The complaints of Michigan fans about Lloyd Carr seem quaint at best after the Rodriguez-apocalypse, but this seems like a good time to revisit the primary gripe, which was the existence of the “non-scoring offense.” Carr’s teams had two offenses. The first was the offense that was actually designed to maximize scoring. This offense would come out when the team was behind and/or playing an opponent that frightened the coaching staff. The second offense was a bland disaster that would be deployed against inferior opponents and/or when Michigan had leads (and not necessarily substantial leads, at that). In the last two years of Carr’s tenure, the non-scoring offense was marked by endless zone left runs where Mike Hart would predictably get the ball, take it behind Jake Long, and then find 11 defenders waiting for him. It was the existence of the two offenses that led to one of the more amazing stats of Carr’s tenure: Michigan was more likely to win a game when trailing by one score going into the fourth quarter than they were when they were leading by one score in the same situation. (HT: I Blog for Cookies.) In retrospect, Michigan fans (and I include myself in this group) should have given Carr more credit for recruiting great offensive players and overseeing the implementation of a scoring offense that could be so successful against top opposition. Instead, we took that for granted and griped about the fact that Carr seemingly chose not to maximize the potential of his offenses.
Here is what I wrote about the “scoring offense” phenomenon in 2008*:
There are a number of reasons why Michigan fans were not overly upset to see Lloyd Carr retire despite the fact that he had a good record in Ann Arbor. One of the most prominent reasons was Lloyd's tendency to make each game a self-fulfilling prophecy. Lloyd assumed that most games would be decided in the fourth quarter. He perpetually underrated the talent advantage that his teams had over most of the team's on their schedules. (Lloyd does deserve credit for recruiting well and creating the talent advantages in the first place.) Thus, Michigan would employ sub-optimal offensive strategies (read: running between the tackles and horizontal passing) until threatened, at which point Michigan would use its best assets: NFL-caliber quarterbacks, wide receivers, and offensive linemen in a spread passing attack. If Lloyd would have used the Citrus Bowl offense that ripped Florida to shreds as the team's base offense, then the Appalachian State debacle never would have happened. If he would have used the spread passing attack with Tom Brady as the base offense in 1999 instead of giving the ball to Anthony Thomas 25 times per game from the offset I, then Michigan wouldn't have played nine games decided by one score (nine!?!) with a future NFL Hall of Famer under center.
* – That post should be interesting to Georgia fans in retrospect. The impetus for writing it came from Georgia eking past the inept 2008 Auburn team on the Plains. In it, I found that Georgia was more likely to play close games than other top programs (five per year during the Richt era) and they had a very good 26-14 record in games decided by one score. 2009 continued with this pattern, as Georgia went 4-2 in one-score games, but then 2010 was completely against type as Georgia went 1-4 in such games (and that doesn’t include the losses at South Carolina and Mississippi State, both of which were tight games that were ultimately decided by more than one score). The 2010 team was completely against type for Mark Richt. That ought to be encouraging for Georgia fans going into 2011.
Possessing the ball, running it, and taking care of the football is an important part of team's success. "Mike Martin I'm sure would love to get zone-blocked all day long."[ed: bler.] The pro-style offense brings a different physical aspect that helps build team toughness. They need to hold onto the ball to help the defense, and the pro-style offense brings that. "We like points, don't get me wrong," they aren't going to hold the offense back from scoring, though, except in end-game situations.
“We like points, don’t get me wrong.” The fact that Hoke feels it necessary to include that caveat is telling. You know how you can tell that something insulting is coming as soon as someone starts a statement with “with all due respect”? You know how someone is about to whine when they say “I’m not a whiner, but…”?* You know how you know that something racist is coming when someone says “I’m not prejudiced, but…”? (Some of my high school classmates were masters of this technique. My ears always perked up when I heard it so I could have a reminder as to why I was supporting Bill Clinton.) The fact that the speaker has to make a disclaimer is the giveaway.
* - Heath Evans used that clause in the aftermath of the 200 Citrus Bowl as a prelude to claiming that the Michigan offensive linemen must have been holding because Michigan was able to run the ball on Auburn. Yes, Heath, an offensive line with one future NFL perennial All Pro (Steve Hutchinson) and two future NFL starting tackles (Jeff Backus and Maurice Williams), all blocking for a future NFL offensive rookie of the year (Anthony Thomas) had to hold to run the ball. How was a Michigan team with that amount of offensive talent in the Citrus Bowl with an 8-3 record? Take a look at the start of this post.
College football is great for a host of reasons, one of which is the scarcity of product. We only get three months and change of games, so we go crazy in anticipation. By August, we are totally stir-crazy, like kids at the end of a car trip, and we end up over-analyzing every utterance of our coaches. In the same way that foreign policy analysts pore over the statements of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and opine on the implications of his statements for the rivalry between Iran and Israel, people like me look for evidence of a head coach’s style based on tiny snippets of press conferences. In both cases, we ask the questions like “does he really mean this or is he just saying it for domestic political consumption?” and “surely he realizes that this is a terrible idea, right?” We do this because what else is there to discuss in August?