against a Matt Patricia defense so it didn't work out. https://t.co/fG8e10UZm0
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) December 31, 2022
Then there's Exhibit B: the goal-line fumble early in the second quarter. McCarthy connected with Roman Wilson for what appeared to be a touchdown, but the officials controversially ruled him down just before the goal line instead. On the very next play, Michigan runs a fullback dive with Kalel Mullings, who primarily plays linebacker, and he fumbled the ball for a TCU touchback.
Michigan fumbles it at the goal line and TCU recovers 😲
The Wolverines have now driven inside TCU's 5-yard line twice and have scored zero points both times 🏈https://t.co/g5j2SmBESB
— 247Sports (@247Sports) December 31, 2022
Those are just the two most egregious examples, but there are plenty of other bad play calls to list. At the end of the day, this marks Harbaugh's sixth straight bowl loss at Michigan. The last time the Wolverines won a bowl game was the Citrus Bowl in the 2015 season, Harbaugh's first in Ann Arbor.
While Harbaugh's regular-season success is very admirable, he needs to start translating that success into the postseason. Michigan fans are some of the most passionate in college football, and they won't tolerate postseason failures much longer.