Monday, January 02, 2006

UM football continues trek to mediocrity

The Michigan football team lost a close battle to Nebraska in the Alamo Bowl thus ending a poor season by Michigan standards. For some reason unbeknownst to me, Tyler Ecker chose to run out of bounds on what could’ve been the greatest play in college football history. He had three options as he sprinted down the field.

1). Run towards the left which would’ve been away from the only two Nebraska players that could’ve made a play and turn it into a sprint to the goal line. That would’ve had a 40% chance of success.

2). Pitch it to Steve Breaston who almost certainly would’ve scored. That would’ve been a 100% chance of success.

3). Run straight towards the two Nebraska defenders and then dive out of bounds. That had a 0% chance of success.

Ecker chose option three. I can pretty much guarantee you that Breaston was screaming for Ecker to pitch the ball to him so Ecker clearly knew Breaston was there. Ecker also knew that diving out of bounds would’ve ended the game. I hate to single someone out for making a ridiculous mistake but I can’t rationalize what Ecker did in any way. It was ridiculous. However, the last play was one lateral to Chad Henne from ending in even worse fashion. The following is a quote by Chad Henne taken from the Detroit News. "I stayed back there in case anybody wanted to throw back to me and let me throw it down the field. Jason tried, but Nebraska kept pressuring him."  Well, I for one am glad nobody pitched it to Henne because Henne apparently thought it was legal to throw two forward passes on the same play.

I can’t say that I’m surprised by Michigan’s 7-5 record. Even though Michigan has routinely finished with three and four losses over the last ten years, the five loss barrier has been treated as an impossibility by a large portion of the Michigan fan base. Michigan’s talent alone has been enough to keep that from happening but eventually, with the lack of innovation by the coaching staff, the “bad” season was going to come. It just turned out that season was this season. It would be a mistake to think that all of the bad things that happened this season were a result of everything going wrong at the same time. It would also be a mistake to think that this year was an anomaly and that Michigan will return to form next season.

This year’s Michigan team was not much different than the average Michigan team over the past ten years. There is a very good chance that Michigan will lose somewhere between three and five games next year as well. The coaching staff has become totally in effective in preparing Michigan for big games. Michigan has failed in the majority of its big games recently and that failure has become more prominent over the last few seasons. The lack of innovation on offense against Tennessee in the 2002 Citrus Bowl was ridiculous. The lack of preparation to combat USC’s constant blitzing in the 2003 Rose Bowl was embarrassing especially when you consider that Lloyd Carr’s response to why Michigan couldn’t handle USC’s blitzing was something to the effect of “honestly, we didn’t devote any practice time to block USC’s blitz because we didn’t think they would blitz.” The lack of game-planning to stop Vince Young from scrambling in the 2004 Rose Bowl exposed Michigan’s defense to a National audience as being outdated and ineffective. This was particularly troublesome considering Michigan played a team much like Texas in the regular season finale against Troy Smith and Ohio St. Smith single handedly dominated Michigan’s defense and should’ve given the UM coaching staff a head start in game planning for Texas. Instead, it appeared that the Michigan coaching staff learned absolutely nothing from the Ohio St. game. The lack of a killer instinct against Ohio St. in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005 speaks of a head coach who’s scared to make a mistake. Even in 2003 when Michigan won, Lloyd Carr was far too conservative. Most Lloyd defenders argue that kneeling at the half was the right call because Michigan had control of the game. Well, Michigan had control of the game this year too and we saw how that worked out.

Lloyd Carr’s paranoia has crippled his ability to keep Michigan in the upper echelon of college football.  Michigan still has the talent. Michigan’s overall recruiting over the last 5-10 years is among the top five in the nation.  This year’s team is no different. Five and four star prospects litter the roster. Despite the coaching staff’s desire for Michigan to be a winner, they don’t hold themselves accountable enough. They blame too many things on officiating, surprises from the opponent, one-play mistakes and a plethora of other external circumstances. The Wolverines don’t have the coaching on offense or defense to compete with the elite teams in college football. However, they do have the players. The loss to Nebraska was no big deal. I was definitely surprised by the loss considering the talent differential. It doesn’t make anything worse than it already was. In fact, this five loss season doesn’t make anything worse than it already was either. The reality was that Michigan was perennially underachieving for the majority of the last decade. Because there is so much pride in being a Michigan person (fan, coach or player) nobody wanted to admit it. For a lot of people, 2005 marked the decline of the program. The reality is that the program was in a decline a long time ago. For people that knew that already, this season was no big surprise. I am one of those people. Now I’m forced to take the team and program at face value.

This is a team with a lot of talent that can beat most teams on any given day. However, this is also a team that lacks sufficient leadership that could also lose to any team that’s average or better. As long as that’s the case, I have no choice but to lower my expectations and be happy with 7+ wins and a bowl appearance. I have no problem with that. There are countless other programs that have those expectations. My expectations used to be based on what the average expectations would be considering the talent level of the program. Expecting that has led to miserable college football season after miserable college football season. Now it’s obvious to me that those expectations need to be changed.

Whereas I used to expect Michigan to win every game that they “should” win, it would be more beneficial to just be happy when Michigan wins regardless of the opponents. It’s easier said than done though. You can’t just change what you believe. I’ll never cease to believe that Michigan should be a perennial top five team with its talent. However, the Lloyd Carr factor negates that feeling. My goal is to enter next season with no expectations other than rooting for Michigan to win. I’m starting to think that it would do me well to stop following recruiting. The fact that I know Michigan wastes talent and matches up favorably with virtually every D-1 school makes Michigan’s underachievement obvious to me. If I didn’t know that Michigan was underachieving, then I could probably enjoy the season more. I could stop looking at losses as being “bad” or “underachieving” and I could just look at them as losses. Sometimes, too much knowledge can make life miserable. In some situations, the more ignorant you are, the more peaceful you can be. I guess that means I’ll be trying to become ignorant about Michigan football. The fact that Michigan’s loss to Nebraska was no big deal to me makes me hopeful about my future as a Michigan fan.  


Anonymous said...

I haven't read your article yet, but I was waiting for your take. The bottom line is UM is 7-7 in their last 14 games. And...there will be no changes. Miami gets their ass handed to them by LSU and overhauls their staff. Somebody had to pay, right? Not us. Not the "UM way". Don't know how to finish. I see all these teams pulling out the stops in the bowl game, but we continue to play it close to the vest when we don't have anything to play for. Why does Gutierrez hold if they don't have a fake in their playbook? When was the last time our linebackers had any lateral speed (probably Jones/Gold in 97'). This is all really discouraging, especially after watching OSU manhandle ND today. They will be top 5 preseason. Us? Same team with a tougher schedule equals more of the same.

Anonymous said...

Great take, Ihave book marked in my favorites. I have to disagree on one point, however. Michigan does not have the talent of elite teams primarily in speed. They lack technic, stamina, and some of these guys are not playing in posistions that optimize their talent. For example Gabe watson and Massey would have been better suited as Offensive Linemen, P. Woods cannot play in space and as Matt stated have poor lateral movement. He should have been a rush defensive end. Max Martin who is a running back would have been better suited as a Linebacker. We have one proven broken field runner Breaston. OSU, WV, Georgia, Miami, LSU, and TX all have greater team speed than Michigan. Mediocre, paranoia, status quo, inflexible, and out of touch. These are all LLoyd Carr traits. The man needs to be replaced the sooner the better.

Anonymous said...

I knew they were going to lose when it was 28-17. That is really sickening. Since I don't live in Michigan, have only lived there 18 months out of the last 13 years, the fact I went to two Division I schools with good and great football teams, and the fact I'm getting tired of this shit...makes me hesitate at the moment. I'm not jumping ship because I grew up with this institution but I'm getting to the point where following this program is counterproductive on a number of levels. I'm a good fan; I don't even demand anything but for them to take a hard look at the program and consider changing a few things.

But it's getting old and so am I. I have already dispatched Michigan Basketball for my Terps and I did it pretty quickly and without pain which would surprise people who have known me since I was young. But I did it because I had no connection to the current program and my school actually made advances to secure a fan's heart through smart and effective internal moves and their play. Maryland doesn't go to the final four every year but they sure as hell put the best product they can on the floor and they are well coached. It's ok if your not in the Championship every year but getting embarrassed when you have all the tools necessary to win it is unacceptable.

I know this is a long story but it is a fact of life for some fans in my shoes. Others will switch over to MSU, OSU, or someone else in the coming years if this continues. I hope that day never comes but the program has fallen a long way and it's really very sad. Maybe the athletic department will change their tune if say, 60k showed up for the opener next year.

Anonymous said...

Rumors on next HC getting stronger from various sources. Former UM Lineman Mike Trgovac, currently the defensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers. Within the next two years, if not sooner.

Jake said...

Anonymous, the talent I'm referring to is the talent that comes in from high school. Lloyd obviously lacks player development skills which in turn hurt the talent on the actual team but 99% of D-1 coaches would love to have Michigan's recruits. Regardless, Lloyd is clearly outdated.

Matt. S, as much as I want Martin to look outside UM program for the next coach, he could do worse than Cam Cameron or Mike Trgovac. The Panther D sure looked good yesterday.

Lombaowski, I bet it's been great being a Maryland fan over the last seven years. A lot of people have forgotten this but before Ed Martin and a couple bums like Webber ruined the program, UM was as good as any program. I know you remember that. It's too bad you had to jump ship. Bad things happen. The program will turn around.

See ya,



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