Monday, September 24, 2007

Forgive Lloyd. Pardon Lloyd. Grant Lloyd Atonement for Never Running the Clock Out.

For those of you who have not had the intense pleasure of watching 12-13 Michigan games every fall for the entirety of Lloyd Carr's tenure, you may not quite understand the basic tenets of Lloydball. For the uninitated who haven't seen all 153 of Lloyd's games as coach in Ann Arbor, here's a basic primer:

1. Running the football is the preferred way to progress down the field. Passing is fun when behind, in long yardage, and/or to loosen up defenses, but the default call on offense should be a run between the tackles.

2. Anything that can be used as an excuse to keep the ball on the ground will do so. Inexperienced quarterback? Slight protection problems? A gentle breeze?

3. When Michigan has the lead, the function of the offense is to bleed the clock, churn out a couple first downs, and then punt the ball so the opponent has to drive the length of the field to get a winning score.

4. Execution is more important than unpredictability. It should not matter that personnel, formations, and motion give away the nature and direction of a play; the players should still execute it.

5. Preventing big plays is the primary goal of a defense. The converse is not true. Avoiding turnovers and possessing the ball are the primary goals of the offense. The converse is not true.

As you might be able to tell, Lloyd's basic tenets often frustrate me. Such was the case on Saturday afternoon. I left for the concluding Yom Kippur service at 6 p.m. with Michigan nursing a 7-6 lead heading into the fourth quarter. I then spent the next two hours praying and seeking forgiveness for various things, such as losing my temper too easily and saying negative things about other people. I was confronted with an interesting philosophical question: can I repent for a sin that I was sure was going to take place when I got home? Can one repent for sins that are mere hours from taking place?

Fortunately, this remained a mere hypothetical because Michigan was opposed on Saturday by the one major power coaching staff with even more old-fashioned values. (There are probably Tennessee fans jumping up and down right now, screaming "Remember us!?!") Occasionally, Lloydball does work. It works when Michigan has a dominant defense (1997 and 2006) and it works when an opponent's style hews perfectly to the way college football was played in the 70s. Penn State does absolutely nothing unconventional on offense, which means that Michigan's defense is perfectly situated to stop it. Penn State is rock-solid on defense, but they do not disguise coverages or generate tremendous pressure to force turnovers. Thus, Michigan got away with running almost exclusively on downs other than second and third and long. (Excluding its drive that started with 90 seconds to go in the first half and its kneel-down at the end of the game, Michigan had 34 first and tens in the game and threw on exactly eight of them. How Carr and Debord think it's a good idea to "protect" a true freshman quarterback by forcing him to throw mostly on obvious passing downs is beyond me.) Michigan also got away with forgoing the chance to kill the game off on its final offensive possession, mainly because Anthony Morelli is not a good quarterback and Penn State's offense is fairly easily defended.

In this salvo of negativity, I should probably say a few nice things about Michigan saving its season, beating a top ten team, and emerging as a contender in the emasculated Big Ten. First, Mike Hart is an absolute titan for grinding out 153 yards against a defense that knew what was coming time and again. Second, Ryan Mallett already has more ability to move in and out of the pocket and make improvisational plays than Chad Henne does. With a predictable offense, that ability to buy time for receivers to get open is critical. Mallett's scramble and throw to covert a 3rd and 11 on Michigan's last drive was a great play and covered up for some truly wretched play-calling that asked for Penn State to get a good chance to come back and win the game. Third, the defense isn't better solely because it isn't seeing the run-based spread anymore. With Brandon Graham healthy and living up to his tag as the next Lamarr Woodley, Donovan Warren doing a good job at corner as a true freshman in place of the dearly departed Johnny Sears, and Brandent Englemon providing a significant upgrade over the not-ready-for-primetime Stevie Brown at safety, Michigan is better at three spots than the unit that was torched by Armanti Edwards in the first half of the opener. It isn't a foregone conclusion that Michigan will soil itself when it sees the spread again from Illinois.

Other College Football Thought-dreams

1. I wish I had something exciting or innovative to say about the Georgia game, but I really don't. It was a great win for the Dawgs because it keeps the Dawgs in the race in the conference. Matthew Stafford still relies on his arm too much to the detriment of proper footwork and his long passes therefore sail on him. His great throw in overtime should not obscure that fact. The offensive line performed above expectations, giving Stafford time to throw and opening holes for Georgia's backs. Knowshon Moreno is outstanding. The defense played very well, with the exception of Alabama's last drive in regulation when they promptly forgot everything they have been doing well all season. If John Parker Wilson was a better quarterback, then that would have been a two-play drive because Keith Brown was pretty open deep. I was mildly perplexed that Terry Grant only got 11 carries, as he looks like the real deal much as Moreno does. I was also perplexed by the sudden appearance of Roy Upchurch late in the game, but that was a really bright maneuver by Nick Saban and Major Applewhite.

Two other random notes:

a. Gotta love the class of Alabama's students for pelting Georgia's players with cups after Mikey Henderson's winning touchdown catch. THIS IS ALABAMA FOOTBALL!!!

b. Isn't it amazing that Mark Richt is 23-3 in SEC road games even though he doesn't go all Woody Hayes on his players?

2. MANDEL!!! Hopefully, our friend Stewart was light-headed after fasting for penning an entry about how every team in the SEC other than LSU has at least one major flaw. Gee, you think the same can't be said about every other conference? You want to discuss Oregon's and Cal's defenses? (I probably shouldn't be saying anything about Oregon after September 8 other than that Mike Bellotti was sexier than Magnum P.I. when he had a mustache, but 31 points conceded to Stanford? In one half? Really?) Or West Virginia's, for that matter? Or Rutgers's schedule? Or South Florida's offensive line? Or the entire Big Ten save for Ohio State? Or Texas's pass protection problems? Mandel is seeking to hold the SEC to a standard than no other conference can match. He also ignores the fact that the last two weeks have demonstrated that there isn't an easy out in the SEC, which is a testament to the depth of the league. Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Vandy are all frisky, which makes life tougher for the powers in the conference because they will get no breathers this year. This could be a tough year for the embattled coaches in the league (read: Fulmer and Nutt) because they won't be able to get the free, record-padding wins that the conference's peasantry sometimes provides. Just as Jim Donnan lost his job for losing to Georgia Tech rather than Tennessee and Florida, Nutt and Fulmer might lose their jobs for losing to Vandy or Mississippi State instead of Florida or LSU.

For the record, I don't necessarily disagree with Mandel's assertion that the conference has LSU first, Florida second, and then a mish-mash of good, but not great teams thereafter. I just don't like that being a criticism of the league, especially in a year in which it looks so balanced.

It also bears mentioning that Mandel was right on the money when he noted last week that Texas and Oklahoma illustrate the importance of offensive lines. There's a good argument to be made that the start of this season is illustrating that returning quarterbacks are overrated in pre-season predictions. LSU, Oklahoma, Ohio State, and Florida all look outstanding on offense with new starters. Michigan (pre-Henne injury) and Tennessee look pedestrian with four-year starters under center. Penn State has a senior under center and they can't pass their way out of a paper bag.

3. Maybe there's a reason why Taylor Bennett sat behind Reggie Ball for all that time. Maybe my prediction of a good season for Virginia won't turn out to be complete idiocy after all. Wouldn't it be something to see Michigan win the Big Ten after losing its opener to Appalachian State and Virginia win the ACC Coastal after getting blown out in its opener by mighty Wyoming. Who the hell am I kidding with that last sentence?

4. Blake Mitchell did about as well in Baton Rouge as we all thought he might. Let the Smelley era commence! Seriously, it's hard to take a team seriously when it's led by this guy:

I'll admit that I didn't see too much of the South Carolina-LSU game between the Michigan game, Barca-Sevilla (the Blaugrana's defense was impenetrable; this team looks great, even with Thierry Henry a shell of his former self), and religious observance. LSU dominated statistically and the 28-16 score doesn't really do justice to how good LSU looked (again).

5. If you want an undervalued team right now, take Arkansas. They've lost two games, both of which they led in the fourth quarter. Their dreadful passing game is going to take a step forward when Marcus Monk returns. The only qualifications to my optimism are the possibility of an implosion as the summer of Nuttkampf takes its toll and the defense, which misses Chris Houston and Jammal Anderson badly.

6. Am I the only one who is amused that the Mississippi State-Gardner-Webb game pitted the Bulldogs against the Runnin' Bulldogs?

7. The bell tolls for thee: Mike Stoops, Dennis Franchione, and Dave Wannstedt. The bell would toll for Charlie Weis if not for the cost of buying him out. I'm perfectly happy with Charlie getting the full five years in South Bend.

8. Signs that the media and coaches polls suck, take 23: Wisconsin remains in the top ten, despite all evidence that the Badgers are a mediocre team. The latest evidence: a four-point win over a stumbly-wumbly Iowa team that featured two open receivers behind the secondary on Iowa's last drive, both of whom were missed by Jake Christiensen. At some point, shouldn't a team have to either beat a good team or look good against a bad team to justify a top ten ranking? Wisconsin is in the top ten, while Michigan is out of the polls (and deservedly so), but does anyone think that Michigan wouldn't be, at worst, a very slight underdog to the Badgers on a neutral field?


Jeff said...

I'd say we're better at 4 spots now. Brandon Graham's return also improves our linebackers because his presence on the line allows Crable to be a playmaker.

Michael said...

True, but Crable might have been a liability against the spread from a linebacker spot. Still, he would have been better there than at DE.

Anonymous said...

Bobby P says:

Hey! I resent that! Mighty Wyoming is actually pretty damn solid this year. Their run defense will likely end the year in the top ten, if not the top 5. They've absolutely shut down everyone on the ground (held Ohio to fewer rushing yards this wkd than VT did the week prior). If only they could take care of the ball on offense.

Ryan said...

I'm admittedly a bit of a LLoyd apologist. I get frustrated too-BELIEVE me but I appreciate what he has done.

A few other things to consider.

The preferred play calling is run run pass punt, run run pass punt, run run run kneel.

Don't forget the other reason to run, the crowned field at Autzen Stadium.