Lloydball plus Risks
I’ve often use the term “Lloydball” in my posts here but I have rarely, if ever, used that term in a positive light. The truth is that Lloydball is not a good thing in its most rudimentary form. Just about every loss Michigan has suffered in the post National Championship era has been a result of the imperfections of Lloydball. Whether it’s sitting on leads or being afraid to make mistakes, Michigan has let many games slip away due to a lack of innovation. There are many characteristics/features of Lloydball. In fact, there’s too many to list them all. Lloydball is a hybrid term that dually defines Lloyd Carr’s coaching philosophy and everything that his tenure has yielded. For instance, Carr’s refusal to change Defensive Coordinators for eight years after the National Championship is an often overlooked characteristic of Lloydball.
The irony of Lloydball is that without it, Michigan would not have won the National Championship in 1997. Without it, Michigan may not have beaten Notre Dame on Saturday. Lloydball is essential for Michigan to have success. However, it is only one element of the equation necessary for success. The other element is risk. Lloydball alone is a recipe for heartbreak and disaster. Lloydball plus risks is what yielded a National Championship and what set up Michigan’s dominating win in South Bend. Michigan repeatedly went deep after Notre Dame committed to stopping the run early. Michigan’s game-plan was to establish the run. That is, and always will be, the main objective of Lloydball. The problem comes when Michigan refuses to attempt big plays downfield in the face of a stacked line. When faced with a stacked line the correct line of action then becomes to unleash the passing game. That constitutes a “risk”. Michigan was destroyed by Tennessee in the 2001 Citrus Bowl because Lloyd Carr used Lloydball with no risks. Tennessee had the premiere defensive line in college football. John Navarre was a young, inexperienced quarterback. Carr was afraid that Navarre would make mistakes in the passing game. So, Carr proceeded to run the ball at the immovable object that was the Vols defensive line. I’m not saying that Michigan would’ve won the game if it took risks. Clearly, it would have not. But, in its most rudimentary form, Lloydball is only good enough to beat bad teams. It will never be good enough to beat a good team on the road which is why Michigan hadn’t entered the Big Ten season without a loss in six years.
The biggest disadvantage of Lloydball without risks is that it inhibits Michigan’s talent advantage. Michigan has had superior talent negated in big games against Washington, Oregon, Notre Dame, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Nebraska and UCLA in recent years. What good does it do to recruit a blazing fast wide receiver with an NFL frame if that player gets put on the back burner in big games? This past week against Notre Dame, Lloyd Carr managed to use his players in the best way possible while employing his tried and partly true strategy of Lloydball. Mario Manningham used the athleticism that made him a coveted high school recruit. Chad Henne unleashed the throws that made him one of the top high school quarterbacks in the country. In the off-season, Carr emphasized a shift in OL conditioning as well as a shift in blocking schemes. He fired Jim Herrmann and brought in a young and innovative defensive coordinator in Ron English. Each of these elements represents a “risk” as Carr sees it. Allowing a quarterback to drop back too many times on the road is a “risk”. Firing a coach/friend is a “risk”. Changing blocking schemes is a “risk”.
Granted, the players had a heck of a lot to do with the win on Saturday. Henne, Hart, Manningham, the OL, the defensive line and the linebackers all played significantly better than last year. While Carr deserves a good amount of credit for adjusting and taking “risks”, if the players played the same way last year against Notre Dame as they did this past Saturday, Michigan would’ve won. That said, the game-plan was brilliant. Michigan rushed Brady Quinn constantly from the first snap to the last. The coaching staff’s emphasis in the off-season on better tackling and being in position was on display. Michigan made sure tackle after sure tackle to prevent the much dreaded YAC (yards after catch). Carr and Mike DeBord even made adjustments after their initial plan to run left was thwarted by Notre Dame’s desire to stack the left side. The zone blocking schemes allow for Hart to have selectivity as to which holes he chooses. Hart is good enough to switch gears if a play is over pursued by the defense. The blocking scheme fits perfectly with Hart’s superior vision and it showed on Saturday.
While the risks resulted in points and defensive stands for U of M, Lloydball was brilliantly milking the clock. I loved every run in the second half. Whether it resulted in a one yard gain or ten, I was fully satisfied with Carr’s approach to the second half. Notre Dame could not stop the run. Hart was good for a minimum of three and four yards every carry. If it weren’t for the risks, Michigan would’ve been running that same offense without the lead and all hell would’ve broken loose among the fan-base once again. The difference between a brilliant game-plan and a terrible game-plan in this instance is actually quite small. If Carr doesn’t take risks, Michigan’s game-plan is as bad as it gets and Carr is interfering with Michigan’s chances of success. When Michigan takes risks, Carr can use his belief system of run the ball and control the clock the way it was meant to be used. There is still a place for that game-plan in college football today. It just has to be accompanied by a desire to use superior athletes to score. Running an offensive entirely based on protecting a lead does absolutely no good if there is no lead. The “risks” get the lead. Lloydball take care of the lead. If Lloydball is employed first, then Michigan will continue to disappoint. If Michigan attacks, then Lloydball will be the lead protector it was meant to be. In 1997, fans got to see Lloydball plus risks. In the nine years since, (with the exception of 1999 and 2003) fans have seen an unhealthy dose of Lloydball sans risk. Even though Wisconsin and Minnesota might be a bit down this year, these next two games will go a long way in determining whether Carr has figured it out or if Saturday was just the case of “luck” finally going against the Irish.
First Hand Account of Michigan’s Glorious Victory
My experience in South Bend was unbelievable. I feel for my two cousins, Andy and Todd, who are big Notre Dame fans. They woke up early and drove to South Bend with me to experience what they thought would surely end in a Notre Dame victory. It couldn’t have been fun for them to watch but I appreciated their company. Although, Andy’s company only lasted a little over a quarter before he was so enraged that he left his seat for two hours. Big props to my dawg from UMtailgate.com. I had the pleasure of meeting him on Saturday. He sat behind me at the game and it was enjoyable to have someone as passionate as I am to share in the joy of Michigan’s monumental victory. He also whippped out a king kong sized version of one of mgoblog's shirts appropriately titled, "Notre Dame: Returning to Glory Since 1993". Also, I’d like to shout out to Nick from Stadium and Main for writing some good stuff in the aftermath of Saturday’s victory.
As for the game itself, the Michigan section was alive and well. It felt like our section was louder than the rest of the stadium combined but I know that it didn’t translate on television from talking with people who watched the game at home. Prescott Burgess’ interception return on the second play of the game threw the Michigan fans into a frenzy. It was unbelievable. I kept yelling, “that never happens!” over and over again. In fact, that was the theme of the day. I found myself saying, “that never happens!” after seemingly every play. There were so many things that happened on Saturday that haven’t happened in ages. Michigan punished Brady Quinn. Michigan completed long touchdown passes. It was unbelievable. It almost seemed like the team was possessed for sixty minutes. Obviously, I’m hoping there was no possession and it was just a reflection of this year’s talent and coaching.
Halftime was such an interesting experience. I left like I had just taken one of two final exams. I was part relieved and part concerned. Notre Dame’s touchdown drive at the end of the first half was far too easy. I had visions of that happening for the entire thirty minutes of the second half. A UM fan come up to me in line in the bathroom and said, “YOU CAN’T GIVE UP THAT LAST DRIVE”. He was so pissed. He knew (or at least he thought he knew) that Notre Dame’s offense would eventually wake up. I must have passed 100 Michigan fans at halftime and I didn’t see one fan smiling. It was all business. Michigan fans have been through so much disappointment that you will never see premature celebration or overconfidence except for the drunk dude that was making fun of Charlie Weis, calling for the double reverse, and proclaiming victory in the second quarter at the ire of all Michigan fans in the section. I will say that those apprehensions disappeared in a hurry as the Michigan team that came out of the tunnel in the second half was the exact same team that came to start the game. That is a good sign for things to come. Michigan was excellent all day long. That decreases the likelihood that Saturday was a fluke. Time will tell, but once again, “it’s great to be a Michigan Wolverine!”