Back in April, I jokingly asked coach Lloyd Carr whether I should book my flight to central Florida then. He laughed. The joke, of course, was that Michigan had managed to find its way there every New Year’s. History, for Michigan football, has had a way of repeating itself over my four years here.
Saturday night, on the way back from Columbus, it occurred to me that I would like to get in a time machine and go back to an hour before the Michigan-Ohio State game. I’d like to have had a word with Carr; to tell him what he could do differently to alter the course of history.
But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from pop-cultural time travel, it is futile to disrupt the space-time continuum.
Indeed, there is little I could have told Carr about what to expect that would have made much difference. I could have told him to put nine men in the box, and to over-commit to stopping Maurice Clarett. That Craig Krenzel and the Ohio State passing attack weren’t going to beat him, and that taking Clarett out of the equation would mean a complete collapse of the Buckeyes.
But truly, as successful as Clarett was against the depleted Michigan front seven, there was not much more that could have been done. Clarett moved in and out of holes with the grace and fluidity of an old seamstress, cutting and accelerating better than any tailback I have ever seen. He beat us, fair and square, and putting 30 men in the box probably wouldn’t have contained him.
I could have told Lloyd to go for it on 4th-and-goal at the end of the magnificent second quarter drive that resulted in Adam Finley’s third field goal. I could have told him that points were to be at a premium in the second half, and that it would have been worth his while to call a fade to Braylon Edwards or a sweep to Chris Perry or a short curl to Bennie Joppru and go up 13-7 entering halftime. The field goal, at the time, was definitely the right call. But man. That’s what time machines are for.
I have had mixed feelings about Michigan’s offensive play calling this season, but Saturday was probably the best-called game by Carr and offensive coordinator Terry Malone, save for a miscommunication with one second left in the game.
The first half was an absolute pleasure to watch, as quarterback John Navarre picked apart the middle of the Ohio State defense and Perry ran as intelligently as he ever has. Finley’s field goal proficiency was tremendous.
The thing of it is, this game was a matter of predestination. Michigan football was on a crash course with destiny that has existed as long as I, a senior, have been at this school. That destiny? 6-2 in the Big Ten. Central (or southern) Florida. The SEC on New Year’s Day.
There was nothing to tell Carr because there was nothing Michigan could have done to escape its fate. You don’t want to mess with the space-time continuum, and beating Ohio State on Saturday would have altered the course of history and bucked a predetermined trend for Michigan football. It would have given the team a 7-1 Big Ten record and a strong possibility of playing a non-SEC team in somewhere other than Florida. It would have redefined what is expected of the Wolverines.
There is no finger-pointing. Michigan played as well as it could have, and I have no complaints. The bottom line, and the only thing that I could have said to Carr an hour before kickoff, is this: Michigan, over my four years here, is only so good. There’s nothing you can do in the Horseshoe this afternoon that’s going to change that. And Lloyd: I’ll see you in central Florida. My ticket is already booked.
David Horn can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.