The Extra Point: How The Mighty Have Fallen

Lloyd Carr's retirement came just two days after the latest humbling of his program, a 14-3 domination at the hand of rival Ohio State. In this opinion piece, Jeff Svoboda wonders just how quickly Michigan's next coach can succeed given how evident the program's flaws were on Saturday.

With Lloyd Carr's retirement announcement imminent on Saturday, Michigan athletic director Bill Martin said he would love to be able to clone Carr so that a similar person would take over the head coaching job.

I can think of many, many scarlet-clad Ohioans who agree with him.

From the Ohio side of the rivalry, it's hard, given the results of the past seven years, not to have a view of Carr as the hapless Charlie Brown, the unending victim of the sleight of hand by Jim Tressel's Lucy, who pulls the football away at the last moment. After all, Carr became known as LLLLLLoyd to Columbus fans for his continued lack of success – six losses in seven tries – against Tressel's Buckeyes.

But that run of poor performances against Ohio State was not essentially the problem, but just a symptom of the real malady: just how far the program has slipped in the past years, especially when compared to their rivals to the south.

What the rivalry has come down to is that at this moment Ohio State simply has players who play better at important moments. Look at Saturday as an example: Vernon Gholston was much better than U-M right tackle Steve Schilling, or anyone else who attempted to block him. The Wolverines entered with a "big time" back in Mike Hart, who was outgained by nearly 200 yards by OSU's Chris Wells. One of the reasons for the difference in rushing yards was that the Buckeyes had linebackers who made plays, unlike Michigan's, who often found themselves dragged for extra yards or slammed to the turf by whichever Buckeye fullback happened to be in the game.

The list could go on for a while, an interesting thought considering that Michigan constantly brings in recruiting classes as good as or better than Ohio State's.

What was particularly damning for the Wolverines was the play of their senior leaders. The silencing of Hart, whose 44 yards on 18 carries was only 104.5 yards below his season average, might have been most satisfying, but Michigan's other high-profile seniors failed in just as spectacular a fashion.

Henne spent the day spraying the ball all over the field with the accuracy of Wild Thing Vaughn. His stubborn return after leaving during the second half sealed Ohio State's victory, as the only time Michigan looked dangerous during the final 30 minutes was the one series with Ryan Mallett under center. Of Michigan's three second-half first downs, two came with Mallett as the quarterback.

Then there's the other member of the holy triumvirate, left tackle Jake Long, who had one of his worst games as a Wolverine. The reputedly nasty lineman was beaten for two sacks and on one play was piledriven into his star quarterback by true freshman Cameron Heyward.

On the other side of the ball, the seniors fared no better. Captain Shawn Crable made 10 tackles but only made an impact for his team when he forced Ohio State quarterbak Todd Boeckman into an interception by classmate Brandent Englemon. That pick by Englemon was overwhelmed by his often poor tackling of Wells, the burly tailback whose 222 rushing yards were an OSU record in the game.

Another senior, Jamar Adams, didn't always look better. One Wells' 62-yard touchdown run that broke open the game, Adams blocked himself out of the play and Englemon could only wave at the first-team All-Big Ten back.

All that despite Hart's 2006 postgame assurances that Ohio State's defense wasn't anything special and that Michigan would fare better in a rematch from that 42-39 Buckeye win in the 1 vs. 2 matchup.

"If they want to bark, they can bark, but I'd rather be the guy that bites than the guy that barks," Barton said.

The dichotomy between the two programs is apparent from Barton's statement. Both he and Hart are well known for their love of giving the media interesting soundbites, but even when prodded by the media before the game Barton refused to denigrate the Michigan program and professed his respect for it despite his obvious annoyance with Hart's statements.

In fact, a bemused disbelief seemed to be the general attitude the Buckeyes had in response to Michigan's brashness. When asked about Michigan's Hart, Henne and Long saying that they returned return for another shot at OSU, wideout Brian Hartline wondered how many shots Michigan would need. The message: "Enough with the talk, let's do this again."

So where does that leave Michigan? In tremendous need, to be honest. The above seniors were among Michigan's best players. How bare will the cupboard be considering that junior Mario Manningham might be the only high-impact player coming back for the Wolverines, should he decide to stay? At least the Wolverines have punter Zoltan Mesko, who might have been their best player Saturday, returning.

In many ways, this program is in similar shape to what Cooper left for Tressel. Some lean years figure to be on the horizon and a new attitude must reinvigorate the program. One downside for Michigan figures to be that Tressel will not let his program decay to the point that Carr did. This coaching search will indeed produce the school's biggest hire since Don Canham reached out for Schembechler.

Michigan likes to trumpet the "Michigan difference," which is a slogan that seeks to show what sets the university apart from other schools. Right now, the Michigan difference, when it comes to the football field, is a couple of wins per year when compared to Ohio State.

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