PASADENA, Calif. –

Under a picturesque mountain backdrop, with a fired-up contingent of Wolverine fans providing audio accompaniment, the sun-drenched field of the Rose Bowl was the perfect setting for a very special Michigan performance. Memories of a Bowl Championship Series controversy faded away.

Even without national-championship implications, the stakes for the 2006 Wolverines were still high:

Win and expect to vault to No. 2 in the final polls.

Win and solidify a place as one of the best Michigan teams of this half-century.

But another letdown on New Year’s Day proved that this team deserved neither accolade.

It exposed another Wolverine squad that flashed brilliance at times but failed to put the pieces together under the bright post-season spotlight.

For the third time in four years, Pasadena’s gorgeous stadium proved a house of horrors for Michigan.

Lloyd Carr’s Wolverines have now lost four consecutive bowls. Decorated seniors LaMarr Woodley and Leon Hall, among others, will never know what it’s like to hoist a bowl championship trophy.

Three seasons ago, against a national champion Trojan team, a Rose Bowl loss was expected. Two seasons ago, you had to tip your hat to Vince Young’s incredible individual effort. Last season, the team was in shambles long before it collapsed against Nebraska in San Antonio.

But there were plenty of reasons – from Michigan’s gutsy performance against Ohio State to Southern Cal’s ugly losses to Oregon State and UCLA – to believe this game would be different. That’s before Michigan fans’ great expectations were blindsided, like so many Trojan hits on Chad Henne.

It’s not shocking that Michigan lost to Southern Cal – most expected a neck-and-neck battle. It’s how the Wolverines fell that raises disturbing questions.

How was the offensive line so unprepared for a Trojan front notorious for its complicated blitz schemes?

How was the secondary so dreadful?

How did the running game, so strong all season, become so inept?

The coaching staff can’t escape blame. Prior to the Rose Bowl, Carr praised the Trojans’ aggressive blitzing. But he still didn’t effectively prepare the Wolverine front.

On game day, Michigan’s offensive line looked completely stunned by the unusual blitzes Trojan defensive coordinator Nick Holt threw its way. Before long, the Wolverines were so flustered that it didn’t matter how many people Southern Cal brought – Henne was even getting hit when the Trojans rushed three defenders.

Similarly, the coaches failed to make any significant halftime adjustments after Michigan was thoroughly outplayed in a 3-3 first half. Carr and offensive coordinator Mike DeBord seemed strangely content with the Wolverines’ pathetic first-half offensive showing and stubbornly continued their hopeless gameplan, attempting to establish the run against a vicious Trojan front seven.

Meanwhile, Southern Cal coach Pete Carroll threw his balanced gameplan out the window, unleashed his

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