Friday, August 24, 2007

The Lloyd Carr Era: 2000

As the beginning of Lloyd Carr's 13th, and perhaps final, season as Michigan head coach draws nearer, I feel it is appropriate to summarize and analyze each season he has been the head honcho in Ann Arbor.

2000: The Defense drops the ball

Despite losing Tom Brady to graduation, the 2000 edition of Michigan football returned key components at the skill positions - RB Anthony Thomas and WRs David Terrell and Marquise Walker - and the offensive line - LT Jeff Backus and LG Steve Hutchinson. It was assumed that with Brady gone, the QB job now solely belonged to Drew Henson. That was assuming too much apparently, because redshirt freshman John Navarre would end up being the QB for the first three games, with Henson not even sniffing the field until the team had already lost a game (to be fair, Henson was a bit dinged up as well).

Things started out so promising, too. Navarre threw for four touchdowns and the offense racked up 554 yards in a 42-7 opening win over Bowling Green. Anthony Thomas and freshman Chris Perry both went over 100 yards rushing. Navarre threw three more touchdowns the next week in a 38-7 win over Rice. Although Bowling Green and Rice weren't really all that good, Michigan still looked solid and was ranked #3 headed into their first major test of the year, out on the west coast against #14 UCLA at the
Rose Bowl.

The conditions in Pasadena were horrible; the temperature at kickoff was 103 degrees, and rose to as high as 110 during the game. Still though, Anthony Thomas was dominant, rushing for 182 yards on 24 carries. The Wolverines staked a 20-10 lead late in the 3rd quarter on a Chris Perry touchdown. UCLA QB Ryan McCann marched the Bruins right down the field though, com
pleting 5 of 7 passing attempts on a 10 play scoring drive to cut the Michigan lead to 20-17 before the end of the third quarter.

In the fourth, the Michigan defense - not accustomed to the brutal southern California heat - wilted. UCLA marched down the field again, this time 85 yards in only 7 plays. A missed extra point left UCLA's lead at 23-20, but John Navarre - who finished a brutal 8-28 passing, effectively surrendering the job to Drew Henson for the remainder of the season - threw an interception with 1:28 remaining, sealing the 23-20 loss. Hayden Epstein was horrible placekicking too; he missed an extra point and two fourth quarter field goals, including a 24-yard chipshot on Michigan's penultimate possession that would've tied the game.

Things started out dubiously the next week as well, with the Wolverines falling into a hole against #19 Illinois, the same team that had stunned Michigan at the Big House in 1999. Epstein's kicking issues really hurt UM in this one; he had a blocked punt that set up a short Illinois touchdown, and missed another short field goal.

The Illini scored on the opening drive of the second half, extending their lead to 21-7. The onus now fell on Drew Henson, who replaced Navarre near the end of the first half; he would not relinquish the QB duties for the rest of the year. The junior quarterback responded nicely, immediately leading a much-needed scoring drive, capping it with an 8-yard touchdown run of his own on 3rd and 7. Late in the 3rd quarter, Illinois put a field goal on the board, taking a 24-14 lead into the fourth.

Right off the bat in the 4th, Henson hit Terrell for a 57 yard touchdown, getting Michigan to within 3. The Illini responded once again though, as Kurt Kittner - the QB who led the comeback in Ann Arbor the previous year - threw a 17 yard touchdown to put UI up 31-21. After a short kickoff, UM took over at midfield and quickly went down and scored again, this time on a 15 yard run by Chris Perry. On the next Illinois drive, Michigan's defense finally made a play, as linebacker Victor Hobson forced a fumble, giving UM the ball at Illinois's at the 26 yard line. Three Anthony Thomas runs later, the Wolverines had a 35-31 lead with 2:30 to go. Illinois mounted a drive, but Michigan's defense once again forced a turnover, this time on a fumble off a screen pass that was r
ecovered by Larry Foote. The win gave Michigan their 19th consecutive victory in the Big Ten opener.

Defense was the name of the game the next week in Ann Arbor, with Michigan playing host to Wisconsin. The Badgers had been to back to back Rose Bowls, but Ron Dayne was gone, destined for NFL bust-dom. Wisconsin was still formidable though, ranked 17th headed into the Big House. The first half came to a close on a field goal by Michigan kicker Jeff Del Verne, who was replacing Epstein while he struggled (of course Del Verne missed a 29 yarder in this game as well); Del Verne's field goal tied the score at 3. He added another in the 3rd, giving UM a 6-3 lead headed to the fourth.

Wisconsin finally got their offense in gear early in the 4th, marching 71 yards in 13 plays and punching it in for a touchdown and a 10-6 lead. On Michigan's next drive, Henson and Terrell took over. On 3rd and 10 at their own 21, Henson hit Terrell for 21 yards. On 3rd and 8 at their own 44, Henson hit Terrell for 20 yards. And a few plays later, Henson threw up a jump ball for Terrell, who soared above two Badger defenders for the game-winning touchdown. Wisconsin tried to tie the game, but with 2:42 to go, the game-tying field goal sailed wide left. The Wolverines prevailed, 13-10.

What happened to Michigan the next week was one of my most painful memories as a fan, and the first time I really questioned Lloyd Carr's coaching. After the offense was unstoppable and
dominant in the first half at Purdue, staking the team to a 28-10 halftime lead, they were bogged down and ineffective in the second half. David Terrell left the game injured, but with Drew Henson, Marquise Walker and especially Anthony Thomas, there's no excuse for the offense going from 28 points in one half to 3 in the 2nd. With the offense MIA, the defense folded, and Purdue found themselves down 31-29. They drove the ball late, but Travis Dorsch missed a late field goal, and it seemed like all was lost. Michigan got the ball late enough where ONE first down would've sealed the win. Instead, disgraceful playcalling ran only 19 seconds off the clock, and gave Drew Brees and Purdue the ball back, and with a second chance, Purdue didn't miss this time. Brees drove them down, and Dorsch connected from 33 yards out with four seconds left, giving Purdue a 32-31 win - and the inside track to the Big Ten title.

The defense spent the we
ek under the burner, and came out gangbusters the next two weeks. A total avalanche was unleashed at the Big House against Indiana, and in the end the final score was 58-0. The defense then delivered its finest performance, beating Michigan State 14-0. In the game, the Wolverines forced an MSU turnover after the Spartans got to the UM 2-yard line. Three separate times in the fourth quarter, MSU drove into Michigan territory, and three times they were turned away on fourth down. UM's defense recorded six sacks in the game.

Unfortunately, all the good will and positive press they garnered in those two weeks was squandered away in one fateful night two weeks later in Evanston, Illinois, against who else - those damned Northwestern Wildcats.

Randy Walker (rest his soul) had some magic brewing in Evanston with the Wildcats, as they were ranked 21st with Michigan coming to town. What happened on that field on November 4th, 2000 would radically alter the way Big Ten football was played. Since its inception in 1896, the Big Ten had been known as a conference based on a stout defense and a plodding, punishing, grind-it-out running game. But what Michigan and Northwestern did on this night was an embarrassment to everything the Big Ten stood for; I can only imagine what Bo was thinking when he watched this game. Northwestern racked up 654 yards of total offense, while Michigan accumulated 535. In the end the Wolverines sa
w a 28-10 and 42-29 lead evaporate, mainly due to a lack of simple fundamentals. Instead of hitting Northwestern quarterback Zak Kustok when the Wildcats ran an option play, Michigan defenders were juked and faked out all game long, to the tune of 332 Northwestern rushing yards. And to make things worse, Michigan still almost escaped. Anthony Thomas - who ran for 199 yards on the day - was running the clock out, but a Northwestern defender somehow got his hand on the ball, I guess, and Thomas just coughed it up randomly, with nobody really close (as you can see). The Wildcats scored with 20 seconds left, and won the game 54-51. I was thoroughly disgusted; this was not the Michigan team I had grown to love. To score 51 points and lose is entirely unacceptable. The hangover from this loss carried over to the next week. Michigan looked very sloppy against Penn State, but luckily PSU was just bad in 2000, and Anthony Thomas managed to bounce back from the Northwestern fumble, rushing for 171 yards. It was his 21st 100-yard rushing game of his career, eclipsing Tyrone Wheatley's school record. The Wolverines scored a very late garbage touchdown in the 33-11 win, their fourth straight over Penn State.

In retrospect now, I look back at the 2000 Ohio State game, and I get sad. The actual result of the game was great: A 31-12 Michigan lead shrank to 31-26 before Drew Henson's signature moment - a naked bootleg on 4th down at the one yard line for the clinching score with 1:18 left. Michigan won 38-26, but in a way, they paid a price. You see, Ohio State was ranked #12 headed into the game; Michigan was 19th. When it was over, once again, John Cooper had lost to Michigan, despite having a higher ranked team. A 2-10-1 record against Michigan, academic and disciplinary issues off the field, and the fact that in 13 years at Ohio State, 10 of 43 losses came to Michigan all led up to John Cooper being sacked as OSU football coach on January 2nd, 2001. As Michigan fans, we all know what has followed since then.

Anyway...the Citrus Bowl. Michigan technically won a share of the Big Ten title, but since Purdue beat them, the Boilers went to their first Rose Bowl since 1966. So Michigan got to face Auburn in Orlando on Ne
w Year's Day, and for the second time in three years, Anthony Thomas won Citrus Bowl MVP, rushing for 182 yards and 2 touchdowns on 32 carries. On his touchdown in the 2nd quarter, the A-Train broke Jamie Morris's school record for rushing yards, and would end his career with 4,472 yards - a record that will be broken in 2007 by Mike Hart. He gave the ball to his wife in the stands after the touchdown. David Terrell was also playing in his final game for Michigan, as he would leave one year early for the NFL. He caught 4 passes for 100 yards and a touchdown in the Citrus Bowl. Also, although nobody knew it at the time, it was also Drew Henson's final game for Michigan. He would leave Michigan in a very bad position after the season, forgoing his final year of eligibility to pursue an ill-fated baseball career. In his final game, he completed 15 of 20 passes for 294 yards and two touchdowns.

Michigan won the Citrus Bowl 31-28, but the losses of Henson, Thomas, Terrell, and Hutchinson and Backus from the offensive line meant Michigan's offense had to be totally rebuilt, and considering the difficulties the defense went through in 2000, 2001 would prove to be a very trying season for Michigan fans.

Lloyd Carr vs. Ohio State: 5-1
Lloyd Carr vs. Michigan State: 4-2
Lloyd Carr vs. Notre Dame: 2-1
Lloyd Carr in Bowl Games: 4-2

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