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93rd ROSE BOWL | USC 32, MICHIGAN 18 | Bill Dwyre

Michigan offense is a running joke

January 02, 2007|Bill Dwyre

Michigan brought its horse-and-buggy offense to the Rose Bowl on Monday and produced what horses-and-buggies usually do. Manure.

After USC's 32-18 victory over this No. 3 team in the country, the Wolverines may need a slight adjustment to the wording of their fight song. "Hail to the victors" could become "Hail to the over-rated." Hum it. It works.

The score at the half was 3-3. USC was just plain lousy, while Michigan seemed to be working on a big setup for the second half. Hand off right three times, then cross 'em up with the old handoff left. Your worst fear was that Coach Lloyd Carr would bring out his Wolverines for the second half dressed in leather helmets and running the single wing.

Actually, it was worse. Well before the rest of the team came out for the second half, Carr sent out his long snappers and punters. Guess he was expecting more of the same, and afterward he even fessed up to a sort-of 1930s thought process.

"What we discussed at the half -- we are still in the game at 3-3 -- was going earlier to our two-minute offense [shotgun formation, more open plays]," he said. "But we wanted to protect our defense, so we decided to stay with the plan."

Which was to live the football coaches' cliche. Repeat after me: "We needed to establish the running game."

That makes some sense when your running back, Mike Hart, rushed for more than 100 yards in nine of the 13 games this season, and his previous low -- before his 47 Monday -- was 91 against once-beaten Wisconsin.

That being said, Hart was now being sent on handoff right and handoff left against some of the fastest, meanest dudes he'd ever see. Lightning, Lockjaw and Lucifer, also known as Dallas Sartz, Keith Rivers and Brian Cushing, spent the entire afternoon teaming up with Lua, real name Oscar, to stomp on and mess up whatever Michigan was trying.

Did Michigan not exchange film with USC before this one? Is there no TiVo in Ann Arbor? After this one, might Michigan go back to the drawing board and seek out innovation for the '07 campaign? Might we see, in next year's playbook, the pitchout?

Cushing, who had to be surgically removed from Chad Henne's rib pads after the game so he could go take a shower, praised the Wolverines afterward because that is what players are taught to do and there is no percentage in not doing so. But he also admitted that he had been well-enough prepared to know what was coming with just about every Michigan trip to the line of scrimmage.

"Yup, pretty much so," he said.

Not a real big deal when you consider he had a one-in-three chance just guessing: handoff right, handoff left, quarterback Henne straight back to pass. Henne was sacked six times for 44 yards in losses. Sometimes, Cushing and the other L Boys beat him to his spot in the pocket and waited around for a while before they knocked him down. Other times, they pretended to be blocked first.

"I understand what they were trying to do," Cushing said. "It is the Big Ten mentality to try and overpower you."

Oops. Can't overpower what you can't catch. That's an old Pac-10 proverb.

In the end, the result of this 93rd Rose Bowl, in front of 93,852 -- many of them in maize-and-blue clothing that was as close to the vest as their team's offense -- raised several questions:

* Why do coaches who have a quarterback like Henne with a rocket for a throwing arm, and a receiver like Mario Manningham with such exceptional skills that he will, someday, be receiving large amounts of money to use them, choose to hand off right and hand off left until the game is decided?

* Henne had 309 yards passing, approximately 308 of them after it didn't matter. Is there anything worse than wild and crazy when things are over and done with?

* What would UCLA's defense have done to these Wolverines, given that it reduced the Trojans to a pile of rubble?

* And what does this do to the prevailing notion that No. 1 Ohio State is head and shoulders above the rest in college football and that its 42-39 win over then-No. 2 Michigan on Nov. 18 clearly established this?

There are still seven shopping days left before the Jan. 8 national title game, plenty of time to ponder the phrase "Florida and the points."

*

Bill Dwyre can be reached at bill.dwyre@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Dwyre, go to latimes.com/dwyre.

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