“Okay, boys. We have a one score lead. I want you to run up the middle three times and punt. We’ll play solid prevent, and then we’ll do it again, and again.”
As fans, we remember this as the most irritating trait of Coach Carr. His endless focus on reducing variance and stalling his way to wins was infuriating. We recall the many games against Tressel and our bowl opponents that this strategy cost us. We remember punting from the 40 on 3rd and 2. We remember that fourth quarter field goal when M was up only 3 that we just knew would come back to bite us.
What we forget is that in the years Lloyd had a satisfactory defense, it worked. It worked to the tune of an 88% winning percentage. It worked to the tune of 5 Big Ten titles and a National Championship. And it didn’t work because Lloyd was lucky. It worked because he knew exactly what he was doing. I mean, seriously, I assume that nobody who knows anything about college football would ever question whether Lloyd Carr had a plan. At times, certain coaches seem to be winging it, throwing things out there just to try to find a magic formula. Not Lloyd Carr. Even during losses, he was always in control.
Last night, the ghost of his coaching career possessed Red Berensen. Shawn Hunwick stopped 40 shots, and Michigan spent the final two periods of the game playing prevent. Defensemen flew all over the ice, clogging lanes and disrupting flow. When Michigan did obtain the puck, we made three rushes up the middle and punted, clearing the puck from about center ice and setting up the defense again and again.
“Make that lead hold up, boys! Drive them crazy!”
Just like a Lloyd coached game, UND had chances, and plenty of them. But what they got very little of was the break away, one on that makes goalies around the world wet themselves. Most of their good chances erupted from a pile of bodies, more of which were Maize and Blue than Green and White. But it was always in a pile of chaos that’s hard to take advantage of.
“We’re gonna out-execute them. No mistakes. Do it right every time.”
As fans, like so many Lloyd coached games we watched, a lead felt an awful lot like a deficit until a kid named Scooter buried an empty netter with 35 second to play. We spent most of the night screaming at the TV, “Cmon! Get it going on O! Get some shots! Generate some pressure!”
Red knew though, as Lloyd did, better than us. UND was, and is, an offensive juggernaut that will make you pay for your mistakes. But discipline, quality play and the refusal to make any of those mistakes will drive your opponent crazy. They continue to push, waiting for that moment when you dedicate four to their end and they can put out a two on one break. Don’t give it to them.
Does it always work? No. Can you do it with just anybody? No. You need a star, too; someone to make a play when variance does overwhelm discipline. It’s important to recognize those stars. They’re the guys that make Lloyd and Red’s brilliance work. Lloyd had Charles Woodson. Red has Shawn Hunwick.
But that’s all part of the plan. Play clean. Play smart. Execute. Get your stars in position to pick up the slack and win the big ones. Stymie everyone. Be solid. Be stoic. Be brave. Be Michigan, and you will be a champion.
We Salute You, Coach.