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Monday, November 21, 2005

11/19/2005 - Michigan 21-25 Ohio State - 7-4, 5-3 Big Ten

Now, despite forcing myself away from this space until I could compose some semi-rational thoughts, comes the bile. It won't go away and I have to write something. I pre-apologize. There's little less seemly than the semi-coherent invective of a fan directed at a coach, but the camel got an anvil this year. I wish this was better, but since it's not in all caps and I retroactively removed all the swearing and (non-oblique) references to retards I declare a tenuous victory over emotion.

I'm not the kind of person to go around blathering about how I was OMG RIGHT. I wrote a lot of words this year. Random chance indicates that some of them are going to be right. But did it have to be this stuff?

When Wisconsin took the ball with around 4 minutes left and calmly marched for a winning touchdown, I said this:

So how about that strategic blunder?

Michigan allowed the worst possible thing to happen to them on Wisconsin's final drive: a touchdown with vanishingly little time on the clock. When the Badgers got the ball back Michigan should gone nuts with aggressive man to man and blitzing to prevent the 8-10 yard plays that Wisconsin got with frequency. They were aggressive up front with eight man fronts but the coverage they played behind it was soft and the corners and safeties were playing far off. When it became clear that Wisconsin was A) going to have more than enough time to do whatever they want and B) not going to punt, Michigan should have taken its timeouts and told Wisconsin that if they were going to score, they were going to score quickly. First and ten from the 24 was the tipping point, if not sooner. Passively watching Wisconsin drive down the field and getting the ball back with 29 seconds left is a recipe for defeat, and defeat is not Good Eats.
Our miraculous escape from the Penn State game did not prevent me from revisiting the topic:
What is the deal with that last drive?

I don't know. Robinson made some excellent throws but Michigan also played off, never blitzed until first and goal (except when they sent all of five guys on one play), and generally made things as easy on him as they could in an effort to not give up a big play. In doing so they repeated the mistake they made against Wisconsin by not adjusting their defense to a much more aggressive stance. Playing soft with that much time on the clock eats time, often preventing the offense from mounting a response drive. Michigan had 20 or 30 seconds against Wisconsin and just 50 against Penn State. Without the Breaston return they lose. The advantage of having the ball last in a close game is often overlooked and Michigan played in a way that immediately reduced their chances of getting a last possession.

Passivity also makes much less sense when the offense is going to go for it on fourth down. Allowing medium range passes without serious resistance when the opponent has four cracks at a first down instead of three is a tactical error since you're relying on the opponent to screw up an extra play. Given that Penn State had way too much time on the clock for it to pressure them in any way, the correct strategy in that situation was to increase your aggression, reducing the chances of each individual first down at the expense of increasing the chance of a big play.
When Iowa nearly did the same thing until Ferentz caught some Carr-itis of his own, I said this:
This was a wretched defensive performance. Reviewing the tape I kept thinking to myself "how did we win this game?" A large part of Tate's success was due to Michigan never using man coverage. We played so far off their receivers that the only time we actually covered them is when they went deep. ... This is the essence of bend-but-don't-break: sit back until your opponents screw up, if they screw up. Michigan blitzed two times (I don't count the delaying LB tactic as a blitz as the LB is the fourth rusher). Two! Even blitz-hating TMQ would find that excessive. You can count the instances of man coverage on one hand . Not coincidentally, you can count the instances of covered receivers on the other hand. ...

We had the good fortune to get a number of drive-killing Iowa mistakes and thus managed to hold them to 17 points, but Michigan's defensive strategy in this game loses it 8 out of 10 times. We relied on Iowa drops and penalties and failed stunt pickups to win this game, which is crazy considering that Iowa was the least penalized team in the league coming in and is generally regarded as one of the best coached teams in college football. A series of flukes conspired against them in this game, otherwise they put up 30+. ...

Yes, this seems viciously harsh for a game in which Iowa scored 17 points in regulation, but ask yourself: when Iowa got the ball back with two minutes to go, what did you think our chances of stopping them were?
Those things were all true, no matter how much I wanted them to be false. My cockeyed optimism got the better of me after Northwestern, though:
I submit that Lloyd Carr is working towards that sweet eight-track player by changing his habits built up over the decades.
No, he isn't. Despite getting immediate negative feedback on his punt-and-pray strategy no fewer than three times this year, we saw Garrett Rivas jog on to the field to attempt a pooch punt 110,000 people knew was coming. The punt was quickly followed by a Charmin-soft zone that ceded the 22 meaningless yards gained in three plays and a touchdown scored without any time for Michigan to attempt a late-game drive of its own. Just like Wisconsin. Just like Penn State minus 30 seconds. Just like Iowa minus one point. A strong case can be made that Lloyd Carr and his coaching staff learn slower than laboratory mice, who generally figure out that the electric shock button is bad after one or two trials.

So I hope you'll forgive me when I say that with Ohio State on the 50 yard line and the deja vu hitting its most overwhelming point, I uttered a deadly serious declaration of hatred not directed at anyone in red. I was means and opportunity away from ending up on Fanopticon under a headline better reserved for English soccer fans. I sat there stupefied at Michigan's passivity, stupefied at its willingness to let Ohio State dictate the pace of the game, stupefied at the utter incompetence of it all. The entire year had led up to this futile point when the coaching staff consciously decided to use the same strategy that failed every time it was pressed into service to date, including the most recent Ohio State drive. In doing so they threw away every effort the players made to make up for a coaching staff that was damn sure that they were right no matter the copious evidence presented by the prosecution.

I give up. Despite the natterings about negativity from OMG PROGRAM INSIDERZ who think that any criticism that doesn't come from their mouths is null and void, this space has tried to hew a middle ground between those who are willing to blame Lloyd Carr for everything and those willing to blame him for nothing. No more. After watching Carr fail to learn a goddamned thing after ten years of the same thing over and over again, it's clear that we'd be better served with Algernon. This is a painful admission for me, since every year I've scoffed at those who think that Carr is mediocre to worse coach. The record speaks for itself, I said.

Well, yeah, it does.