Following Michigan”s 45-17 defeat at the hands of Tennessee in the Florida Citrus Bowl on New Year”s Day, it would have been very easy to look back on the Wolverines” 8-4 season and proclaim it a complete failure.
In some ways, that may be true. When you consider that Michigan lost to both Michigan State and Ohio State the latter loss cost the Wolverines the Big Ten championship it”s hard to consider this season much of a success.
But, if you take into account that more than half of Michigan”s offense from last season played in the NFL this year, then this year”s up-and-down edition of the Wolverines certainly has some things to be proud of.
“I don”t think any of the disappointments they faced kept them from playing hard,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said the day after the Citrus Bowl defeat. “I think they”ll be able to look back with pride, with respect to the fact that they played hard and they never pointed a finger when things went bad because that”s what can destroy a team.”
Ironically , one of Michigan”s best overall performances of the year came in a loss at Washington on Sept. 8. The Wolverines quieted the vaunted Husky Stadium crowd and were in control of the game until the Huskies scored on a pair of flukish plays a blocked field goal which was returned for a 77-yard score, and an interception return for a touchdown on the very next possession.
That game was just the start of what would become one of the more bizarre seasons in school history. Michigan”s loss at Michigan State remember the phantom final second? and victory at Wisconsin (thank you, Brett Bell) will be talked about for decades to come.
Unfortunately, the same can be said for Michigan”s performances against Ohio State and Tennessee to close out the season. Those two losses will no doubt go down as two of the worst outings by a Michigan football team in recent memory, and have tarnished the legacy of the departing senior class.
“Most of all, I feel badly for our seniors because that”s a memory they”re going to have,” Carr said. “As a senior, you never get another opportunity.”
Although the season may not have ended as it would have liked, Michigan”s senior class made its mark during the season. Two players stand out in particular wide receiver Marquise Walker and linebacker Larry Foote.
Walker put together one of the finest seasons ever by a Michigan receiver. He caught 86 passes for 1,143 yards and 11 touchdowns, numbers which earned him All-America honors from the American Football Coaches Association.
Meanwhile, Foote was the anchor of a much-improved Michigan defense. A year after posting some of the worst defensive totals in school history, the Wolverines led the Big Ten in scoring defense, and Foote was a major reason why. He was voted the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year by both the coaches and the media for his efforts.
Following the Citrus Bowl defeat, Foote was asked about his disappointment in the wake of such a bad loss.
“It”s very tough, but I”m leaving with my head up,” he said. “It”s been a rough year, but I”ve learned a lot. I just thank God that I came to Michigan.”