Saturday, February 24, 2007

1979: A year of transition

In 1979, the Wolverines were in a year of transition. QB Rick Leach (1975-1978) had finished his playing career, the Wolverines searched for a new signal caller among three untested players (B.J. Dickey, John Wangler and Rich Hewlett), WR Anthony Carter had arrived on campus as a true freshman, the "Ten Year War" (1969-1978) had ended with OSU coach Woody Hayes, Earle Bruce was the new Head Coach for the Buckeyes starting a new chapter in the rivalry, and Notre Dame was coming to play the Wolverines in Ann Arbor for the first time since 1943.

The 1979 season started for the three-time defending Big 10 Champion Wolverines with a home game versus conference opponent Northwestern. Michigan romped to a 49-7 victory over the Wildcats with one of the Wolverines' touchdowns coming on a 78-yard punt return by true freshman Anthony (AC) Carter. Next up for #6 ranked Michigan was a home game against #9 Notre Dame which was the first time in 36 years that the teams had played each other in Ann Arbor.

Game Two: Notre Dame (Sept. 15, 1979)
[Sports Illustrated article- part I, part II, part III; orig. SI article from SI Vault]
Both teams struggled mightily on offense in this game as they were each without their star quarterback (Rick Leach for Michigan; Joe Montana for Notre Dame) from the previous season. The Wolverines started B.J. Dickey at QB while the Fighting Irish countered with Rusty Lisch. The Fighting Irish were limited to four field goals on the day (kicker Chuck Male hit from 40,44,22, and 39 yards) but the Wolverines were only able to muster one touchdown (a one-yard run by Stanley Edwards) and a field goal through three quarters. Michigan entered the fourth quarter trailing 12-10 but the 105,111 in attendance were hopeful that the Wolverines could find a way to win. Notre Dame's star RB Vagas Ferguson (35 carries, 118 yards) fumbled the ball on the Irish 35-yard line and Michigan's All-American DT Curtis Greer recovered the ball. However, the Wolverines' ensuing drive stalled when on third and seven QB B.J. Dickey was sacked for a seven-yard loss. With six minutes left, Notre Dame Coach Dan Devine put backup QB Mike Courey into the game because Lisch had a sprained left ankle. Courey was intercepted on the Irish 44. Unable to convert this turnover into points, Michigan switched quarterbacks on its final possession.

With 2:02 to play and the ball at the Wolverines own 42, John Wangler entered the game to try and drive and the Wolverines into field goal position as Michigan still trailed 12-10. Wangler drove the Wolverines down to the Irish 25 with seven seconds remaining and kicker/punter Bryan Virgil came on for a 42-yard field goal attempt that could have won the game. Although Virgil had made a 30-yarder earlier in the contest, Virgil had a tough kicking day against Notre Dame as he had punted poorly including one punt that went only five yards. On the last second field goal try, the kick was blocked by a leaping Bob Crable. Notre Dame, consequently, escaped with the hard fought victory.

Finishing the non-conference schedule strong and then on to the Big Ten schedule
Michigan bouned back from the tough Notre Dame loss by winning back-to-back non-conference games against Kansas (28-7) and California (14-10). The Wolverines then traveled to East Lansing to take on Michigan State to try and exact a measure of revenge on the Spartans for the previous year's contest. In 1978, MSU's defeat of Michigan (the Spartans first win over Michigan in nine years) turned out to be the Wolverines only regular season loss of the year. Michigan was determined to not allow MSU to make it two years in a row.

Game Five vs. Michigan State (October 6, 1979)
The sixth largest crowd (79,311) to that point in Michigan State history were in attendance for the intra-state rivalry game between the #11 ranked Wolverines and the #16 ranked Spartans. An additional bit of significance to the game was that Coach Schembechler was vying for his 100th career victory as Head Coach of the Wolverines. Michigan was able to reach the milestone for Coach Schembechler as the Wolverines won 21-7. Tailback Stanley Edwards was named the oustanding player of the game as he led the way to victory for Michigan with 139 yards on 24 carries. However, Michigan did much of their damage through the air as quarterback B.J. Dickey threw two touchdown passes. His first scoring strike came on a 66-yard bomb to wide receiver Ralph Clayton with about one minute remaining in the third quarter. That score put the Wolverines up 14-7. In the fourth quarter, Dickey marched the Wolverines down the field for another score that sealed the game. On third-and-11 at the Michigan 28, Dickey fired to Clayton for a 22-yard gain to midfield. Later, on second-and-10 at the MSU 40, Dickey hit TE Doug Marsh over the middle for 21 yards to the MSU 19. Subsequently, on third-and-6 at the Michigan State 15, Dickey came through again with a nine-yard strike to Roosevelt Smith along the sideline. From the six, Dickey rolled out and passed to the side to Anthony Carter who raced into the endzone for the clinching touchdown.

Rolling through the Big 10 conference schedule
After registering conference victories over Minnesota (31-21) and Illinois (27-7) the Wolverines (6-1, 4-0) hosted Indiana on 10-27-79 for the Homecoming game. In this game with the legendary finish, Michigan and Indiana were tied at 21 with six seconds remaining and the ball at the Michigan 45-yard line. QB Johnny "Wingin'" Wangler hit WR Anthony Carter with the legendary touchdown pass and Carter streaked into the end zone like a penguin with a hot herring in his cumberbund to give Michigan the 27-21 win. Michigan's offense built on the momentum the following week and rolled up 54 points in a easy victory (54-0) over Wisconsin. At this point, the Wolverines stood 8-1 overall, 6-0 in conference and ranked #10 in the nation. Michigan had a tough road game against #14 Purdue and a home game against arch-rival (and undefeated) Ohio State remaining on the schedule in the Wolverines attempt to win their fourth consecutive Big 10 title. Unfortunately, this is where the wheels came off the 1979 season. Michigan dropped a tough road game to the Boilermakers by the score of 24-21 leaving Michigan on a down note heading into the season ending showdown with the #2 ranked Buckeyes (10-0).

Game eleven: Ohio State (Nov. 17, 1979)
[Sports Illustrated article part I, part II, part III; orig. SI article from SI Vault]
In an attempt to jump start the team, Coach Bo Schembechler made the surprising move of starting freshman QB Rich Hewlett against the #2 ranked Buckeyes. Ohio State was led by their QB and Heisman Trophy candidate Art Schlichter. Before a capacity crowd of 106,255- the largest crowd ever to see a regular-season college game to that point- the Wolverines were going for their fourth straight victory over the Buckeyes. The game was a see-saw battle all the way.

After Michigan intercepted a Schlichter pass with 6:57 to play in the first quarter, Hewlett drove the Wolverines from the Ohio State 31 to a third and one on the Buckeyes' two yard line. However, an option keeper by Hewlett got nowhere and the normally conservative Coach Schembechler decided to go for it on fourth down rather than attempt a field goal. Hewlett ran another option play and was stuffed just short of the goal line. In the second quarter, with 11:30 to go before the half, Coach Schembechler made another daring play call. On fourth and seven from its own 36 the Wolverines punter Bryan Virgil faked a punt and threw a pass that fell incomplete. The game remained scoreless until 3:48 to play in the half when Ohio State broke through with a 23-yard field goal by Vlade Janakievski. At this point John Wangler entered the game as quarterback for Michigan as Hewlett sat on the bench with an injured left ankle. On his fifth play, Wangler hit Anthony Carter with a spectacular pass for a 59-yard touchdown. Down 7-3 and with only 1:30 left in the half, Schlichter unleashed an aerial assault on Michigan's prevent defense and he drove the Buckeyes 72 yards in eight plays. Ultimately, the Buckeyes settled for Janakievski's second field goal, a 25-yarder.

In the third quarter, Schlichter drove Ohio State to its first touchdown against Michigan since 1975. On third down at the Michigan 18, Schlichter unloaded a pass toward WR Chuck Hunter racing for the corner of the end zone. Michigan DB Mike Jolly tipped the ball but Hunter hauled in the touchdown pass with one hand while tumbling to the ground. Ohio State's two-point conversion attempt on the following play failed when Jolly intercepted the pass and the score stood at Ohio State 12 Michigan 7.

Michigan responded immediately as Wangler connected with Carter for a 66-yard gainer. Five plays later RB Roosevelt Smith rammed the ball across the goal line from the one-yard line to put Michigan back in the lead. Coach Schembechler decided to go for the two-point conversion and he called Smith's number once again. Smith took it in on the two-point play to put Michigan ahead 15-12.

Disaster struck the Wolverines with 11:21 to play in the game. Virgil came in to punt from his own 38 while 10 Ohio State players massed at the line of scrimmage intent on blocking the kick. Linebacker Jim Laughlin roared through the left side untouched to block the kick. The ball took a big hop directly into the arms of Linebacker Todd Bell who raced into the end zone from the 18-yard line for the winning touchdown. Michigan's attempts at a comeback were thwarted by Ohio State's ball control offense which held the ball for all but 17 seconds of the last 5:24. Ohio State held on for the 18-15 win and the undefeated Buckeyes advanced to the Rose Bowl while Michigan (8-3) was relegated to the Gator Bowl.

Gator Bowl vs. North Carolina (Dec. 28, 1979)
The Gator Bowl marked the first time in Coach Schembechler's tenure as Michigan's Head Coach that the Wolverines were playing in a non-January Bowl game. Michigan's Gator Bowl opponent was the North Carolina Tar Heels (7-3-1). QB John Wangler opened the contest with a 47-yard pass completion to WR Anthony Carter. However, the Wolverines did not get on the scoreboard until early in the second quarter when Bryan Virgil booted a 20-yard field goal. Michigan extended its lead later in the second quarter when Wangler hit Carter for a 53-yard touchdown pass. The extra-point conversion failed but Michigan had a 9-0 lead. On the Wolverines next possession, Wangler suffered a game ending injury when he was tackled by linebacker Lawrence Taylor. Wangler left the game having thrown for 203 yards and a touchdown. North Carolina scored on a one-yard run shortly before halftime to go into the half down 9-7. In the second half, North Carolina scored 10 unanswered points to take a 17-9 lead before Michigan QB B.J. Dickey rallied the Wolverines. With only 1:28 remaining in the game, Dickey hooked up with Carter on a 30-yard touchdown pass to pull the Wolverines to within two points. Michigan then attempted the two-point conversion with another pass to Carter but the attempt failed giving North Carolina a 17-15 victory.

The Gator Bowl loss meant that Michigan finished the 1979 season with three (3) consecutive losses. It also meant that the Wolverines (8-4) finished out of the top 10 in the final polls for the first time during Coach Schembechler's tenure as Head Coach. The 1979 team finished ranked #18 in the AP poll and #19 in the UPI poll. Go Blue!

*Note: Photo of Anthony Carter TD from the '79 Homecoming Game on the cover of the 10/2/82 game program by Rick Engel.

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Brief history of the "Go Blue" banner

The pre-game tradition of the Michigan players racing out of the tunnel and leaping into the air to touch the "Go Blue: M Club Supports You" banner while the Marching Band plays "The Victors" is one of the most recognizable game day traditions at University of Michigan football games. The tradition dates back to 1962 when Bump Elliott was the Head Coach of the Wolverines. Although the graduate "M" club made the permanent banner, it was the undergraduate "M" club that started the tradition with a simple yellow block "M" on a six-foot wide strip of fabric. On the Friday practice before Michigan's 1962 Homecoming game against Illinois, the "M" club assembled all the non-football letterwinners to form two lines as the players ran off the field towards the locker rooms in Yost Field House. The club was given permission by Coach Elliott to form the the flag tunnel before the game the next day, and the rest is history. As an interesting aside, the "Go Blue" banner measures approximately 40 feet long x 4 feet wide and has been stolen twice during its forty-plus year history. It was also "attacked" by the Ohio State football team in 1973. Go Blue!

*Note: Much of the historical information contained in this post came from an article in the M Letterwinners Club's Winter 2003 newsletter (.pdf format).


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A.D. Bill Martin fills Sept. 1st date with FCS team and sacrifices Michigan tradition,standards

In an affront to Michigan football tradition and the school's standards of excellence, Athletic Director Bill Martin has filled the Wolverines open September 1st date with a FCS (f/k/a Div. I-AA) team. Michigan had been one of the few big name FBS schools that had never played a FCS level school. A.D. Martin protested that scheduling Appalachian State as the Wolverines opponent for the 2007 home opener was the best choice. His "reasoning" (and I use that term loosely) went along the following lines: (1) Michigan "needs" to have eight home games to generate revenue for the sports program; (2) Scheduling a higher profile opponent (e.g., Stanford) would have required that Michigan negotiate a home/away package deal with the oppenent rather than a one-game home stand; (3) Michigan has a tough 2007 non-conference schedule with Notre Dame and Oregon and so it needed another patsie; (4) Michigan has an "attractive" home schedule in 2007 so fans should not complain about the addition of a throw-away game.

In choosing an opponent for the home opener, A.D. Bill Martin had a chance to signal to the college football world what makes Michigan Football great. Michigan Football, much like the University in general, is about excellence and tradition. In singing Michigan's fight song, Wolverine fans shout about being, "The Leaders and Best." The University of Michigan advertising campaign tagline is "The Michigan Difference." Michigan Football had a chance to lead by scheduling a big-time opponent when so many schools (including OSU) are scheduling FCS teams. However, A.D. Martin blew this opportunity. Rather than be a leader he was merely one of the many college administrators across the nation to schedule a FCS team for what amounts to an exhibition game. The loss of prestige Michigan will suffer from scheduling an FCS opponent will far outweigh any benefits derived from gate receipts from hosting this eighth home game. Conversely, the long term benefits Michigan would have derived from scheduling a big-time opponent in 2007 would far outweigh the "loss" caused by the fact that Michigan would only have seven home games in a future season when it played on the road in the return game. A.D. Martin badly miscalculated the cost/benefit analysis of this situation.

A.D. Martin feels he does not need to concern himself with the quality of Michigan's opponents because the fanbase of the Wolverines is so large that Michigan Stadium will be sold out regardless. It is simple supply and demand. With demand for tickets at a premium, A.D. Martin knows that Michigan can charge full price for this "garbage" game and the stadium will still be at overflow capacity. Thus, there is no incentive for A.D. Martin (in his shortsighted perspective) to bring in a "big-name" opponent. However, in the long run, the team's reputation will be damaged by such antics as scheduling second-tier opponents. Lack of prestige will cause a drop in merchandise sales revenue and that will be a bigger problem in the long haul than whether Michigan hosted seven or eight home games. A.D. Martin's predecessor, Tom Goss, was eviscerated by fans for tampering with tradition when he made the cosmetic change of adding the Halo to the stadium. The action of A.D. Martin of scheduling a FCS team, which directly impacts the product on the field, is much more significant than a cosmetic change to the stadium. A.D. Martin has made a significant mistake and Michigan will pay a steep price with its reputation as a result. Go Blue.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

1978 team: Wolverines captured third straight Big 10 title

The 1978 team was looking to capture its third consecutive Big Ten Conference title and advance to the Rose Bowl for the third time in as many years. The offense was led by senior All-American quarterback Rick Leach while the defense was paced by All-Big 10 performers Curtis Greer (Def. Tackle) and Ron Simpkins (Inside Linebacker). The Wolverines opened the season with a conference home game versus Illinois and scored a convincing 31-0 victory. The next week Michigan traveled to South Bend, Indiana to take on Notre Dame for the first meeting between the two teams since 1943. Notre Dame, the defending National Champions, were led by their quarterback Joe Montana. However, it was Michigan's quarterback Rick Leach who had a big day. Leach passed for 3 touchdowns and ran for another in leading the Wolverines to a 28-14 victory over the Fighting Irish in the renewed rivalry. The Wolverines notched two more non-conference victories (Duke 52-0; Arizona 21-17) in the following weeks before hosting in-state rival Michigan State. The Spartans spoiled Michigan's bid for a perfect season as Michigan State defeated the Wolverines 24-15. Michigan responded by winning their next four games by wide margins (i.e., Wisconsin 42-0; Minnesota 42-10; Iowa 34-0; Northwestern 59-14). The Wolverines then played host to the #15 ranked Purdue Boilermakers in what was senior Rick Leach's last game in Michigan Stadium. Leach passed for 2 touchdowns and rushed for 90 yards on 18 carries against Purdue while spearheading a 24-6 Michigan victory in his final home contest. The #6 ranked Wolverines (9-1) then traveled to Columbus, OH for their annual showdown with the Ohio State Buckeyes who were ranked #16 in the nation. Michigan came away with a 14-3 victory and its third consecutive Big Ten title and trip to the Rose Bowl.

The end of the "Ten Year War"
Coach Schembechler's victory over Ohio State in 1978 ran his record to 5-4-1 in games versus the Buckeyes. Unbeknownst to everyone at the time, this was the last time that Bo would coach against Woody Hayes. Coach Hayes was dismissed from his position as Ohio State's Head Football Coach a few months later after he punched a Clemson player (Charlie Bauman) following an interception in the 1978 Gator Bowl game. The ten years that Bo coached against Woody (1969-1978) would later become known as "The Ten Year War."

Heisman Trophy Voting

In his senior year of 1978, QB Rick Leach placed third in the Heisman Trophy balloting. Leach had put together another outstanding regular season as he led the Wolverines to a 10-1 record, a Big 10 title, a Rose Bowl game berth, and a #5 national ranking in the AP poll. Leach was 68/137, 1,146 yds., 16 tds., 4 int. through the air during the 1978 regular season. On the ground, Leach rushed the ball 133 times for 589 yards and 12 touchdowns. In recognition of his accomplishments, Leach was named an All-American in 1978.

Rose Bowl Game vs. USC (January 1, 1979)
After losing back-to-back Rose Bowls the previous two seasons, quarterback Rick Leach wanted to end his collegiate career with a victory in Pasadena, California. However, it was not meant to be as Southern California's star RB Charles White scored a "phantom touchdown" that proved to be the difference in the ballgame. With USC leading 7-3 in the second quarter, the Trojans had the ball on second down on the Wolverines' three-yard line. White took the handoff and jumped over the middle of the defense but lost the ball in the process. Although umpire Don Mason saw White fumble the ball that Outside Linebacker Jerry Meter recovered on the one-yard line, head linesman Gil Marchman ruled that White had crossed the goal line and scored a touchdown for USC. The controversial touchdown call stood and USC led 14-3. The Trojans added a field goal before halftime to go into the locker room with a 17-3 lead. In the second half, the Wolverines managed to cut the lead to seven when Leach threw a 44-yard touchdown pass to Roosevelt Smith in the third quarter. However, neither team was able score after that and the Trojans were able to secure a 17-10 victory over the Wolverines. As an aside, Leach was named the game's co-MVP. The loss dropped Coach Schembechler's Rose Bowl record to 0-5. However, on a positive note, the 1978 Wolverines (10-2) finished with an AP ranking of #5 which marked the tenth consecutive year that Michigan finished the season ranked in the nation's top 10. Go Blue!

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1977 team: Leach led Michigan to back-to-back Rose Bowl games

The 1977 team, led by junior QB Rick Leach, looked to repeat as Big Ten Champions and return to the Rose Bowl for a second straight year. Protecting Leach were All-American linemen Mark Donahue (Guard) and Walt Downing (Center). On the defensive side of the ball, the Wolverines were led by All-American linebacker John Anderson. The Wolverines opened the 1977 season with a 37-9 road victory over Illinois and found themselves ranked #1 in the nation heading into week two of the season. Michigan reeled off three straight home victories against non-conference opponents (versus Duke, Navy, and Texas A & M) before heading on the road to take on their in-state rivals- the Michigan State Spartans. The Wolverines defeated the Spartans 24-14 and Michigan returned home to Ann Arbor the following week and defeated the #14 ranked Wisconsin Badgers by the score of 56-0! At this point, the 6-0 Wolverines were ranked #1 and headed to Minnesota to take on the Golden Gophers. This turned out to be Michigan's "trap" game as the Wolverines fell 16-0 to unranked Minnesota. Michigan bounced back by racking up convincing victories over Iowa (23-6), Northwestern (63-20), and Purdue (40-7) over the next three weeks. That put the Wolverines at 9-1 and a #5 ranking with their rivals the Ohio State Buckeyes (ranked #4) coming to Ann Arbor on 11-19-77 to conclude the regular season. This game marked the 50th anniversary of the Michigan Stadium dedication. Touchdown runs by Roosevelt Smith and Rick Leach led the Wolverines to an exciting 14-6 victory over the Buckeyes and propelled the Wolverines to the Big 10 title and a Rose Bowl game berth for the second consecutive season!

Heisman Trophy Voting
Leach had an outstanding junior season in 1977 as Michigan's signal caller while leading the Wolverines to a 10-1 regular season record. He was 76/147 for 1,119 yards, 13 touchdowns and 7 interceptions during the regular season. He also rushed the ball 106 times for 370 yards and 7 touchdowns. For his efforts, Leach garnered enough votes to finish in the top 10 (8th place) in the balloting for the 1977 Heisman Trophy.

Rose Bowl Game vs. Washington (January 2, 1978)
The Wolverines found themselves down 24-0 in the third quarter to the #13 ranked Huskies before Leach rallied Michigan for a valiant comeback attempt. Leach (14/27, 239 yards, 2 tds., 2 ints.) threw for the most yards of any game in his entire college career as he launched an aerial assault to get Michigan back in the game. The comeback began when Leach connected with Curt Stephenson for a Rose Bowl record long touchdown pass of 76 yards. Washington countered with a field goal to make the score 27-7 as the game headed into the fourth quarter. However, the Wolverines kept coming. Leach led Michigan down the field by completing four straight passes and RB Russell Davis finished the drive off by running the ball in from the two-yard line. Later in the fourth quarter, Leach fired first down passes of 11 and 12 yards to WR Ralph Clayton and then Leach connected with RB Stanley Edwards for 32 yards and a touchdown. The Wolverines failed to convert the extra point because of a bobbled snap on the kick and remained down seven. With 2:46 to go and trailing 27-20, Leach engineered one more drive down the field. He led the Wolverines all the way down to the Huskies' eight-yard line where Michigan had the ball first and ten with about 1:30 remaining in the game. Leach's pass to Stanley Edwards bounced off the running back's shoulder pads and the ball was stripped away by a Washington defender leaving the Wolverines' amazing comeback just short. The loss dropped the Wolverines to 10-2 on the season and they finished ranked #9 in the AP poll and #8 in the UPI poll. Go Blue!

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Vance Bedford returns as Defensive Backs coach

It is official! Vance Bedford is back at Michigan as the coach of the Defensive Backs. According to an article in the February 13, 2007, edition of the Tulsa World, Bedford was scheduled to fly to Ann Arbor on Tuesday morning. This will be Coach Bedford's second stint with the Wolverines as he was the secondary coach for four (4) seasons from 1995-1998. His prior stint included the National Championship season of 1997 when his star pupil was Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson. Bedford now returns to Michigan from Oklahoma State University (OSU) where he has spent the last two seasons as Defensive Coordinator. Prior to becoming the Defensive Coordinator at OSU, Bedford spent six years in the NFL coaching the defensive backs for the Chicago Bears.

As a player, Bedford was a four-year letterman and starter at the University of Texas and was the defensive MVP at the 1982 Senior Bowl. He played professionally with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1982 and with the Oklahoma Outlaws in 1984. His return to the Michigan coaching staff was a poorly kept secret but good news nonetheless. The Wolverines had a rough year in 2006 in terms of pass defense and Bedford is just the man to get the team ready for the 2007 campaign. Go Blue!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The legacy of #1 Anthony Carter

In recent days and weeks there has been a lot of discussion of landing out-of-state star recruits who could arrive at Michigan and make an immediate impact on the program as a true freshman. There has been non-stop talk about 5-star recruit Ryan Mallett from Texarkana, TX. The only problem is that he plays behind senior Chad Henne and thus Mallett will not have the chance to play a lot this year. The other 5-star recruit in the 2007 class is CB Donovan Warren from California. Warren will be competing for a starting job in the secondary this fall. However, the impact Warren or any of the other 2007 recruits will make this season will likely pale in comparison to the sensation caused in 1979 by a skinny true freshman from Riveria Beach, Florida.

Anthony Carter (or "AC" as he became known) was recruited by Coach Bo Schembechler from Sun Coast High School to play Wide Receiver and special teams. Carter was only 5'11" and was rail thin at 161 lbs. He was also painfully shy but Coach Schembechler saw the makings of a future star and Carter was assigned jersey #1. AC made a dramatic impact in his very first game as he scored a touchdown on a 78-yard punt return in the 1979 season opener versus Northwestern. From there, he never looked back. In game eight versus Indiana, he caught the legendary touchdown pass from Johnny "Wingin'" Wangler with no time left on the clock to give Michigan a 27-21 victory over Lee Corso's Indiana Hoosiers. AC kept up his heroics in the OSU game as he caught 2 passes for 125 yards including a 59-yard scoring pass from Wangler. In the Gator Bowl, AC continued his freshman brilliance as he caught 4 passes for 141 yards and 2 touchdowns. On the season he tallied 1,157 all-purpose yards (462 yds. receiving, 413 on kickoffs, 265 on punt returns) for an average of 96.4 yards per game. He averaged an amazing 27.2 yards per reception and he scored 7 receiving touchdowns.

AC's freshman season was only the beginning of course. He went on to have three consecutive seasons where he was named first-team All-American and he finished in the top-10 of the Heisman Trophy balloting in each of those years. (i.e., 1980: 10th place; 1981: 7th place; 1982: 4th place). AC made the #1 jersey what it is today and he created a legacy for all future recruits to follow. The new recruits may be bigger than the shy, slight kid from Riveria Beach, Florida but I doubt that they will ever be able to fill his shoes. Go Blue!


Friday, February 09, 2007

Help Wanted: Coaching Vacancy

The vacancy on the Michigan Football staff created by the departure of Ron Lee has yet to be filled although there are rumors flying around the Michigan blogoshphere that the school has already identified its leading candidate for Lee's replacement. The question is how Coach Carr will want to configure his staff for the 2007 season. Traditionally, the staff had a dedicated special teams coordinator who had the dual responsibility of being in charge of recruiting. A few years ago that position was capably held by Bobby Morrison. More recently, Mike DeBord (2004-2005) performed those tasks before he was promoted to Offensive Coordinator prior to the 2006 season. Last season, the tasks were divided up among a few different people. Chris Singletary was brought in as the new Recruiting Coordinator while Ron Lee was brought in to coach the cornerbacks and work with the punt return team. Ron English was, of course, promoted from defensive secondary coach to Defensive Coordinator. However, Coach English continued to coach the safeties in addition to his new duties. Assistant Head Coach/Wide Receivers Coach Erik Campbell chipped in by helping work with the team's punt returners while Associate Head Coach/Running Backs Coach Fred Jackson worked with the team's kickoff returners. This coaching special teams-by-committee approach ultimately did not prove to be very successful as is demonstrated by the fact that Michigan finished 79th in the nation (of 119 teams) in kickoff returns and 57th in net punting.

For 2007, Coach Carr should assign Ron English to solely perform the duties of Defensive Coordinator. Coach Carr's new hire should be the defensive secondary coach responsible for both the cornerbacks and the safeties. The question is what should be done about the Special Teams Coach. I think Coach Carr needs to re-assign tasks among the existing staff so there can once again be a singular Special Teams Coach. I think Linebackers Coach Steve Szabo is the logical choice to be tapped as the one to add Special Teams Coach to his title as he has vast experience and he has the least on his plate relatively speaking when compared to the current tasks of the other coaches. Sorry Coach Szabo but it is for the good of the team. Go Blue!

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Carrying the load

When Mike DeBord returned to his post as Michigan's Offensive Coordinator prior to the 2006 season it was his mission to re-establish the Wolverines' rushing attack. Coach DeBord accomplished his goal by continually calling the number of Mike Hart. Hart carried the ball 318 times last season for 1,562 yards. Hart's 318 carries were the second most in the nation behind only the 335 rushes of Rutgers' Ray Rice. It should also be noted that Hart's season rushing yardage total (1,562) was the fifth-highest single season total ever posted by a Michigan player. Additionally, Hart was the only player in the nation in 2006 to rush for 90+ yards in every regular season game.

Hart led Michigan in rushing with 1,455 yards in 2004 as a freshman sensation. However, he had an injury plagued sophmore campagin and was limited to 662 yards in 2005 which was still good enough for the team rushing title. With the 1,562 yards he gained in 2006 (and the third team rushing title that went with it), Hart is ready to reach records set by some of Michigan's greatest running backs. Jamie Morris is the only player in Michigan history to lead the Wolverines in rushing four times and Hart can share that unique distinction by leading Michigan in rushing yardage his senior season. Furthermore, Hart is in position to become Michigan's all-time leading rusher as he is currently in fifth place only 793 yards behind all-time leader Anthony Thomas (4,472 yards).

Hart received a plethora of post-season honors following the 2006 season and he finished 5th in the Heisman Trophy balloting. Hart will be considered among the pre-season favorites in the race for the 2007 Heisman Trophy. However, the only trophy that Hart is concerned about winning is the National Championship trophy for the team. Hart is a great leader and will likely be voted a team captain in his senior season. Go Blue!

*Note: Photo of Mike Hart by John T. Greilick/The Detroit News

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Michigan's 2007 backup QB

The Ryan Mallett-era has begun. National Letter of Intent Signing Day on February 7, 2007 was a bit anti-climactic with respect to Mallett considering the fact he early enrolled at Michigan and has been been attending classes since January. It is undisputed that the 5-star phenom from Texarkana, TX will be Michigan's next (great) starting QB once Chad Henne moves on. The question is whether Mallett would redshirt the 2007 season. With Henne as QB #1 for 2007, Mallett could learn from him while redshirting and then have 4 years of his own as Michigan's starter. At least that is the theory. However, Coach Carr dispelled that notion at his Signing Day press conference with these remarks about playing Ryan Mallett in 2007: "I think we'll try to play him some, if he is the backup quarterback and it may not be a lot. And it may be, you know, you never can predict that. But I think the advantage of playing some, knowing that it's not going to be a lot, or not planning that it's going to be a lot, the great thing about not redshirting him is that every single week, he's going to prepare like he's going to play, because he may. So mentally, the pressure is on him. I think his dreams are to be the starting quarterback here for three years, and I think in three years, you know, at the end of that time, you might say, well, we should have redshirted him. But he may not have stayed anyway, so there are no guarantees."

Coach Carr's points are well taken. He is absolutely right that there are no guarantees that Mallett would stay at Michigan for five years if he were to be redshirted. Coach Carr is also right that Mallett will practice hard this year knowing he could be called on for game action at anytime. However, there are downsides to having Mallett as the backup QB that go beyond "burning" a year of his eligiblity.

Having Mallett available to play in 2007 is going to cause needless distraction for the team as a faction of the Wolverine fanbase are going to try and create a "quarterback controversy." That faction is the segment of the rabid Wolverine fanbase that is dissatisfied with the performance of QB Chad Henne over the past three seasons. People will argue that Mallett is the QB of the future and at the first sign of trouble for Henne the naysayers will assert that the "future is now." The "reasoning" is that Mallett will be taking over anyway so he should take over now as Henne has had his chance (and allegedly failed to capitalize) and Mallett should start so Michigan can build towards a brighter future. Michigan's passing attack was almost non-existent (by design) for the first two games of the 2006 season as Michigan headed into the Notre Dame game. The aerial attack then exploded against the Fighting Irish. Remember, however, how much people were complaining about the passing game prior to the Notre Dame game. If that scenario occurred next season with Mallett available, the calls for Henne to be benched would be deafening. However, as fans learned in 2006, it was not Henne's performance that was holding the passing game back and when he was unleashed (as he was vs. ND) he was spectacular. Unfortunately, some fans seem to have short memories and I believe that Henne is in for a long year with the fans while Mallett enjoys his honeymoon with the Wolverine faithful. Go Blue!

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Spring Football "Game" set for April 14, 2007

Michigan has announced that Spring Football Practice will commence March 17, 2007. The Spring Football "Game" is set for April 14, 2007 with the time to be determined. This will be the fans first opportunity to watch Ryan Mallett (an early enrollee) workout in a Michigan uniform. The Spring Football practice schedule looks as follows: the team is allotted 15 days, three of which are without any pads, helmets only. Two of those will be the two opening practices held on the weekend (Sat., March 17th and Sun., March 18th). Then the team will get into the schedule basically of Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday for the next four weeks. The Spring Football practice season concludes with the scrimmage on April 14th which is open to the public. Go Blue!


Get off the roller coaster, Michigan's 2007 recruiting class is in

With the arrival of National Letter of Intent Signing Day on Wednesday, February 7, 2007, the Wolverines' coaches were able to bring to a close the odyssey of bringing in the 2007 recruiting class. Twenty players strong, the recruiting class featured at least one recruit per position. (see a breakdown of the numbers by position in Angelique S. Chengelis' article in the Detroit News). Coach Carr held a press conference on Signing Day where he extensively discussed the incoming recruits. However, not surprsingly, he was a little more circumspect when the topic turned to his possible retirement or vacancies on the coaching staff. As for the 2007 recruiting class, fans have high hopes regarding the impact that the new recruits will make on the program. Click here for a look back on the immediate impact that some members of other recent Michigan recruiting classes have had on the program. Go Blue!


Sunday, February 04, 2007

Ron Johnson commits to USC

Ron Johnson (a/k/a RoJo) is a no go for the Wolverines as he has just announced his verbal commitment to play for the defending Rose Bowl champion Southern California Trojans. Can't win 'em all.

UPDATE: Rashad Mason has committed to the University of North Carolina. That leaves only Jerimy Finch (who previously de-committed from Michigan) as a question mark as the Wolverines head to signing day on Wednesday, February 7, 2007. The recruiting class currently stands at 20 players.

UPDATE II: Jerimy Finch has announced his committment to the National Champion University of Florida Gators. His choice came a little bit out of the blue as he had allegedly narrowed his choices to Indiana or Michigan. Apparently not. Go Blue!


Friday, February 02, 2007

Michigan's 2006 defensive rankings vs. its 2005 defensive rankings

The 2006 season was Ron English's first year as Michigan's Defensive Coordinator and the honeymoon lasted for eleven (11) games as the Wolverines' defense dominated opponents while the team went undefeated. Unfortunately, however, everything came undone in the final two games of the year and the Michigan defense yielded a combined total of 74 points in the final eight quarters of play of the season (i.e., the OSU game and the Rose Bowl vs. USC). Although Michigan's defense was touted (hyped) as a top defense all season, the flaws were seriously exposed in the season's final two games. Despite all the goodwill Coach English generated from his players' performances earlier in the year, Coach English still endured a fair amount of criticism for failing to have an adequate defensive game plan in either of the season's final two games. Whereas his predecessor Jim Herrmann was criticized for bogging down the players with too many technical requirments, Coach English was rebuked for not employing sophisticated enough schemes. Although the two defensive coordinators have different coaching philosophies, the bottom line results are not as different as you might expect. Here is a comparison of how Michigan's defense performed during the 2005 season under Jim Herrmann and how it performed in 2006 under Ron English:

Scoring Defense

  1. 2005: 20.3 pts. per game; 4th in Big 10; 24th in NCAA
  2. 2006: 15.9 pts. per game; 4th in Big 10; 15th in NCAA

Total Defense

  1. 2005: 345.2 yds. per game; 3rd in Big 10; 36th in NCAA
  2. 2006: 268.3 yds. per game; 2nd in Big 10; 10th in NCAA

Pass Defense

  1. 2005: 207.8 yds. per game; 2nd in Big 10; 42nd in NCAA
  2. 2006: 224.9 yds. per game; 7th in Big 10; 89th in NCAA

Pass Efficiency Defense

  1. 2005: 116.3 rating; 3rd in Big 10; 33rd in NCAA
  2. 2006: 111.9 rating; 4th in Big 10; 25th in NCAA

Rushing Defense

  1. 2005: 137.3 yards per game; 3rd in Big 10; 36th in NCAA
  2. 2006: 43.4 yards per game; 1st in Big 10; 1st in NCAA

It is undisputed that Coach English had a highly successful rookie year as defensive coordinator. However, he did not accomplish anything with this defense that Coach Herrmann would not have achieved. In fact, Coach Herrmann would have had Michigan more "game ready" for the season's final two games than did Coach English. Coach English looked overwhelmed, frustrated and out of answers during both the OSU game and the Rose Bowl. I understand this was his first year as defensive coordinator but remember that Coach Herrmann guided Michigan to the National Championship during his rookie season as defensive coordinator in 1997. Coach Herrmann is an outstanding coach and I still believe that Michigan was too quick to dump him after the 2005 season. Coach English, who coached under Coach Herrmann for three seasons, would be well advised to install some of his predecessor's defensive formations for the 2007 season. The blending of the two coaching philosphies will only serve to make Michigan's defense even better. Go Blue!

*Note: Photo of Coach Carr staring down Def. Coordinator Ron English during the Rose Bowl by Kirthmon Dozier/Detroit Free Press

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2007 recruiting roller coaster

With only a few days remaining before the official signing day on Wednesday, February 7, 2007, things have been very up and down for Michigan in terms of recruiting. On the upside, Michigan received verbal commitments yesterday from 5-star CB Donovan Warren from Long Beach (CA) Polytechnic High School and 3-star DT Renaldo Sagesse from Montreal (Quebec) Vieux School. On the downside, the recruitment of 5-star Ron Johnson (#4 in the Detroit Free Press Best in the Midwest) remains a mystery. Although on Thursday it was being reported that Michigan was absolutely ruled out as a destination, it is now being reported that the Wolverines' coaches have re-established contact with the Johnson family. (See Angelique S. Chengelis' post of 2/2/07 on the Detroit News' Big 10 Blog). This is a positive sign but whether this means Michigan is again a serious contender is another matter. Fans will really have to just wait and see on this one. Johnson intends to announce his choice at his church on Sunday. Something that looked scarier than what it turned out to be was the news that WR Martell Webb (who was Michigan's 5th verbal commitment of the 2007 class) was planning to take an official visit to the University of Miami this weekend. It appears that Webb is still solid in his commitment to the Wolverines. One player who did retract a prior verbal commitment to Michigan was Jerimy Finch. Surprisingly enough, there is talk that he is reconsidering his decision and he may end up re-commiting to the Wolverines. No news on which way 4-star WR Rashad Mason (TN) is leaning. Wednesday (signing day) cannot get here fast enough so Michigan fans can get off this roller coaster. Go Blue!