As I stood on the sidelines in the closing minutes of the Citrus Bowl on New Year”s Day, listening to Tennessee”s “Pride of the Southland” band blaring Rocky Top for the 40th time, I realized that I was witnessing the conclusion of the most forgettable season of Michigan football in nearly 20 years.
After losing at Michigan State again and getting embarrassed by Ohio State at the Big House, with the Big Ten championship, a BCS bid and Ohio State coach Jim Tressel”s credibility on the line Michigan went down to Orlando and treated its fans to the worst bowl blowout in school history. If there was any question that this year”s Michigan squad had major problems, Tennessee”s 45-17 abasement of the Wolverines should have silenced all of the doubters.
It didn”t take a genius to figure out that something had to change, so what was Michigan coach Lloyd Carr”s response? After examining everything, he made a bold move and replaced offensive coordinator Stan Parrish with, in all likelihood, offensive line coach Terry Malone.
I hate to burst the bubbles of my fellow Michigan students who expect the Wolverines to bounce back and go 10-1 next year, but trying to fix Michigan”s offense by replacing Stan Parrish with Terry Malone is like treating a case of malaria with Tylenol.
Certainly, Parrish has to accept some of the blame for Michigan”s pathetic offensive showing this year. Any time the Wolverines finish ninth in the Big Ten in total offense, the offensive coordinator has some explaining to do. For starters, Parrish could try to convince us that there was some logical explanation for running the ball right at Tennessee”s All-America defensive tackle John Henderson on Michigan”s first three plays of the Citrus Bowl.
That aside, the Wolverines” troubles on offense this year ran a lot deeper than Parrish”s questionable play-calling. Michigan fans who are looking toward next year have to face a few facts.
For starters, the Wolverines do not possess anything close to a big-time tailback. Chris Perry has yet to prove he can carry the ball 25 times per game. Meanwhile, B.J. Askew is a good fullback, but it became pretty obvious during the course of the season that he”s not a featured tailback. If he”s eligible next season, Kelly Baraka could be the answer, but it”s hard to imagine that he”s going to step in right away and rush for 1,200 yards.
Then there”s the receiving corps. Now that Marquise Walker has used up his eligibility, the Wolverines don”t have anyone resembling a go-to receiver. Heck, they don”t have anyone resembling a possession receiver, either.
Junior Ron Bellamy started alongside Walker this season but was largely invisible Tyrece Butler made just one reception of any note all year (remember that catch he had against Iowa?) and Calvin Bell demonstrated his mastery of the reverse, but has yet to show he can be a dependable receiver. Throw in the departure of two of Michigan”s top three tight ends (Shawn Thompson and Bill Seymour are both graduating) and the Wolverines are clearly going to be hurting next year for anyone who can catch the ball.
That brings us to the quarterbacks, and I don”t even have to say anything about this position. John Navarre”s play this year did all of my talking for me, and Michigan fans have to pray for one of two things next year: A) Navarre magically discovers poise, accuracy and the ability to look off his primary target, or B) Incoming freshman Matt Gutierrez is as good as advertised and wins the starting job. As for Spencer Brinton and Jermaine Gonzales, here”s my question if neither one of them could beat out Navarre this season, where is the evidence that either of them will be any better next year?
Last, but not least, there”s the issue of Carr”s offensive philosophy, which is not going to change. It”s the same problem the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have had the last few years former coach Tony Dungy kept switching offensive coordinators and bringing in high-priced free agents, but his conservative approach on offense doomed the Bucs to an early playoff exit every year.
In fairness, Carr has been willing to unleash talents like David Terrell and Drew Henson on occasion, but this is still a man who once said, “We”re going to run the ball or die trying.”
Now, having said all that, who knows? Maybe Michigan”s new offensive coordinator whether it is Malone or one of Carr”s other offensive assistants will come in and shake things up. Maybe Navarre will start spreading the ball around to Butler, Bell and Bellamy. Maybe Baraka will be the nation”s leading rusher next year.
Maybe well, maybe not.
Arun Gopal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.