Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Lloyd Carr Era: 2002

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.

2002: The Scarlet Curtain climbs the mountain, ascends to the throne

2002 was a turning point personally for myself as a Michigan fan, as it marked the beginning of me remembering every single game Michigan has played. 1995 and '96 are sketchy at best in my mind, '97 is imprinted for obvious reasons, and 1998-2001 are there, but slightly blurred, save the most memorable moments. But I can clearly recall every game the Wolverines have played, starting with the 2002 season opener against Washington, a revenge game for the debacle in Seattle in 2001.

The game couldn't have been crazier, and the ending couldn't have been more exciting. Chris Perry ran for 120 yards and 3 touchdowns, but the Wolverines let a 14-0 lead slip away, and missed three field goals (including a 27 yarder with 1:24 left) en route to a 29-28 deficit late in the game. The defense, which had been burned by Huskies' QB Cody Pickett and RB Rich Alexis all day, got a quick three and out, and the Wolverines got the ball back at their own 41-yard line with 57 seconds left. The key play on the drive was a 4th down pass to little-known sophomo
re wide receiver Braylon Edwards, who caught the ball short of the first down marker but was stripped of the ball. It was recovered by fellow receiver Tyrece Butler past the first down line. Despite protests from Washington that Edwards never had possession, it was ruled a catch and a fumble, and hence a first down for Michigan. After an unbelievable mistake by Washington in the form of a 15-yard penalty for having 12 men on the field, Lloyd Carr decided to take a shot with the field goal unit, despite the 0-3 day. Philip Brabbs, who had missed two of those three, would finish the year 3 for 9 kicking field goals, and would only make one from beyond 40 yards...but that one that he made was a 44-yarder on the final play of the game, giving Michigan a 31-29 win over #11 Washington to start 2002 on the right note.

The generic Directional Michigan game was the next week, a 35-12 win over Western. After that, the 7th-ranked Wolverines headed to South Bend
to face 2-0 #20 Notre Dame, who had not scored an offensive touchdown in their first two games.

As it always seems to be against the Irish, it was such a frustrating game to watch. UM fell behind 16-7 at half, but a field goal and a Chris Perry touchdown gave them a 17-16 lead headed into the fourth quarter. Notre Dame's Ryan Grant gave the Irish the lead back (on a bit of a "phantom touchdown", since he didn't actually break the goalline), and a field goal gave ND a 25-17 lead. With 2:53 to go, John Navarre found tight end Bennie Joppru for an 8-yard touchdown, but the 2-point pass to Edwards was knocked away. The Wolverines got it back, but Navarre was intercepted, and Notre Dame won, 25-23.

After a very ugly game against Utah that saw Michigan's defense carry the offense in a 10-7 win, the Wolverines won their 21st Big Ten opener in a row, 45-28 over defending Big Ten "champion" Illinois. The next week saw the career of promising young Michigan defensive back Zia Combs come to a sad end against Penn State. After Michigan was forced to punt on its first possession, Combs and redshirt freshman safety Ernest Shazor collided with each other down at the goalline, trying to stop the ball from going into the endzone. Combs took the brunt of the impact head on, and a frightening silence gripped Michigan Stadium as he lay motionless. Combs would ultimately be okay after being taken off the field strapped to a board, but his playing days were over. In the actual game, Penn State burned sophomore cornerback Marlin Jackson a few times, but Braylon Edwards' touchdown with 3:24 remaining sent the game to overtime, a Michigan Stadium first. It ended with Chris Perry's 3-yard plunge, giving the Wolverines a 27-24 victory.

After a tough 23-21 win at Purdue, Michigan found itself back in the top 10, just in time for #13 Iowa to come calling at the Big House on my 14th birthday. And what a birthday present it was...not. Brad Banks introduced himself to the nation, and the Hawkeyes opened everyone's eyes, utterly pulverizing the Wolverines in front of the homecoming crowd, 34-9. It was Michigan's worst home loss since 1967 - two years before Bo Schembechler took over. John Navarre was a putrid 14-33 passing for 112 yards. Worse, he was Michigan's leading rusher with 18 yards, as Iowa's defense completely shut down Michigan. I've seen the Wolverines play bad, but no UM game I have seen with my eyes equals the ineptitude and dismal performance they put on the field against Iowa on my birthday.

Michigan was pissed. Their Rose Bowl hopes - and
perhaps more importantly, their dignity - had been brutally smashed to pieces by the Hawkeyes. So who was coming to Ann Arbor after the Iowa debacle? Why, it was the Michigan State Spartans, sputtering in at 3-5, losing their last three games to Iowa 44-16, Minnesota 28-7, and Wisconsin 42-24. Couple that with the fact that Michigan was seething for vengeance after the previous year's screwjob in East Lansing, and what do you get?
The final nail in MSU coach Bobby Williams' coffin. After the game, Williams was asked if he still had control of his football team. His response: "I don't know." Two days later, Williams was sacked as head coach.

Michigan had put the demons of the Iowa game and the 2001 Michigan State game to rest, and cruised the next week against Minnesota, 41-24. After that, the Badgers of Wisconsin came to Ann Arbor for Michigan's Senior Day. Wisconsin always plays Michigan tough, and despite being 1-5 in the Big Ten, this time was no different. UM had a 14-0 lead four minutes and 19 seconds into the game, but the offense stalled, and the special teams gave up a punt return for a touchdown, and the Badgers tied the game at 14 by halftime. The second half was dominated by defense, but Michigan's defense was better, and the offense found its legs late in the 3rd quarter. A 16-play, 78-yard drive that consumed 8 minutes and 43 seconds ended with John Navarre throwing an 8-yard touchdown to Braylon Edwards. That would prove to be the winning score, and Michigan won 21-14, headed into Ohio State week with a 9-2 record, 6-1 in the Big Ten.

The Buckeyes however, in Jim Tressel's second season, were 12-0. Just like in 1995 and 1996, Ohio State brought a perfect record into the Michigan game. This time however, with Tressel at the helm, the Buckeyes would not be tripped up. 2002 was a magical season for OSU. They won close games against Cincinnati (23-19), Wisconsin (19-14), Penn State (13-7), Purdue (
10-6), and Illinois (23-16 in OT) before facing their hated rivals at the Snake Pit in Columbus. Michigan played a great game (statistically they outgained OSU 368 yards to 264), but 2002 was the Year of the Buckeye; no matter what the stats said, at the end of the day, Ohio State would have more points. Michigan's offense found success...until they got to the redzone, as they were forced to kick three field goals. They led 9-7 at halftime, and held that lead deep into the fourth quarter. But where John Cooper's teams would've folded under the pressure cooker of a close game with Michigan, with everything on the line, Jim Tressel's team finally broke through, and Maurice Hall's touchdown with 4:55 to go put Ohio State in front, 14-9. The Wolverines tried to respond, but Navarre was stripped of the ball at the OSU 36. Despite that, Michigan got one final chance, but on the game's final play from the Ohio State 24 yard line, Navarre's post pattern pass to Edwards in the endzone was jumped and intercepted by Buckeye safety Will Allen, sending Ohio State to the Fiesta Bowl, where they would stun defending champion Miami in a legendary title game, finishing 14-0.

The Wolverines went to the Outback Bowl to face a very talented Florida team, led by Rex Grossman. It was a very exciting game that saw Grossman throw for 323 yards and Chris Perry run for four touchdowns for Michigan. The Wolverines' lead was in danger late in the fourth quarter, but Ron Zook (who Michigan will get re-acquainted with in 2007) called a ridiculous reverse pass, which was intercepted by senior linebacker Victor Hobson. Why you would call a play that has someone other than the QB throwing the ball with the game on the line I have no idea, but I'm not complaining. Michigan 38, Florida 30.

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

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