Tuesday, October 2, 2007

It's Still an Adventure to be a Wolverine

It’s time to relax. Michigan at 3-2 is now on course to win the Big Ten and a Bowl, just as in 1988 and 1998. Michigan has a ten year cycle of starting 0-2, and then finishing strong.

Lloyd Carr is still a winning coach. Outstanding freshmen are stepping up. Chad Henne, even when injured, can complete 30 yard passes, and the defense can be proud of their Notre Dame and Penn State efforts, and last half of the Northwestern game.

After all, Al Davis of the Oakland Raiders always said “Just win, Baby,” and win Michigan did against Northwestern – an ugly win, but a win nevertheless.

Therein lies the continuing problem of Michigan football today. Once again, the team has played down to the level of its competition – an increasing problem in recent years. Usually, they can win at the end, but not always as with the Appalachian State defeat.

The long standing problems persist, starting with the limited play book for the offense. Michigan’s predictable offense is a defensive coordinator’s dream. The following positions and plays are either not in the play book, or seldom used:

Fullbacks (except for blocking)

Tight Ends (except for blocking)

Play Action Passes

Screen Passes

Middle Screens

Shovel Passes

Swing Passes



Quarterback Keepers




Starting series with play action and first down passes will open up the defense, but Michigan believes in bowling over and wearing down defenses over the course of four quarters. That worked well in Bo’s days, but the large reduction in scholarships, coupled with the scores of talented players spread throughout collegiate football, has leveled the playing field.

Admittedly, Bo was also stubborn on field goals. In the 1972 Michigan-Ohio State game Bo eschewed field goals believing he could punch it in on fourth and goal several times. Michigan couldn’t; Ohio State won 12-10.

Special teams are still an adventure, with the new place kicker missing 6 field goals this year, and only making three. The highest priorities for recruiting should be a place-kicker. Even one additional victory a year, such as could have happened with Appalachian State, may make the difference between a great season and a good season.

Michigan should also have a special teams coach, the lack of which shows special teams are not a priority. Frank Beemer at Virginia Tech has proven that special teams win games. Right now special teams are a divided responsibility on the Michigan coaching staff, leading to failures on the field.

Past deficiencies in tackling techniques have reemerged, sometimes by being out of position and sometimes by lack of conditioning.

The spread offense remains an enigma to the defense, but it’s not the players’ fault. Michigan plays an offensive style of football that is rapidly being eclipsed by mobile quarterbacks outside the Big Ten. No longer is the run being used to establish the pass, but the pass and the spread are used to establish the run. If you don’t practice against these quick offenses with skilled players on a daily basis, then it’s hard to defend them in a game.

Lloyd Carr is a wonderful ambassador for the University. But he seems to lack the passion, the hunger, the drive, the intensity, the will to win that is often the difference between success and failure. All too often the players are not well prepared for a game, and that is coaching.

Lloyd deserves to leave on top at a time of his choosing. He has earned that right, but may not get it. Sadly, it’s like watching The Last Harrah or Old School. The modern game of college football has passed Michigan by, and the alumni and fans are losing patience. Merchants, restaurants, and sports bars in Ann Arbor are suffering.

For what it’s worth, Lloyd Carr is not alone in this regard. Two great coaches, Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden, are also watching their teams slipping on the athletic field. Joe should have retired two years ago when Penn State ended up second in the nation, the only loss being a last second touchdown scored by Michigan.

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