The Hype and the Players
The Bowl Picks Competition that Law Buckeye and I do usually turns on a couple games. This year, my inability to think logically and pick Florida State over Wisconsin handicapped me badly and set the tone for another year of embarrassment at the hands of not only Law Buckeye, but you the reader. In the 2007-2008 Bowl Picks Competition, the game changing matchup featured an SEC Heisman Trophy winner versus a Michigan team that had lost to Appalachian State and scored 3 points against OSU. An easy pick I thought, as I predicted Florida to win by 20. So what if their defense was full of freshmen? So what if Chad Henne and Mike Hart were finally rested and healthy after a season of injuries? This was Tebow, Harvin, and a 40+ ppg offense rampaging through a four game win streak.
But Law Buckeye saw something else in this matchup, something he couldn't fully explain but looked a lot like this:
Law Buckeye decided that Lloyd Carr's farewell game after announcing his retirement in the preceding month would be an emotional affair, inspirational enough to push Michigan past the defending National Champion Florida Gators. Michigan's status as an unranked team didn't phase him and he boldly predicted the Wolverines to win by 3.
Now Law Buck has always had a special place in his heart for Carr (and not just because of Carr's struggles to beat OSU). He just likes the classy way Lloyd carried himself, the fishing and cigars and general "Michigan Man" persona. But sappy goodbye's aside, I didn't believe this Michigan team had showed enough cohesiveness on the offensive side of the ball to keep up with the Gators. Offensive stars abounded on this Wolverine team - Jake Long was an All-American and future #1 overall draft pick, while Mike Hart, Mario Manningham, Adrien Arrington, and Chad Henne were playing in their last games for the Maize and Blue before jumping to the NFL. But in the crucial losses to Oregon, OSU, and Wisconsin, Michigan averaged a paltry 10 ppg.
10 ppg wasn't going to hold up against Tim Tebow and the Urban Meyer Spread. Tebow had scored 20+ TD's on the ground and through the air and the Gators had scored 45+ points eight times. God knows all those points were needed too; the defense was green, giving up 25 ppg as stars Brandon Spikes and Derrick Harvey were surrounded by freshmen starters and inexperienced backups. The Gators had come into the season as the defending national champs, but were only ranked #11 in the nation because of the young defense. As Scout.com put it in their preseason preview:
Anyone else replacing nine starters, needing a slew of true freshman to play big roles right away, and/or had the issues the Gators have on the line and at corner, would be instantly dismissed from any SEC East title talk much less the national championship discussion.
I watched this game with a sense of impending doom. Sort of a "Damn this is a good matchup but God I don't want to lose by 30" feeling. Henne and Michigan came out talking trash (see the video) and did not look intimidated all game. A beautiful behind the back catch by Arrington highlighted an unremarkable first quarter which ended with the game tied 7-7. Zoltan Mesko punted for the Wolverines twice in the first quarter and while this stat alone isn't very interesting, he wouldn't punt the ball again as Michigan would either score or turn the ball over on every ensuing possession.
First Half Highlights
After the Ap St loss, I had begun to shrug my shoulders about the season and say things like "it's a throwaway year" and "we'll pick it up next year, no more 3 and Out Lloyd." But after the Wolverines scored on the opening possession, I began to get the same excited feeling that you get when watching an early round NCAA Basketball Tournament game and the underdog team is playing hard and keeping the game close. They can do this, I thought. Screw my Bowl Pick Competition bracket.
Tebow, Harvin and the inexperienced Gators weren't mediocre on offense either, showing the well rounded attack that has characterized Urban Meyer's reign in Gainesville. Harvin ran for 165 yards as one blogger wrote, "He's only 5'11" (tops), yet Percy Harvin looks like the strongest, fastest player on the field." But Tebows impact on the run game was muted and early pressure by Jamar Adams and the Michigan front four helped slow the explosive Florida offense. A 21-14 halftime lead for UM left the 65k in attendance, not to mention the millions in Michigan, in shock.
Second Half Highlights
The Gator's would take a 35-31 lead in the 4th quarter, but it was Michigan's day. A late Arrington touchdown would put the Wolverines on top, never to relinquish this lead. Since this was basically the last great football highlight for Ann Arbor since RichRod took over, it's important this games memory be stretched out by talking about the infinite details and statistics.
Adrian Arrington. 153 yards, 2 touchdowns, and a couple Sportscenter catches. Brilliant, brilliant performance.
Mike Hart. 2 red zone fumbles, 129 yards rushing, 2 touchdowns. If he hangs onto the ball like his reputation said he would, this was a blowout.
Michigan's offensive performance. 524 total yards and anything Henne wanted, he got. Bubble screens? Working nicely. Stretch run play to Manningham? 5 yards a pop. 5-8 yard hitches? You got it, thanks to good blocking and a porous Florida D.
Jamar Adams. Sacked, pressured, and laid out Timmy Heisman. Not a bad day at the office.
Tebow. Showed some touch and didn't throw a pick, but faced pressure all day, forcing him into medicore 17-33 passing.
Talking shit. This Michigan team, starting before the game began, was right up in Florida's face. Hart continued the trash talk during the game, discussing matters with defenders after multiple runs.
Pictures. Here is the official MGoBlue picture album.
Upset city. Thanks Dick. The unrealistic nature of this game result makes it a classic. Many Michigan fans will remember dreading another embarrassment on a national level (which would have been the fourth of 2007-08)...then feeling relieved when it was assured this wasn't going to be a blowout...and finally being jubilant when the game ended 41-35 in the Wolverine's favor.
Big Impact. Meyer used games like this to give his young team valuable experience, paying off when the battle tested 2009 Gator team overcame an early upset loss to win their second MNC in three years.
Here are the countdown games so far...