Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Lloyd Carr Era: 2001

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.

2001: The Catch, The Clock, and The Scarlet Curtain

Heading into the 2001 season, there were a lot of questions surrounding Michigan football. Essentially the entire offense had to be replaced. John Navarre was the QB, but Drew Henson's departure stung badly. Anthony Thomas, holder of so many rushing records, was gone. Chris Perry rushed for 417 yards as a freshman, but he would split carries with B.J. Askew. David Terrell, Michigan's leading receiver in 1999 and 2000, split early for the NFL. Marquise Walker was the #1 returning receiver, catching 49 passes for 699 and 4 touchdowns in 2000. But the left side of the offensive line, Jeff Backus and Steve Hutchinson, was gone, and at Michigan, it begins and ends with the offensive line.

Still though, the Wolverines entered 2001 with a preseason ranking of 10. They looked a bit sketchy in a 31-13 opening win over Miami-Ohio, but that was to expected, breaking in a brand new offense. After the opener the Wolverines had another date on the West Coast, this time at Washington. I was so infuriated after this game, because it defined the phrase "giving the game away". Washington's offense didn't score a single touchdown in the game, and yet they scored 17 fourth quarter points - their touchdowns coming on a blocked field goal and an interception return - to beat Michigan 23-18. If the UCLA game didn't do it in 2000, it was this game that really made me hate Michigan going out to the west coast to play against the Pac-10.

To be honest, 2001 was a dull season. I think the tragic events of September 11th just kind of put a negative spin o
n sports for me in the latter half of 2001, because I just couldn't get into it. Despite not having my heart in it, there were some moments in the 2001 season that stand out.

One was the Big Ten opener, the final revenge against Illinois and their pesky quarterback, Kurt Kittner. The Wolverines pounded Illinois at the Big House 45-20, two years after Kittner had stunned the Michigan Stadium crowd with that fourth quarter comeback. As pathetic as it sounds, this win turned out to be over the eventual Big Ten champions.

The Wolverines shut out Penn State 20-0 in Happy Valley the next week, the first ti
me Penn State had been shutout at home since 1965. It marked the 5th straight win for Michigan over the Nittany Lions.

The play of the year for the Wolverines occurred two weeks later in Iowa City against the Hawkeyes, when Marquise Walker made perhaps the greatest, most acrobatic catch any Wolverine has ever made. Oh, and Michigan won 32-26.

The win over Iowa put UM at 4-0 in the Big Ten, a great spot to be in. But what happe
ned next week in East Lansing remains to this day one of the most disgraceful things I've EVER seen in any sport. Before I get to ranting, let me preface it with this: Michigan did not play well against Michigan State, and one could argue that they didn't deserve to win the game. T.J. Duckett plowed through UM's defense for 211 rushing yards. John Navarre played a very poor game, throwing interceptions on back to back series to the same Spartan player, turning a 17-14 lead into a 20-17 deficit. After taking a 24-20 lead, Michigan bailed MSU out with two 15-yard penalties on State's final drive.

And still, despite all that, Michigan State cheated to win the football game.

MSU quarterback Jeff Smoker, who was sacked a DOZEN times on the day, got MSU to Michigan's 3-yard line with 17 seconds left, when he spiked the ball to stop the clock. On second down, Smoker tried to run the ball in, but was stopped at the one yard line. Now, on such a play where the ball is so close to the goalline, and the quarterback tries to run, there are bodies everywhere, players all over the place. So once Smoker was stopped, MSU was in trouble. Without any timeouts, the clock was running, and they had to spike the ball one more time. Their offense scrambled to get set on the line of scrimmage, desperate for one final chance. As Smoker rushed to get under ce
nter to get the snap and spike, the game clock went something like this: "3...2...1...1." The MSU timekeeper (infamously known now as "Spartan Bob") had stopped the clock at one second, giving Smoker time to spike the ball and give the Spartans one final chance. Now, the officiating crew is supposed to keep time on the field as well, but Big Ten referees, especially in football, are notoriously incompetent. Smoker could've moonwalked to the line, and Spartan Bob would've made sure his beloved team had one more play.

Now, I have good friends who go to Michigan State. Two of my favorite people in the world are current students there, including the person I consider my best friend. But this is one topic I will never concede to them, and I lose respect for MSU and their fanbase anytime a Michigan State fan tries to convince me that MSU didn't cheat to win. Whenever I mention to a State fan that the Big Ten changed the timekeeping rules starting in the next season, designating a neutral official to keep the time instead of someone from the home school, State fan always buries his head in the sand.

As if that wasn't bad enough, Michigan State offensive tackle Steve Stewart essentially ripped off the jersey of Mic
higan defensive end Larry Stevens, who was about to sack Smoker to end the game. Instead of calling a holding penalty, the officials swallowed their whistles, allowing Smoker to throw a touchdown to T.J. Duckett on the final play, giving Michigan State a 26-24 win. I had respect for Michigan State University before this day, but after watching them screw Michigan right to their faces, I have never forgiven them (and since MSU hasn't beaten Michigan since, I don't think Lloyd Carr's forgiven them either).

Despite, the setback, the Wolverines bounced back with a 31-10 win over Minnesota and a 20-17 win at Wisconsin on a Hayden Epstein field goal with 10 seconds left. Ranked 11th in the nation, the Wolverines, with a 6-1 Big Ten record, would clinch the Big Ten title with a victory over unranked 6-4 Ohio State.

However, 13 years of beating up John Cooper, the times, they were a'changin'. Shortly after being hired to replace Coop at Ohio State, some homely, sheepish looking guy who had the appearence of a Wal-Mart employee delivered this speech, which has reached Biblical status in Ohio:

Nobody in Michigan really paid it any mind, and when OSU starting quarterback Steve Bellisari was suspended, forcing somebody named Craig Krenzel into action, and considering the fact that Ohio State ha
d not won in Ann Arbor since 1987, most figured Michigan would clinch the Big Ten without much worry.

Ohio State dominated, instead. John Navarre was horrendous, throwing four interceptions on the day, and the Buckeyes raced to a stunning 23-0 halftime lead. The offense flared to life in the second half, but after doing nothing right in the first half, the hole was too big to dig out of. Navarre's last gasp failed, and Jim Tressel's guarantee came to pass, as Ohio State had officially turned the tables on Michigan with the 26-20 win. Marquise Walker caught 15 passes for 160 yards and 2 touchdowns, but he is most remembered for flatout dropping a wide open touchdown in the 3rd quarter with his team down 23-7. Unfortunately, that is Marquise Walker's legacy at Michigan, the dropped touchdown that could've been the difference. Instead, Tressel had laid the foundations for a scarlet curtain, evidenced by the next several years.

Frankly, Michigan just wasn't very good in 2001. Their leading rusher had 902 yards, and at Michigan, if the leading rusher isn't around 1500, the offense sucks. Couple that with Navarre throwing 11 interceptions in the final six games (including the bowl game), and you've got one mediocre team. That mediocrity turned to abysmal in the bowl game, as Tennessee - which had been on course for the national title game before being shocked by LSU in the SEC title game - laid waste to the Maize and Blue in an ugly, ugly, ugly 45-17 ass kicking. The ugly end to 2001 fell on the shoulders of the 6'6 Navarre, who felt the heat headed into his junior year of 2002.

Lloyd Carr vs. Ohio State: 5-2
Lloyd Carr vs. Michigan State: 4-3
Lloyd Carr vs. Notre Dame: 2-1
Lloyd Carr in Bowl Games: 4-3

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