Posts Tagged ‘Lloyd Carr’
Blake Countess’ performance this season brings to mind another recent Michigan star cornerback who made a name for himself in his first two seasons – Marlin Jackson. The former All-American finished his Michigan career nearly a decade ago and went on to win a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts. But did you know that it was pretty much a miracle that he even made it to Ann Arbor?
It’s true. And now he’s working to help other kids from similar backgrounds beat the odds as well.
Jackson retired from the NFL last season and has since dedicated his time to the Fight for Life Foundation that he started back in 2007. I spoke to Marlin about how his upbringing shaped his decision to start the foundation, what the foundation does, and how you can help.
Through the first two-plus years of the Brady Hoke era he has shown a willingness to roll the dice at times. Les Miles he is not, but he appeared to be at least a bit more bold than the coach he cut his teeth with, Lloyd Carr. But on a beautiful Saturday night in front of a raucous white-out Beaver Stadium crowd, shades of Carr emerged – and not the good ones.
Up seven with 6:35 remaining, Michigan got the ball back needing to run out the clock or score to put the game away. They did neither. The Wolverines were able to move the chains three times and run 5:45 off the clock, but it wasn’t enough. A delay of game penalty on 3rd-and-9 from the Penn State 27 moved the ball back five yards, and a three-yard loss by Fitzgerald Toussaint left Hoke with a decision of whether to punt the ball back to Penn State with a minute left or attempt a 52-yard field goal to seal the game. He chose the former but Matt Wile booted into the end zone resulting in just a 15-yard net gain.
|Record||5-1 (1-1)||4-2 (1-1)|
|Net Rushing Yards||149||85|
|Net Passing Yards||240||305|
|Time of Possession||36:13||23:47|
|Third Down Conversions||4-of-18||3-of-16|
|Fourth Down Conversions||0-of-0||2-of-3|
|Red Zone Scores-Chances||2-of-3||5-of-6|
|Full Box Score|
Penn State went 80 yards in just five plays, getting completions of 14 yards, 29 yards, and 36 yards, and ultimately punching it in with 23 seconds remaining on a one-yard run by freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg.
Michigan had one more chance to win it in regulation after a 34 yard kickoff return by Dennis Norfleet gave the Wolverines good starting field position. Devin Gardner found Jeremy Gallon for 25 yards and then got another five-yard completion to Justice Hayes to give Brendan Gibbons a 52-yard attempt to win it. But the kick fell a few yards short and the game went into overtime.
In the first extra period, Michigan’s defense held strong, forcing a field goal attempt. Penn State kicker Sam Ficken missed the 40-yards try and all Michigan had to do was score to win the game. Instead of playing aggressively to move closer to the goal line, Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges elected to run Toussaint twice, each for a yard, and then have Gardner position the ball for a Gibbons field goal attempt. But Penn State blocked it sending the game into a second overtime.
This time Michigan started with the ball and got a 25-yard field goal out of it. Penn State couldn’t move the ball and kicked a 36-yard field goal to send the game into a third extra period.
Head Coach Bill O’Brien, who also calls the plays, went with an end-around on the first play, but Allen Robinson fumbled the pitch and Frank Clark recovered. Once again, Michigan just needed a score to win the game. Two Toussaint rushes for no gain bookended a nine-yard completion to Gallon forcing Michigan to attempt yet another field goal. This time, from 33 yards out, the usually reliable Gibbons missed and the game went on.
In the fourth overtime, Michigan was once again unable to move the chains and had to settle for a field goal. Gibbons connected from 40 yards out to put the Wolverines ahead 40-37. Penn State ran it three straight times to get to 4th-and-1 from the 16. O’Brien decided it was time to put the game on the line and go for it. It worked as running back Bill Belton gained three yards. After an incomplete pass and a two yard gain, Penn State faced 3rd-and-8. Hackenberg fired a pass incomplete to the middle of the end zone, but safety Jarrod Wilson was flagged for pass interference giving Penn State the ball on the two. One play later, Belton rushed to the left and into the end zone for the win.
Michigan had several opportunities to win the game but failed to both execute, both on the field and on the sidelines. Not once in the four overtime periods did Michigan throw the ball into the end zone. The closest was a lob to freshman tight end Jake Butt around the 2-yard line, which was knocked away by a Penn State linebacker. Instead, Hoke and Borges went the conservative route, content to ride a running game that went backwards more often than it went forward and settle for field goal attempts.
Michigan gained 149 yards on the ground, but 121 of them were by Gardner. Toussaint had 27 carries for 27 yards and Derrick Green had three for one yard. That’s less than a yard per carry by Michigan’s running backs. Yet time and again Gardner handed off just to see Toussaint run into a face full of tacklers at or behind the line of scrimmage.
Gardner completed 15-of-28 for 240 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions to go along with his 121 yards on 24 carries. Devin Funchess led all receivers with four catches for 121 yards and two scores. Gallon caught seven passes for 95 yards and a touchdown.
Michigan’s defense got a great game from Frank Clark who scooped up a Penn State fumble on the first play of the second half and raced 24 yards for a touchdown. He also recorded two sacks, recovered a fumble in overtime, and nearly had an interception. Jake Ryan, playing for the first time this season after tearing his ACL in April, recorded three sacks, one for loss.
The Wolverines held Penn State to just 85 yards rushing on 44 carries, an average of just 1.9 yards per carry, and the Hackenberg touchdown at the end of regulation was the first rushing touchdown Michigan has allowed all season. But in the end, is was Penn State that made the right calls and executed at the right time to earn the victory.
Michigan falls to 5-1 on the season, 1-1 in the Big Ten and returns home to face Indiana (3-3, 1-1) next Saturday. A lot of work needs to be done if Michigan wants to win the Legends Division with a brutal schedule coming up, but the good news is the division is still within reach. Stay tuned for more analysis in the coming days and previews of the Indiana game.
Last Saturday marked the 30th game of Brady Hoke’s tenure at Michigan, and while it wasn’t pretty it resulted in a win. As we conclude the first of two bye weeks for Hoke’s squad this season it’s the perfect time to examine his first 30 games and how they stack up against the other coaches in Michigan history. First, let’s take a look at wins.
Hoke has won 77 percent of his games so far and 75 percent of his Big Ten contests. His 23 wins are the fourth most during that time span, behind Fielding Yost’s 29, Bo Schembechler’s 26, and Gary Moeller and Fritz Crisler’s 24. It is one ahead of Lloyd Carr’s 22 and ten better than his predecessor Rich Rodriguez.
Digging even further, we find that Hoke’s four wins over the three main rivals – Ohio State, Michigan State, and Notre Dame – are third only to Fritz Crisler’s seven and Gary Moeller’s five. Lloyd Carr and Bennie Oosterbaan each also won four games over the three main rivals in their first 30 games.
Yost obviously coached in a far different era, his first season being 110 years before Hoke took over. Schembechler and Crisler can be the most comparable to Hoke’s situation, having both taken over teams that had two losing seasons in the previous four. In Bo’s case, it was a program that had really been struggling for the previous decade. That he was able to have such immediate success, going to two Rose Bowls in his first three seasons, is a major reason why Bo is so revered. Moeller took over from Bo and had been on his staff for the majority of Bo’s tenure, so his first three seasons were mostly just an extension of his predecessor.
While Hoke has one more victory in his first 30 games than Carr, it is important to note that Carr won his next seven and the national championship, so unless Hoke does the same, he will fall behind Carr in the near future. Another item worth noting is that Hoke is the only coach other than Yost to not lose a single home game in his first 30 games. Schembechler lost just one – a 40-17 loss to 13th-ranked Missouri. Hoke is currently 17-0 in Michigan Stadium.
Now that we have established that Hoke ranks up there with the greats in Michigan history in victories through his first 30 games, let’s take a look at one of the areas Michigan has been struggling with this season: turnovers.
Turnover records don’t go far enough to compare turnovers from the Schembechler era backwards, but we can compare Hoke to the previous three regimes. As you can see above, Hoke’s teams have turned the ball over 61 times – just over two per game – which is second most behind the 66 given up during Rich Rodriguez’s first 30 games. Carr’s teams were better at taking care of the football, but Hoke still won one more game, while Moeller’s gave it up 16 percent fewer times.
One hypothesis as to why Hoke’s teams have turned it over more than Moeller’s and Carr’s is that he has many of the same players that Rodriguez’s staff recruited and coached. But Hoke’s first season wasn’t bad with 22 giveaways (16 interceptions and six fumbles). By comparison, Carr’s first two seasons had 23 turnovers each. Last season the number ballooned to 27 and this season Michigan is on pace for 36. The pace isn’t likely to continue, but unless they improve drastically the rest of the season it will be another large season total.
I think, rather than blaming it on Rodriguez’s recruits/players, the type of quarterback Michigan has had the past few years is the main culprit. Hoke has talked several times about Devin Gardner’s athleticism being both a strength and a weakness because it can create big plays out of nothing but also lead to mistakes that shouldn’t be made simply because other quarterbacks wouldn’t have been able to make them. The same can be said for Denard Robinson.
Of Michigan’s 12 turnovers this season nine have been interceptions. Of the 61 turnovers under Hoke, 44 have been interceptions and just 17 have been fumbles. Conversely, of the 55 under Carr, 28 were interceptions and 27 were fumbles, while of the 51 under Moeller, 27 were interceptions and 24 were fumbles. In other words, the quarterbacks – Elvis Grbac, Todd Collins, Brian Griese, and Scott Dreisbach – were more traditional quarterbacks who took better care of the ball.
In addition, the disparity can’t be chalked up to more passing and less running. Moeller’s teams averaged 290 passes and 565 runs in his first three seasons, while Carr’s averaged 343 passes and 557 runs and Hoke’s have averaged 308 passes and 521 runs.
Fumbles are an odd thing in football. Just because a player fumbles it doesn’t mean it results in a turnover. Carr’s teams fumbled 59 times but only 27 of those (46 percent) were turnovers. Moeller’s fumbled 41 times and 24 (58 percent) were recovered by the opponent. Hoke’s teams so far have fumbled 44 times and 17 (39 percent) have been turnovers. So the ball has bounced Michigan’s way under Hoke, but the quarterbacks have been more careless with the ball.
It’s also important to go back and look at Hoke’s turnover record at his previous head coaching stops, Ball State (2003-08) and San Diego State (2009-10). Over the course of those eight seasons Hoke’s teams averaged just 18.25 turnovers per season, which is right on par with Moeller’s years at Michigan.
So what can we make of all of this? Although Hoke’s teams have turned the ball over more than Carr’s, he has one more win to show for it at this point. But nobody is going to argue that this team is as talented as Carr’s 1997 squad. Fumbles are largely a random event, and in this case, the luck has been mostly on Hoke’s side, but the quarterbacks Hoke has had are different types of quarterbacks than those that Carr and Moeller had. And Hoke’s history is one of fundamentals and taking care of the football, so it’s not likely that the current turnover woes will continue much longer.
Last Saturday was Gardner’s ninth career start, which means he’s still essentially a first year signal caller. As he continues to mature and get more experience under his belt his decision making will improve and he’ll learn that sometimes simply throwing the ball away is better than trying to be Superman. He has two-thirds of a season remaining in 2013 and a full year in 2014, and any bit of improvement in ball security will significantly improve Hoke’s chances of winning more games before the Wolverines return to the same type of quarterback Moeller and Carr had: less risk, less reward, but more consistent.
Gardner is a very smart kid and despite his recent struggles he will bounce back and provide far more thrilling moments than bad ones, so sit back and enjoy the ride. Michigan is in good hands under Hoke and he’ll help guide Gardner through his woes.
With no Michigan football this Saturday, it means we have more time to analyze last week’s game. As we have done the first three weeks, let’s take one final look back at the big plays, numbers, stats, and observations from Michigan’s 24-21 win over UConn.
|Three big moments|
1. Desmond’s game-changing grab
No play was bigger last Saturday than when linebacker Desmond Morgan read UConn quarterback Chandler Whitmer perfectly and snagged his pass out of the air with one hand. Michigan trailed by seven at that point and UConn had the momentum after stopping the Wolverines on 4th-and-2 from the Husky 23. A long scoring drive would be a dagger to a Michigan squad that had entered the game favored by 18.
After taking possession following the turnover on downs, UConn quickly picked up a first down, but left tackle Jimmy Bennett false started, giving the Huskies 1st-and-15 instead of 1st-and-10. Whitmer dropped back to pass, stared down his receiver and fired towards the left hash marks, about 14 yards downfield. Morgan dropped back, read Whitmer’s eyes, and leaped up with his right hand extended, snagging the ball and pulling it in at the UConn 41. He then zig-zagged his way to the UConn 12, giving Michigan great field position. Fitzgerald Toussaint ran it in on the ensuing play, tying the game.
2. Gardner options to Toussaint
Trailing 21-7 midway through the third quarter, Michigan needed to find some offense. The fist two drives of the second half had resulted in a total of two yards, a fumble returned for a UConn touchdown, and a punt. UConn punted the ball back to Michigan with ten minutes remaining in the third and the Wolverines took over on their own 25. A 4-yard Toussaint run and a 13-yard completion to Drew Dileo moved the ball to the Michigan 42. A 12-yards strike to Jeremy Gallon got Michigan into UConn territory. Another first down advanced the Wolverines to the UConn 35.
On first down, Gardner threw an incomplete pass. On 2nd-and-10, he saw something in his pre-snap reads and checked into the pistol formation. Gardner took the snap and ran to his right, drawing the UConn defensive end. Just before contact, he pitched the ball to Toussaint who cut up-field at the 42 got a good seal block from Jake Butt, cutting to his left at the 23, dodged a diving defender at the 20, and raced the rest of the way into the end zone to pull Michigan within seven. It was just the play Michigan needed to get back in the game.
3. Gardger gets it done with his legs
On the opening drive of the game, Michigan forced UConn to punt. Michigan’s offense moved the ball to the UConn 33, but Gardner was intercepted. After forcing another UConn punt, Michigan took over looking to put the first points on the board. Three separate times on the drive Gardner converted a third down with his legs. On 3rd-and-1 from the Michigan 40, Gardner rushed for 14 yards. On 3rd-and-2 from the UConn 38, Gardner scampered for 11. A pass interference kept the drive alive the next time Michigan faced third down and then on 3rd-and-12 from the UConn 17, Gardner ran for a touchdown.
It surely wasn’t the way Michigan wanted to drive down the field, but it was the only part of the offense that was working. Four first downs on the drive resulted in: a Toussaint loss of one, a Gardner rush for two, a Jehu Chesson loss of one, and a Tousasint loss of two. Not gaining positive yards on first down meant Michigan faced a lot of third downs on the drive and thankfully Gardner was able to keep the chains moving despite getting no help from the traditional running game.
|The numbers game|
42,704: The record crowd that filled Rentschler Field for the primetime matchup
7-0: Michigan’s all-time record against teams currently in the American Athletic Conference
Sept. 16, 1995: The last time Michigan played a non-conference game on the East Coast (against Boston College)
Nov. 26, 2011: The last time Fitzgerald Toussaint rushed for 100 yards (against Ohio State)
1,961: Toussaint’s career rushing total after gaining 120 against UConn, surpassing Chris Howard (1994-97) and Rick Rogers (1981-84) for 23rd in the record books
30: The number of consecutive games in which Jeremy Gallon has caught a pass
1,659: Gallon’s career receiving total after gaining 31 against UConn, surpassing Junior Hemingway (2007-11) for 17th all-time
10: The number of consecutive extra points Brendan Gibbons needs to make to pass JD Carlson for tops in Michigan history
1-of-11: UConn’s third down conversion percentage. The Huskies had converted just 29 percent in the first two games
*Hover over team initials to see drive statistics
1. Defense first
Michigan’s defense starting the game has become a positive trend dating back to last season. On UConn’s first possession of the game, Michigan forced a punt just like it has done in all four games so far this season. In each one, the opponent started with the ball and each time punted it away to Michigan. The four opponents have combined for 16 plays for 57 yards on opening drives this season, an average of 14.25 yards per drive. This is something Michigan’s defense has been very good at the past couple of years.
Last season, Michigan started on defense in nine games and only Ohio State and South Carolina scored on the opening possession, which means since the beginning of 2012, only two of 13 opponents have scored when they started the game with the ball. In Hoke’s first season, 2011, three of six opponents that started the game with the ball scored on the opening possession.
2. Turnovers, man
This will be discussed in more detail in tomorrow’s post, but turnovers seem to be a disturbing trend with Hoke’s teams. Michigan now has 12 turnovers through four games, which ranks 120th out of 123 teams nationally. Only Western Kentucky has more (15). Through the first 30 games of Hoke’s tenure his teams have turned the ball over 61 times. That’s six more than Lloyd Carr’s first 30 games and five fewer than Rich Rodriguez’s.
Turnovers let Notre Dame back into the game in Week 2 and allowed Akron and UConn to have a chance to win the games the past two weekends. With all the other struggles Michigan has, eliminating turnovers has to be atop the list of areas to improve during the bye week.
More to come on this tomorrow.
I’m not as down on Toussaint as much as others are. In this game he recorded his first 100-yard game since the Ohio State game in 2011. Yes, he has a lot of negative rushes so far this season, but he’s capable of making big plays as we saw in the 35-yard touchdown run and the game-tying touchdown run. He’ll never be confused for Tyrone Wheatley, but he’s also playing in an offense struggling to find it’s identity. Is it a power running game or a zone running game? It seems the personnel is still more suited for a zone running game at this point despite Hoke and Borges’ longing for a power running game. Toussaing just isn’t the right back for that.
Perhaps Derrick Green can evolve enough during the bye week to be able to step in and take some of the power running game carries so Fitz can focus on the zone stuff, but that may be too much to ask at this point. For now, Toussaint is reliable enough to keep as the every down back, he doesn’t fumble, and he’s sure to improve throughout the season as he gains confidence after returning from the gruesome broken leg he suffered last season.
Brady Hoke spoke for a little over 10 minutes on Tuesday afternoon, answering questions about his thoughts on the Notre Dame rivalry, recruiting battles with the Irish, Taylor Lewan, FCS opponents, and San Diego State.
“We’ve got a huge football game this weekend, big game against a great rival that we’ve played 29 of the last 35 years. I can remember being here with Coach Schembechler when he was still alive and in the building. He would always tell us that that’s how you gauge your team, in this great game against Notre Dame, and you find out a lot about where you are as a football team. So it will be an exciting atmosphere, it will be a lot of fun. We obviously need to play a heck of a lot better than we did last week. We’ve got to clean up some turnovers, we’ve got to clean up targeting as far as when you look at offensive linemen getting up to the next level or those combo blocks taking them over. And defensively we’ve got to hit some runs better and play better in the back end.”
Adam Rittenberg, ESPN.com: How intense were the recruiting battles between Michigan and Notre Dame when you were an assistant under Lloyd Carr?
“They’re a national school, a national brand like we are, so those battles then and today for the student athletes I think were similar in a lot of ways when you look at universities from an education standpoint and goals that we have for our student athletes. I think we look at a lot of the same kids.”
Adam Rittenberg, ESPN.com: With Notre Dame focusing more on recruiting the southeast, are you seeing less of them on the recruiting trail than you were before?
“I don’t think so. I think it goes cyclical a little bit, how many scholarships you have to offer, sometimes positionally what you’re looking for, all those things. But believe me, we bump into them enough.”
Dennis Dodd, CBSSports.com: If ND-Michigan and Oklahoma-Nebraska can go away because of conference realignment, are you worried about losing traditions in college football?
“Yeah, as a guy who grew up loving college football and grew up loving those games, those big games, were far and few between televised nationally, but you’d always have the Nebraska-Oklahoma game, Notre Dame-Michigan, USC-UCLA. Those were always games that you were interested in, and obviously Michigan and Ohio. So yeah I hope for college football that this series comes back and I know we have two more games, but I hope it comes back.”
Dennis Dodd, CBSSports.com: What was your favorite besides Michigan-Ohio State?
“I would probably say the Notre Dame-Michigan game. Just as far as they’re such a national brand and we are. There were always people in your school or in your community that were staunch Notre Dame fans.”
Teddy Greenstein, Chicago Tribune: What are the most important things that Taylor Lewan has done since deciding to come back last winter?
“I think number one, his leadership that he’s provided since that day in January. How he attacked the weight room, how he went about his business, he brought a lot of guys with him. I think his commitment level and I say that just because I’ve seen what he does in practice, what he does in meetings, in team situations and then individual situations and I think his play. He wants to master it. He doesn’t want to have minuses on his gradsheet at the end of the game.”
Teddy Greenstein, Chicago Tribune: Were you surprised when Brian Kelly called it a regional game?
“Everybody sees it differently and I think Devin (Gardner) spoke really well yesterday about it. We all look at things in this world differently. I think that’s his perspective and that’s fine. I just grew up a little differently about this football game.”
Eric Olson, AP: In the wake of several FCS schools beating FBS schools in Week 1, do you think games against FCS schools will go away with the playoff format starting next season?
“Number one, I think we opened up with Alabama last year and some people probably think we were crazy. Personally, I think it was probably one of the best things we’ve done. No one likes to lose, obviously, but I think it taught us a lot as a staff, taught us a lot as a team (about) where we want to get to and what we need to do. I think the Notre Dame rivalry is such a great game to play. I think there’s a balance somewhere in there, but I think if they’re truly going to take strength of schedule in deciding who’s going to be in the national championship, then I think you need to play a strong schedule.”
Eric Olson, AP: Do you think in some cases playing the 120th best FBS school versus playing a top FCS school changes things somewhat?
“Well, there’s some great coaches out there at all levels and there’s some teams that through their recruiting or taking some bounceback guys that help you from year to year. But I don’t know if there’s any difference to be honest with you.”
Jonathan Schopp, Spartan Nation: How has this Notre Dame team evolved from the last time you played them?
“I think offensively, obviously, you’ve got a little bit different quarterback, but you’ve also got the quarterback who’s got right now the all time percentage in completions. He’s given us fits the last two years that we’ve played against him. I think he’s a tremendous quarterback. I think he’s very accurate. I think their team itself, they’re at the point where Brian has been there four years, he’s been able to recruit well and replace guys well. So numbers can fool you a little bit from last week, but you see the technique and the fundamentals they’re playing with, you see how hard they play. Their front seven defensively is still a tremendous front seven.”
Jonathan Schopp, Spartan Nation: What do you expect about this week’s environment and how unique was it last time Notre Dame played at Michigan?
“Well, for being here eight years before as an assistant and coming back, it was exciting as any stadium I’ve been around. The evening, the dusk and all that kind of stuff, and the fans being in the stands when warm-ups were going on, just the environment itself obviously, the game was one that was down to the wire, so it kept everybody into it.”
Stefanie Loh, San Diego Union Tribune: Have you talked to the San Diego State coaching staff at all this week and provided any insider info on how to beat Ohio State?
“Well, I don’t have that message, I can tell ya. I talk to Brian Sipe probably a couple times a month. That’s a great staff and Rocky (Long)’s a great football coach. He’ll have something unique, probably defensively, that will be a little different than Ohio is used to getting. But those kids I can guarantee you are going to play hard.”
Stefanie Loh, San Diego Union Tribune: Are you surprised by the fact that they dropped the opener to an FCS team?
“Again, I think the question really is about some of those teams. Sometimes there’s some awfully good football players that started their careers somewhere else and ended up for one reason or another back at an FCS school.”
Gannett News Service: Why did you feel Brian Sipe would be a good fit for the quarterback coach position at San Diego State?
“Well, number one, he had won four regional – in California they break it up a little differently – championships. I had gone by there, not that he had a player that we were recruiting at Michigan, but it’s Brian Sipe for God sakes, one of the best to play the game, and have the ability to visit with him, so we got to know each other, probably a little bit of a relationship, and then knowing what his teams did and how they played. You have a guy who was one of the best to ever play at San Diego State and has such love for that university. I knew he could coach the quarterback, that was the least of my worries. He was a great fit and a guy that we wouldn’t have had some of the success we’ve had if it wouldn’t have been for Brian Sipe.”
[Ed: This was originally published in our Michigan football season preview guide In the Huddle by Lindy's Sports. With Michigan set to visit Nebraska for the first time in over 100 years and this being the 15-year anniversary of the shared national title, I thought it would be appropriate to post for those who didn't read the preview mag. Before the season, I had the opportunity to speak with both Brady Hoke and Tom Osborne about it.]
It’s hard to believe 15 years have passed since Michigan stood atop the college football mountain and surveyed the landscape as national champions. In the 14 seasons that followed, controversy has surrounded the BCS nearly ever year, and all indications point towards some sort of playoff within the next couple of years. But for those who either have short memories or are too young to remember, the glorious season of 1997 also ended in controversy.
While Charles Woodson and Brian Griese celebrated the Associated Press title following a Rose Bowl win over Washington State, Nebraska claimed a title of its own, from the ESPN/USA Today coaches’ poll. Both teams officially share the national title from that season and both argue that their own is more deserving, but who is the rightful owner of the crown?
“That’s a great question and one that will never be answered, unfortunately,” said Brady Hoke, who was an assistant on Lloyd Carr’s staff at the time. “But at the same time, I think we had a pretty good football team that year.”
The coach on the other side of the equation, Tom Osborne, wanted a matchup between the two and was disappointed to have had to face Tennessee in the Orange Bowl.
“The team that we wanted to play was Michigan,” said Osborne. “Because of the Rose Bowl tie-up we were not able to do that, and that was unfortunate. So we went down and played Tennessee. We played the best we could and couldn’t control the votes, but we would have very much liked to have played Michigan.”
Both teams had impressive seasons and it’s hard to dream about going back in time and playing a game between the two without salivating. However, many Michigan fans believe the writers crowned the most deserving team while coaches gave the nod to Nebraska to honor retiring head coach Tom Osborne who had also won national titles in 1994 and ‘95.
“I could see maybe that type of sentiment if we had never won one,” said Osborne. “I don’t know that somebody would vote for a national champion because you’re retiring. Maybe somebody did, I don’t know, but since we had won some national championships recently, I would somewhat discount that thought.”
Nebraska fans argue that the Cornhuskers’ decisive 42-17 Orange Bowl victory over No. 2 Tennessee was more impressive than Michigan’s 21-16 win over Washington State, and it’s hard to dispute that fact. But if one looks back to the fateful November Saturday, dubbed “Judgment Day” by ESPN, one sees the discrepancy from the other angle. Nebraska fell from the No. 1 spot thanks to a miracle touchdown that helped the Big Red beat unranked Missouri in overtime, while Michigan captured a dominating 34-8 road win over then-No. 2 Penn State.
The win catapulted Michigan to the No. 1 spot and dropped Nebraska to fourth as Florida State and Penn State leapfrogged the ‘Huskers.
Nebraska’s miraculous win was disputed at the time because receiver Shevin Wiggins kicked the ball up into the air, keeping it alive after it had been broken up, and it fell right into the arms of a diving Matt Davidson. Critics argued that it should have been ruled an illegal kick penalty. It wasn’t and it became the symbolic play of the season for Nebraska.
“It’s just one of those things that happens,” said Osborne of the play. “If you’re going to go out and win them all in the course of a season, normally you can point to one or two or three plays that if the ball had bounced differently or somebody had picked off a pass, you wouldn’t have won.”
Michigan, meanwhile, didn’t face any controversy in rolling through its competition. Although Michigan piled up 34 points on Penn State, the Wolverines weren’t known for their offense that season. The calling card was the defense, which allowed more than 16 points just once all season, in a 28-24 win over 15th-ranked Iowa. That was Michigan’s closest game of the year, having to overcome a 21-7 halftime deficit, then score with 2:55 remaining to take the lead. Linebacker Sam Sword ended the game with a red zone interception with 31 seconds remaining.
Against an 0-2 Notre Dame squad in Week 3, Michigan needed 14 third quarter points to grab the lead and then relied on its defense to stop the Irish despite three fourth quarter turnovers. The Wolverines won 21-14.
In the second to last weekend of the season, Michigan faced a tough trap game in Madison but won 26-16, setting up a showdown with fourth-ranked Ohio State the following week. In that game, Michigan took a 13-0 halftime lead thanks to a 37-yard reception by Charles Woodson to set up the first touchdown and then a 78-yard punt return touchdown by Woodson.
In the third quarter, Woodson picked off Ohio State quarterback Stanley Jackson in the end zone and fellow cornerback Andrew Weathers returned an interception 43 yards to give Michigan a 20-0 lead. Ohio State scored a pair of touchdowns, but Michigan’s defense held on. The performance solidified the Heisman Trophy for Woodson, which he won over Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning, who was shut down by Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.
While Michigan’s defense was king in ’97, Nebraska relied on its offense. The Cornhuskers scored 35 or more points in 10 of 13 games and scored more than 50 five times.
Just like Michigan played a pair of close games, Nebraska had a couple of dicey moments during its run. The aforementioned overtime win over Missouri was the closest, but Nebraska also had to hold on to beat a Colorado team that finished the season with a losing record of 5-6.
Heading into the bowl games, Michigan had 69 of 70 first place votes in the AP Poll and 46 of 62 in the Coaches, a solid majority in both. Following the bowl games, Nebraska made up a few votes in the AP (51.5 to 18.5) but it was the Coaches poll that saw the biggest shift. Nebraska captured 32 of the first place votes to Michigan’s 30.
Michigan faced six ranked teams throughout the season, four of which finished the season ranked. Nebraska played four ranked teams, and five that finished the season in the top 25. Another Michigan opponent, Michigan State, fell from the final rankings following a bowl loss to Washington, a Nebraska opponent.
The combined final record of opponents was 75-69 (Michigan) and 77-74 (Nebraska), so the difference is negligible. The Cornhuskers had an extra game due to the Big 12 Championship game.
As for common opponents, each team played Colorado and Baylor. Michigan beat Colorado 27-3 in the season opener while Nebraska held on to beat the Buffaloes 27-24. Michigan beat Baylor 38-3 while Nebraska beat the Bears 49-21.
“We felt we played a tough schedule, and Michigan felt they played a tough schedule,” said Osborne. “They won them all, we won them all. We felt we played a very difficult opponent in the bowl game. I’m sure they felt they played a very difficult opponent. We did win convincingly over a very strong Tennessee team, but votes fall where they may and I don’t have any problem one way or another.”
As you can see, determining which team is the rightful national champion is impossible without the two battling it out on the field. Unfortunately, the debate will live on and the two teams will continue the budding rivalry as Big Ten Legends division foes. And that’s just fine with Hoke who judges the success of his seasons on winning Big Ten titles.
“That’s so much out of our hands. I don’t know if there was any feeling besides we were proud that we went undefeated and went out and won the Rose Bowl.”