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Fiesta Bowl Position Battles: Michigan D-Line vs. TCU O-Line

TCU v West Virginia Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

This is the 2nd in our series of position battle matchup previews for the Fiesta Bowl College Football Playoff Semifinal, you can read all entries and other preview info HERE

Michigan Defensive Line:

Depth Chart:

Edge: Mike Morris (SR); Taylor Upshaw (SR)
NT: Mazi Smith (SR); Kenneth Grant (FR)
DT: Kris Jenkins (JR); Mason Graham (FR)
Edge: Jaylen Harrell (JR); Eyabi Okie (SR)

The Michigan D-Line and Edge rushers pose one of the best pass rush threats in all of college football. Even after losing top talents Aiden Hutchinson, David Ojabo, and Kwity Paye from the monstrous 2021 unit, the sack production actually improved from 34 sacks in last year to 40 in 2022. It must be noted however that 14 of those sacks came in two games: 7 each against Colorado State and Indiana. Nose Tackle Mazi Smith was named First Team All-Big Ten, but was the lone Wolverine D-Lineman placed on any of the all conference teams, with DT Kris Jenkins earning an Honorable Mention. Smith has been in the news for an October incident where we was stopped for speeding and a handgun was found in his car, but for which felony charges were only filed just ahead of the Big Ten Championship game; after pleading guilty to the lowered misdemeanor charge, sentencing has been delayed until after the Playoffs would complete and Smith is expected to be a full participant in the Fiesta Bowl. Mike Morris has been a menace off the edge, leading the Wolverines with 7.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss, with another 4 hurries, a forced fumble, and a blocked FG in just 11 games played. From the other side of the line, Jaylen Harrell causes plenty of havoc himself, making Offensive Tackles look silly and forcing QBs into terrible throws. The Horned Frog O-Line, especially the OTs, will have a challenge in keeping a clean pocket for QB Max Duggan.

TCU Offensive Line:

Depth Chart:

LT: Brandon Coleman (JR); Marcus Williams (JR)
LG: Steve Avila (SR); Garrett Hayes (SO)
C: Alan Ali (SR); Ezra Dotson-Oyetade (R-FR)
RG: John Lanz (SR); Wes Harris (SR)
RT: Andrew Coker (JR): Jasper Lott (R-FR)

The Horned Frog Offensive front took a massive step forward in 2022 thanks new coaching staff and scheme, improved strength & conditioning, and the addition of transfer Center Alan Ali. In 2021, the unit ranked sub-100 in pass down sack rate allowed and climbed up to #46 this season; while still not statistically elite, that giant leap forward has made everything about the offense work better this season. Ali’s entry at Center allowed Steve Avila to slide over to Guard, providing an instant upgrade to the unit as both were named to the Big 12 First Team. Ali followed Sonny Dykes and OC Garrett Riley from SMU and brought with him an expertise of the new scheme, an ideal addition to get the unit quickly acclimated while Avila developed into a consensus All-American at Guard. At the other Guard position Lanz and Harris have rotated and played in each game this year. OTs Brandon Coleman and Andrew Coker are tasked with controlling the pass rush moves of Michigan’s Morris and Harrell. The Frogs have faced some elite pass rushers this season like Texas Tech’s Tyree Wilson, Kansas State’s Felix Anudike-Uzomah, and Texas’ DeMarvion Overshown; while those caused some problems, TCU was often able to scheme up ways to minimize their impact for the offense to still have success.