FORT WORTH, Texas — Big right guard Wes Harris and his TCU teammates are hearing again just how big and physical their next opponent is and how much of an underdog they are against Georgia in the national championship game.
They heard a lot of the same things going into their College Football Playoff semifinal against Big Ten champion Michigan, which is sitting at home while the Horned Frogs (13-1) get ready to play the defending national champions Monday night.
“It just kind of lights a fire underneath you,” Harris said Tuesday. “Definitely gave us a little bit of extra juice. We were tired of hearing about it ... and were able to make a statement to show we were a physical football team, too.”
Immediately after their 51-45 win in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Eve, first-year Frogs coach Sonny Dykes said he felt they were the definitely the most physical team on the field. TCU had four sacks and outrushed Michigan 263 yards to 186, even after the Wolverines had a 54-yard run on the game's very first snap.
“We knew we were a physical team, and we got to show that during the game, and we’ve got to keep the same mindset,” said defensive end Dylan Horton, who had all four of those sacks.
The Horned Frogs are listed as 13 1/2-point underdogs against Georgia (14-0) in the championship game in California, according to Fanduel Sportsbook. They were 7 1/2-point underdogs against Michigan.
Linebacker Dee Winters said the predictions were simply fuel for the team.
“Obviously being the underdog is something we’re not unfamiliar with,” added standout receiver Quentin Johnston. “So going to try to just keep moving like we did the rest of the season. And keep our heads to the ground and keep playing football.”
TCU's only loss this season was in overtime to Kansas State in the Big 12 championship game after Heisman Trophy runner-up Max Duggan led them to 11 points in the final 7 1/2 minutes of regulation to tie the game. The Frogs won five games in the regular season by coming from behind after halftime, including double-digit deficits in back-to-back games against Top 25 teams in October.
“The interesting thing was we felt like we’ve been a physical team all year. And I think those inside the football program certainly recognize that,” Dykes said. “We felt like our success in the second half was because of that physical play, that mentality that we carried, really, all season. As the game went along, we felt like our guys got stronger and got more physical. And that’s been, you know, pretty consistent really throughout the year.”
Dykes sees a lot of similarities in Georgia and Michigan, though he believes the Bulldogs are more athletic, including their “typical SEC defensive ends” that are physical with great speed and skills.
“That's kind of the whole team,” Dykes said. "It’s just a very athletic football team, what you would expect from a defending national championship team and a team that’s been No. 1 for most of the year.”
Duggan said the Horned Frogs took about 24 hours to enjoy the victory over Michigan, but turned their attention to Georgia after returning Sunday to campus.
They know everyone is now wondering if they can be more physical than Georgia, and repeat what they did against then-undefeated Michigan.
“I don’t see why not, man. I mean, shoot, it’s a one game tournament,” Harris said. “Everybody’s got both feet and 10 toes down, and we’re excited to go out there and just have another opportunity to play another game. This one just happens to be for a national championship.”