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3:32 am EDT 67°F (19°C) in Battle Creek, MI
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In the update I made here this past January 2, I wondered openly whether the best coaching days of Michigan head football coach Lloyd Carr were behind him. After what happened yesterday at the Big House, I get the feeling that my suspicions from back then may indeed be correct. Notre Dame won a 17-10 game, adding to what seems like a string of defeats in big games for Michigan.
In Carr’s defense, I think he did a decent job of calling plays and managing the game (which are really the only two things a coach can do on game day). What absolutely stunk to high heaven was Michigan’s execution on offense, with the exception of a few series here and there; dropped passes and turnovers were pretty much the order of the day. Honestly, though, execution does come back to coaching one way or another — much as Dwight Eisenhower once famously said that the buck stopped in the White House during his presidency, the buck stops in Carr’s office in Schembechler Hall when it comes to Michigan football. Ultimately, he is responsible for the team’s performance, and today, the performance just didn’t cut it.
Quarterback Chad Henne was especially terrible, completing less than half of the passes he attempted and committing three turnovers that more or less took 14 Michigan points off the scoreboard. I mean, he even seemed to have trouble taking the snap when Michigan was threatening to score; on a third-and-goal from one foot outside the goal line in the fourth quarter, he bobbled the snap and lost the ball into the end zone, giving Notre Dame the ball on its own 20. Add that to an interception in the end zone in the first half, and another key fumble on Michigan’s final possession of the game, and you can see why Michigan lost. The other big factor responsible for the loss, outside of turnovers, was Michigan’s terrible red-zone conversion rate; several trips into the red zone only yielded two scores for the Wolverines. I mean, an offensive unit really has to put six points on the board on most of its trips into the red zone to win football games — it’s as simple as that. Admittedly, there were a couple pretty questionable calls that went against Michigan, but when you blow as many great chances as Michigan did, there is no way you can blame the officiating for the loss.
The defense played an excellent game, which perhaps wasn’t expected, and that’s what kept the game as close as it was. The special-teams play wasn’t horrible, but neither was it anything to write home about; a few very short punts and returns that were only so-so didn’t particularly help the cause.
I really liked one call Carr made that I bet a lot of people probably questioned: after Michigan scored to make it 17-10 with 3:47 to play, he chose a deep kick-off instead of the onside kick I think most people were expecting. If your defense can force a three-and-out down at the opposition’s 25 yard line, even if you have no timeouts, you can still get the ball back with about a minute and a half left in decent field position — whereas if you fail to recover the onside kick (which is pretty low-percentage anyway), you’ve just given your opponent the ball on your 45 yard line with an excellent chance to go get at least three more points and put the game out of reach. In fact, I would say Carr did better than Notre Dame’s Charlie Weis at clock management late in the game; Weis made a very curious play call on a third-and-10 with a little over two minutes to go, calling for a pass and running the risk of stopping the clock with an incompletion — which is exactly what happened. He could have taken 25 to 30 more seconds off the clock by calling a run on that play, even if it failed to pick up the first down.
The Big Ten did not acquit itself well in tough non-conference matchups, with Ohio State losing to Texas, 25-22, for many of the same reasons that Michigan lost (although to a somewhat lesser extent). It seemed like Ohio State had a whole bunch of trips into the red zone themselves, but the Buckeyes kept coming out with only field goals on most of them. They only committed one turnover, but that turnover turned into what would be the game-winning touchdown for Texas. By not converting a few of those red-zone opportunities into touchdowns, the Buckeyes let Texas keep hanging around close enough to the point where one big OSU mistake could be fatal, and that’s exactly how it turned out. Three Longhorn turnovers and a less-than-stellar performance by the Texas offense were the things that kept the game close, considering Ohio State’s offensive struggles.
Oh well, I guess it’s time for the Detroit Lions to totally suck later today against Green Bay in the opener of what will probably be another 5-11 or 6-10 season like we’re used to in Detroit. Play the Super Bowl at home? Yeah right, my ass. I may never see the franchise win another playoff game in my lifetime, at the rate things are going. Hey, we have a probable future Hall of Fame kicker in Jason Hanson, but what the hell good does that do when the rest of the team sucks ass?