Apparently Kirk Herbstreit doesn’t understand Michigan football as well as I thought he did. While I generally respect Herbstreit’s unbiased analysis, I think his standing as an Ohio State alumna got in the way of sound reasoning on his Columbus-based radio show this week. Herbstreit said of Michigan’s current chances of beating Ohio State, “If those two teams were to play right now, just the way they're playing, I don't even think it would be close. Ohio State not only wins that game the way they're playing right now, maybe by a few scores.”
Herbstreit has apparently missed out on one of the primary characteristics of highly talented, highly ranked, Lloyd Carr-coached Michigan teams. Whereas Ohio State goes for the jugular against any and all competition regardless of whether they’re already up by four touchdowns or not, Michigan just wants to win the game. Sure, Mario Manningham’s absence has affected Michigan’s offense but not nearly as much as it appears. Carr knew that he could beat Penn State, Iowa, and Northwestern by simply playing smash-mouth football. To take anything away from those games, other than frustration as fans for not going full throttle, would not only be misguided but a huge mistake. If Northwestern scored 30 points against Michigan last Saturday, the Michigan offense would’ve scored 50. Michigan didn’t need to throw, they didn’t want to throw, and they didn’t throw. Why they do this is beyond me. Ohio State doesn’t do it. USC doesn’t do it. Notre Dame doesn’t do it. Nobody (except Michigan) does it.
Against “weaker” competition, Michigan almost never attacks weaknesses unless those weaknesses just happen to be what Michigan’s game-plan already entails. Against highly rated teams (like Notre Dame earlier this year), Michigan almost always (not USC ’04 or Tennessee ’02) comes out on all cylinders. I don’t know why the Michigan offensive coaches feel the need to do this. It causes losses to weaker teams. It’s frustrating and the tradeoff of not running up the score compared to the amount of unnecessary losses to weaker teams is not even close to being worth it. One thing it isn’t, though, is an indicator of how Michigan will fare against a really good team. That’s where Herbstreit is mistaken. Michigan doesn’t respect Northwestern or Iowa or Penn State. That’s why Michigan doesn’t adjust its game-plan for those teams. As much lip service as Carr and Co. gives to the media about the greatness of Ball St’s punter, the reality is that if Michigan isn’t playing Ohio State or Notre Dame, or any other highly rated team, the coaches don’t even need to know who the opponent is. On the other hand, Carr “fears” Ohio State and Notre Dame because of how many losses he has suffered to them. That’s why they came out smokin’ against Notre Dame and that’s why they’ll show up with their “A” game for Ohio State.
I know a lot of Michigan fans are concerned because of how Michigan has played over the last month or so. It “looks” like they’re struggling in many areas. The truth is that they’re just waiting it out until the Ohio State game. They want everyone healthy for The Game. Lloyd Carr is the most conservative football coach I have ever seen. He is doing nothing right now to change my mind on that. His goal is to win, regardless of score, by expending as little effort as possible. Right or wrong, this is what we have to live with. Just don’t think that has any bearing on the outcome of The Game. I’m surprised Herbstreit missed the boat on this one.