Revisiting the Past: 2007 Rose Bowl
Once upon a time, I had a personal blog where I wrote about all sorts of random stuff, including Michigan football. I didn't update it that often, and the people who frequently visited didn't have any real interest in M football, so anything and everything I typed regarding the program was pretty much just for my own personal "enjoyment." But, now that we have this diary option on what is likely the biggest Michigan blog out there... well, I figured it might be time to start writing again.
Before I get to any new material, I'm gonna first post some old entries from my blog (now shut down) regarding various big games/happenings over the last few years. Today's post is the entry I wrote on January 2, 2007 - one day after the Rose Bowl loss to USC. Let me issue a couple warnings beforehand:
(1) There is some profanity.
(2) I referenced some of Jim Carty's writing. Please forgive me, but the guy did make some solid points in his writeup following that game.
I'd be interested to see what people have to say, since I've never gotten any real feedback on things I've written about Michigan. Anyway, here we go:
Yet another new year starts off with a Michigan loss in the bowl game. I have so much to say that this will easily be the longest entry of the year. If you thought I was irate at last year's Alamo Bowl loss, you haven't seen anything yet. And this year, I don't have the luxury of blaming the referees. The feeling I have is worse than the loss to Ohio State because the season is now over and there's no additional game to look forward to. The next chance at a win won't happen for eight months. That's an eternity for college football fans.
I haven't been this pissed off over a loss since the Notre Dame game last year. I am beyond disappointed. Angry is even an understatement of how I feel at the moment. It doesn't help that I have people left and right asking me what happened; some who were rooting against us. That just makes things worse. If you haven't figured it out already, I am emotionally attached to the success of my school's football program. When they lose, I will always be in a bad mood. I remember someone once asked me after a devastating loss if I was pissed. What the fuck do you think? I mean, does the question even need to be asked?
Ok now to my thoughts on the actual game. I don't even know where to start. The first half was decent. We had a missed opportunity when Henne underthrew Arrington in the endzone and hit the back of the USC corner instead. Six inches higher and it would've been a sure touchdown. The only other thing to mention is the play of the offensive line. I don't know if they had concrete in their cleats or what, but those fat bodies up front couldn't contain a pass rush if they were protecting 100 pounds of prime rib back there. I guess I should just give the USC defense credit, which I will. They were fantastic. I admit that. Our defense did a pretty good job in the first two quarters and even came up with a turnover when USC was driving deep in our territory so that was definitely a plus. Besides that, there really wasn't much else to be happy about. Despite not playing up to our capabilities (which is pretty much the Michigan slogan for big games), I still had hope that the second half would go better. I assumed, like any optimistic fan, that the coaching staff would make adjustments and take advantage of mismatches.
Well... the 2nd half began and adjustments were made and mismatches were taken advantage of. Only the coaching staff making those adjustments and play-calls were standing on the USC sideline, not Michigan's. Things started to go downhill as soon as Henne threw what has to be considered one of the dumbest interceptions in the history of college football. He was pressured on third and long and basically handed Lawrence Jackson the football. USC, of course, capitalized and scored the go-ahead touchdown and took a lead they would never relinquish. I'm not gonna blame Coach English for the defensive collapse, because he has done a pretty good job this season and he couldn't put some pads on, go out on the field, and stop Dwayne Jarrett. I can and will, however, blame the offensive coaching staff for continuing a Michigan tradition of conservative play-calling and total lack of imagination. But I'm gonna save that for later. First I'm gonna spend a few moments and dissect our pass defense. I won't be the first to do so though. Dwayne Jarrett has already taken care of that. Oh shit, he just scored another touchdown!
The pass defense was atrocious. All season long our Achilles heel has been the play of our secondary. Thankfully, the only opponents we played that had big-time wideouts were Notre Dame and Ohio State. You could make the argument that Michigan State and Penn State had above average receiving corps as well, but our front seven got in the backfield so often that the quarterbacks never had time to throw. The same goes for that Notre Dame win. When we finally faced a team that not only had a stout offensive line, a superstar quarterback, and top-notch receivers plus creative play-calling by the coaches, our defense was toast. But the thing about the breakdown against the Buckeyes that makes it easier for me to accept is the fact that OSU ran the football just as well as they passed it. We couldn't stop either one. Against USC, the Trojan running game was stifled completely. They knew they couldn't run on us, so they decided to air it out. I read somewhere that on USC's first 30 offensive plays in the second half, 28 were passes, and the other two were QB sneaks for first downs. See, that's the thing. The defense KNEW it was coming, and they still couldn't do shit to stop it. John David Booty turned into Joe Montana, and Dwayne Jarrett was Jerry Rice.
While I didn't appreciate all the taunting and showboating that he did, I have to say that Jarrett is the best receiver we have faced all season. He was a man among boys out there on that field yesterday, hauling in pass after pass, making big play after big play. When our offense scored to bring us within eight points, I started to regain hope. But then #8 broke my heart again. Wait, he didn't break it. He tore that motherfucker out of my chest, stomped on it, threw it in the toilet, took a massive shit, and then flushed it away. The play I'm referring to is the gorgeous 62-yard bomb he caught from Booty on 3rd and 10. It was the play that effectively ended the game. Had we stopped them from converting, we might've pulled out the win. Yeah right, who am I kidding? That long touchdown pass was very similar to Keary Colbert's second touchdown in the 2004 Rose Bowl. He had Jeremy Leseur draped all over him in one-on-one coverage, and Leseur was so close that he could pretty much sniff Colbert's underpants. Yet, just like yesterday, the quarterback threw it up, and the receiver came down with the pass. The cornerback attempted the tackle, missed, and the receiver was gone. Goodbye Michigan secondary. Hello endzone.
There were a lot more similarities to the '04 game that you probably didn't know. The margin of victory was the same (14 points). USC's defense did a great job getting to our quarterback in both games (9 sacks and 6 sacks). We couldn't run the football. Our big-play receiver got shut out. We only scored two touchdowns in each contest. USC had four touchdown passes. A star receiver shredded our secondary and another one took away the double coverage (Keary Colbert, Mike Williams in 2004; Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith in 2007). Pete Carroll jumped around on the sideline like he was hopped up on shrooms. There are a few more I'm forgetting, but you get the point.
Finally, let me just talk a little about coaching, or the lack thereof. This season I had reversed my stance and defended Lloyd Carr. Hell, I even went so far as to commend him for doing a great job. Even after the Ohio State loss, I didn't think the coaches were to blame. But no more. Not after this latest debacle. Not after I watched the Trojan offense roll up 29 mind-numbingly painful points on our vaunted defense. Not after I watched the USC defense stuff Mike Hart in the backfield time and time again, and still the coaches kept calling the same fucking run plays to the same fucking sides of the field. I watched that Boise State-Oklahoma game, and I was in awe and admiration of the plays that the Broncos ran. Playing with far less talented players than the Sooners, BSU used something that is absolutely foreign to Michigan coaches. Creativity and imagination. No one who knows a thing about college football can sit there, look me square in the eye, and tell me that Boise State has more talent than Michigan. Yet the boys in the blue and orange went toe to toe with a top ten Oklahoma team that had a healthy Adrian Peterson and won in dramatic fashion. Now I'm not saying we should just rip up our playbook and go straight razzle-dazzle all the time, because you don't win 11 games without doing something right. But in the big games, there has to be a gimmick play or two that you can call to get your team excited and interested again. As Jim Carty of the Ann Arbor News put it, "No imagination, no fun and, ultimately, no chance."
That was another problem. Guys lost motivation. When the score was 25-11, the game wasn't over. In case you missed it, we did manage to drive deep into USC territory, but Henne threw an idiotic pass short of the first down marker on fourth down. Had we scored on that play, again, the outcome could've been different. The defense took the field and you could just tell the life was gone. The front four guys kept coming. Woodley, Branch, Taylor, and Biggs were largely non-factors, but they never gave up. I didn't see that from our secondary the whole game, sadly to say. USC came out following that turnover on downs and marched right down the field for their last touchdown. John David Booty carved up our defense so quickly and efficiently that you would think he was a doctor performing routine surgery. Before you could say "Fuck, I can't believe we lost another bowl game," the score was 32-11 and the game officially over. Breaston made himself some money and improved his draft stock with the final touchdown of the day, but the outcome had long been decided.
Getting back to what I was saying about the play-calling. One of the best examples I can use is how the coaching staff utilizes Steve Breaston's talents. Kirk Herbstreit was right on the money when he said Breaston was "worthless" in our offense. Breaston is a former quarterback who can do it all. He can throw, run, catch, and return kicks. But the only plays that are ever called for him are underneath routes... at least for the last three years. It seems like an eternity ago when he was actually running reverses, lining up under the center and taking the direct snap, and other similar plays. With the way that our offense was being shut down in that second half, why didn't Debord (the Offensive Coordinator) just call one freaking double reverse pass or a triple option pass or... I don't know, something that didn't scream out to the defense "Hey look! I'm gonna run right here" or "I'm gonna take the same five-step drop every time I drop back to pass to make it easier for you to sack me." Come on guys, I know Henne's not the fleetest of foot when it comes to running, but at least roll him out of the pocket so he's not a sitting duck.
Whew. I've written more than I have ever written in one entry. It was the easiest one to write because I am speaking directly from the heart and mind. My thoughts are flowing out like water all the way down to my fingertips. I've said almost everything there is to say about this game, and I don't feel at all better after writing all this. No matter what I say, the conclusion remains the same. USC won, and we lost. The Trojans have locked up the top spot in next year's preseason rankings, and we'll be lucky if we crack the top 5. I'm not disappointed we finished 11-2; I'm disappointed in how we finished. This is the third straight year our team has finished the season with two consecutive losses, one to our archrival down in Columbus and one to the bowl opponent. That must end next season. Regardless of where we're ranked, Michigan will be one of the favorites to win it all in '07 along with USC and LSU (if Jamarcus Russell returns). I'm not calling for Carr's head (yet), but something must change next season. With the talent we have, we shouldn't be getting blown out by anyone, and we have to stop faltering in big games. I'm gonna wait patiently till then and hope that Henne and Hart lead us to the promised land. I'll put up a preview to next season sometime in the near future. That's one thing I can always be optimistic about. Before I bring this rant to an end, here's one final thought from Carty:"As [Carr] spoke, too many of his players were in the locker room insisting this was still a great season. The words were used again and again, by seniors and underclassmen:
This was still a great season.
No, fellas, it wasn't.
It was a good season. It was a season you can be proud of, one where many of you played your hearts out.
But this is MICHIGAN, and greatness requires a whole lot more. You've still got a chance at it, at real greatness. The road toward that ending begins with everyone understanding just how far away you were Monday." -Jim Carty