Michigan vs Ohio State Football – Looking Back – 2003

Looking Back is a Special Feature Highlighting
Key Rivalry Games by Jeff Cummins

The fifth and final installment of this year’s series looking back at the football rivalry between Michigan and Ohio State takes us to 2003. Just a year before, Ohio State had defeated Michigan in a tightly contested game, before a partisan Ohio State crowd that was exceptionally intense. The Wolverines fought hard that day, but things just didn’t go their way.

Twelve months later, the Wolverines were poised for a rematch, fully aware that the 2003 version of “The Game” would be the 100th playing of the rivalry. By the time the Buckeyes arrived in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines were ready for them.

Michigan leaders John Navarre and Chris Perry remembered the previous year vividly. Despite playing a very good game, the Wolverines were not able to make the necessary plays at the necessary times. That was not going to happen again.

From the opening kickoff, the Wolverines were in control of the 2003 game. Well, almost. Ohio State started well, gaining eight yards on its first two plays. On 3rd down and 2 yards to go, Ohio State quarterback Craig Krenzel threw to tight end Ben Hartsock, who was wrapped up immediately for no gain by Michigan safety Ernest Shazor, and the Buckeyes had to punt. The teams then traded a few possessions before Michigan took over at its own 11-yard line. Perry then gained a hard eight yards, zigging and zagging through the Ohio State defense, something he would do all day. A couple of plays later, Navarre and Perry connected on a screen pass for 11 yards, and suddenly the Wolverines were cooking. Near the end of the quarter, receiver Steve Breaston lined up under center and followed his right guard into the end zone on an option play to complete an 89-yard drive, giving the Wolverines a 7-0 lead that they would never relinquish.

Michigan extended its lead in the second quarter when Navarre connected with receiver Braylon Edwards, who broke a pair of tackles and went 64 yards for a touchdown. Suddenly, the game had established its identity: The Wolverines would lead with Perry on the ground, and when the Buckeyes committed too many players to stop Perry, Navarre would answer with a big pass play. A few minutes later, Navarre and Edwards connected again on a 23-yard scoring pass to give the Wolverines a 21-0 lead at halftime.

In the second half, Ohio State began to mount a comeback, and by the time Lydell Ross went over from two yards out in the fourth quarter, Michigan’s lead was down to just one touchdown. At that point, the Wolverines went back to basics, putting their faith in Perry and the offensive line. It was a wise decision, as Perry ran 15 yards for a touchdown to extend Michigan’s lead to 35-21, and the Wolverines were never threatened after that.

The victory gave Michigan the Big Ten championship. The Wolverines fell to USC in the Rose Bowl, but their performance in the regular season, with convincing victories over Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State, had firmly reestablished them as a national power.

Many thanks to ABC for the attached game broadcast. As always, we own nothing, and this blog post and video are intended strictly for the enjoyment of readers.

Michigan vs Ohio State Football – Looking Back – 2002

Looking Back is a Special Feature Highlighting
Key Rivalry Games by Jeff Cummins

The fourth installment of this year’s series looking back at the football rivalry between Michigan and Ohio State takes us to 2002. Ohio State wasn’t yet the football monster it is today, or at least most people didn’t perceive it to be. The 2002 game was a tight, hard-fought contest, with Michgan playing very well on the road, in an extremely difficult environment.

But in the end, none of that mattered. Ohio State won, Michigan lost, and from the Michigan perspective, it was painful. Yes, the team played valiently. But it was painful, nonetheless.

Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said after the game that they knew at halftime they would need a touchdown to win. They almost got a touchdown, but not quite.

After Ohio State took a 14-9 lead with 4:55 to play, but the Wolverines still had plenty of fight left in them. Quarterback John Navarre led Michigan on a pair of drives, the last one getting to the Ohio State 24-yard line. From there, Michigan had time for just one play left. With Ohio State expecting pass, defensive back Will Allen intercepted the pass just short of the goal line, and the game was over. Ironically, the Buckeyes were led by quarterback Craig Krenzel, who hailed from Uitca, Michigan.

Michigan enjoyed solid performances from a pair of juniors, Navarre and tailback Chris Perry. Stoic and resolute, both players were already plotting their revenge against the Buckeyes, but that’s a story for another day. Maybe tomorrow, in fact.

The Buckeyes, as we all know, went on to earn a controversial win against Miami in the Tostitos Fiest Bowl, giving Ohio State its first national championship since 1968. Michigan concluded its season with a visit to the Outback Bowl, where the Wolverines began a long tradition of defeating Florida, earning a 38-30 win over the Gators in the first meeting between the two schools.

Many thanks to ESPN Classic for the film of this game. As always, we own nothing, and this film and blog post are intended strictly for the enjoyment of readers.

Michigan vs Ohio State Football – Looking Back – 1995

Looking Back is a Special Feature Highlighting
Key Rivalry Games by Jeff Cummins

The first installment of this year’s series looking back at the football series between Michigan and Ohio State takes us back to 1995. Most people still had not heard of the Internet, Bill Clinton was the president, and the national economy was just about to take off. For the Michigan football team, 1995 was “The Tale of Two Cities.” “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

The worst of times came in the offseason, when head coach Gary Moeller had an incident at a local restaurant and was subsequently removed from his job. It was the best of times because Lloyd Carr, a little known defensive coordinator, was named the interim head caoch.

Let the record show that Lloyd Carr is probably among the best “interim” hires of all time.

In Carr’s first game, Michigan trailed almost the entire game until Scott Dreisbach found Mercury Hayes in the corner of the north end zone for a last-second touchdown pass to give Michigan an 18-17 win. After that, Michigan played classic mid-90s Wolverine football for most of the season. As usual, the week leading up to the Michigan-Ohio State game proved to be the most interesting week of the season.

Ohio State had won the previous season, and reporters asked Ohio State receiver Terry Glenn what he thought of the team’s chances against Michigan. Glenn, a former walk-on, was enjoying a breakout season in 1995, but his quote fueled Michigan’s pregame fire. Then Tim Biakabutuka proved to be the catalytic converter.

Biakabutuka had assured Carr in a midweek conversation that the Wolverines would be ready for Ohio State, and he delivered in legendary fashion. “Touchdown Tim” spent much of the afternoon bouncing off would-be tackles, and turning single-digit gains into gains of double-digit yardage. The Buckeyes fought back valiantly, but every time they came back, Michigan had the right answer for them.

Early in the game, Ohio State tested Michigan’s freshman cornerback, Charles Woodson. As the game wore on, that strategy backfired for the Buckeyes. Woodson had two interceptions on the day, the second coming when he outjumped Glenn for the ball and returned it 23 yards, allowing Michigan to line up in victory formation and run out the clock.

Woodson’s interception completed a 31-23 win for the Wolverines, who finished the regular season with nine wins and three losses. But when you beat Ohio State, few people are really thinking about the losses.

Many thanks to ABC, which owns all the rights to this game. As always, we own nothing and do not profit in any way from this blog post, which is intended purely for the enjoyment of readers.

By the Numbers: Comparing Harbaugh’s First 5 Seasons

Last January, Phil and I discussed a comparison of Jim Harbaugh’s 4-year coaching record to the last 4 years of Lloyd Carr’s coaching career (Harbaugh and Carr each had an advantage in 7 metrics, with 3 ties).  My general feeling was that Harbaugh had returned Michigan to the level at which Lloyd had left it. In my eyes, that made the 2019 season pivotal for the Harbaugh era.  Phil and I wondered whether the program would continue to rise, and I was certainly optimistic.

Now, in February of 2020, we have more information to process, and we can complete a 5-year analysis.  After Michigan completed a frustrating 9-4 season in 2019, and the 2003 Big Ten Championship season (10-3) gets added to the Carr side of the ledger, the comparison swings in Lloyd Carr’s favor.   Carr has an advantage on 7 metrics, Harbaugh in 4, with 2 ties. The advanced metrics were ignored for lack of 2003 & 2004 data, but Lloyd’s 3-year average would have been 3 more wins for him. This seemed like bad news for a Harbaugh optimist like myself.  So, I wanted to extend the comparison to see how the Harbaugh era, as it stands right now, compares to some other notable college football coaches.

METHOD

In addition to Lloyd Carr, I chose these coaches to compare to Harbaugh: Jim Tressel, Urban Meyer, Mark Dantonio, Nick Saban, Dabo Swinney, Brian Kelly, James Franklin, & Chris Petersen.  From the Carr comparison, my curiosity immediately jumped to Jim Tressel’s final five seasons at Ohio State.  After completing that comparison, I wanted a better apples-to-apples comparison so I wanted to use the first five seasons (of their current tenure) for the rest of the coaches I selected.  In addition to comparing the coaches’ records through their first five seasons, I also wanted to be able to use consistent metrics. The advanced statistical rankings didn’t exist back into the early 2000s, and recruiting has also changed significantly since then.  Each metric was compared head-to-head with Harbaugh’s results to create an Advantage %. Records and stats came from Sports-Reference.com.  Recruiting rankings came from 247sports.comF+, FEI, & S&P+ rankings come from FootballOutsiders.com.   Here are the 17 metrics that I compared:

  • Final Rankings in F+, FEI, & SP+  systems (SP+ now on ESPN in 2019)
  • Overall W-L record
  • Offensive Pass Yds / Game & Rush Yds / Game
  • Points Scored / Game
  • Defensive Pass Yds / Game & Rush Yds / Game allowed
  • Defense Points Allowed / Game
  • Big Ten W-L record (if applicable)
  • W-L Record vs. OSU (or record vs. Michigan for OSU coaches)
  • W-L Record vs. MSU (record vs. Michigan for Dantonio)
  • W-L Record vs. Notre Dame (record vs. Michigan for Kelly)
  • W-L Record in Bowl Games
  • Number of NFL Draftees
  • Recruiting Class Rank (cycle following the season)

RESULTS

ANALYSIS

The summary table above lists the coaches from least favorable comparison for Jim Harbaugh (Jim Tressel – final 5 seasons) to most favorable (James Franklin) sorting by ascending Harbaugh Advantage Percentage.  Using this method, Jim Harbaugh falls between Lloyd Carr (final 5 seasons) and Chris Petersen’s 5-year tenure at Washington. 

If we only look at the initial 5-year start for each coach (removing Tressel & Carr), it’s clear that Nick Saban and Urban Meyer are in a league of their own.  Urb won a national title during the first playoff season in year 3, and made a return to the playoff in year 5. Saban won his 2nd national title at Alabama in year five, and went back-to-back in year six.  

Once you move past those two historically successful coaches, there is a very tight grouping between Jim Harbaugh and the other 5 coaches I selected.  Each coach averaged a 9-4 record through his first 5 seasons. I was surprised that using my Advantage Percentage, Harbaugh compares favorably to all 5 of those coaches, despite Brian Kelly reaching the BCS Championship game in year 3.  I also included each coach’s Year 6 record for a possible glimpse into the future. Year 6 results range from unacceptable (7-6 for Dantonio) to achievable (11-2 in 2019 for Franklin).  

One other interesting note on Big Ten record: If Harbaugh had managed one more B10 victory, his average record would have rounded up to 7-2, and it would have been +1 over Carr.  Had he suffered one more loss, the average record would have rounded to 6-3 and been -1 to Carr. The program has clearly returned to the Carr level. I think we’re all very anxious to take the next step forward.

Michigan vs Ohio State Football – Looking Back – 1999

Looking Back is a Special Feature Highlighting
Key Rivalry Games by Jeff Cummins

The fifth installment of this year’s series looking back at the football series between Michigan and Ohio State takes us back to 1999. The economy was roaring, and on the football front, the Wolverines were maddeningly close. So close, but yet so far.

Much of that distance was due to an embarrassment of riches at the quarterback position. Michigan had two excellent quarterbacks. Tom Brady was a fifth-year senior who had a tremendous final season, while sophomore Drew Henson was the top quarterback recruit in the nation in the 1998 recruiting class. In the beginning of the 1998 season, Michigan coach Lloyd Carr let the two players split time at quarterback, which contributed to losses against Michigan State and Illinois. In hindsight, had Tom Brady played the entire way in both of those games, the Wolverines would likely have won both, and there’s a very good chance the Wolverines would have finished with their second perfect season in three years, and their second national championship in three years.

Brady nearly led Michigan back against Michigan State, which led Carr to pick Brady as the starter for the rest of the season. Suddenly, Michigan’s offense became one of the most clutch units in the nation down the stretch. Brady developed a knack for making big plays at big times, and his performance in the final three games of his Michigan career was arguably the most impressive three-game stretch by any quarterback in Michigan history. Against Ohio State, the Wolverines started slowly, and on several occasions, they appeared to be in serious trouble. With fewer than five minutes remaining in the third quarter, Ohio State running back Jonathan Well broke a tackle and ran from the Buckeyes’ 18-yard line to the Michigan 5-yard line, where cornerback Todd Howard saved the day, tackling Wells from behind. Michigan trailed by seven points at the time, and it appeared that Ohio State was on the verge of taking a commanding lead. That’s when the Michigan defense rose up and produced a series for the ages. On third down, Michigan safety Tommy Hendricks sacked Ohio State quarterback Steve Bellisari, who fumbled the ball. Still, Ohio State recovered, and had a shot at a field goal that would a comeback very difficult for Michigan. Following a bad snap, Dan Stultz missed the field goal, and Michigan had dodged a bullet. Suddenly, the Wolverines had new life, and a little momentum.

In the final minute of the third quarter, Michigan linebacker Ian Gold intercepted Bellisari, and returned the ball to the Ohio State 8-yard line. Brady wasted no time; connecting with tight end Shawn Thompson on a play action pass for the tying touchdown. With one quarter to go, the game had the feel of a classic contest between the two arch rivals.

On the ensuing possession, Michigan cornerback James Whitley tackled the football on an Ohio State pass, forcing a fumble that was recovered by safety Cato June. Once the Wolverines took possession, Brady was masterful; deftly mixing the pass and the run. On second down and nine yards to go, Brady connected with sophomore wide receiver Marquise Walker, who dove into the end zone for a touchdown, giving Michigan its first lead of the game. Finally, Michigan had given its defense a lead to protect, and the defense wasn’t about to let this game slip away. On Ohio State’s next possession, Michigan linebacker Dhani Jones sacked Bellisari, grabbing one leg and holding on until his teammates swarmed over Bellisari. On fourth down, Bellisari threw a pass for receiver Reggie Germany, but it fell harmlessly incomplete, as Dhani Jones waved his arms like a referee to signal the incomplete pass. Now, with just over two minutes remaining, the Michigan offense had the chance to put the game away, and the Wolverines delivered, with Brady sneaking for a first down on 3rd and 1 to cement the victory.

In the final moments of the game, several reporters in the press box remarked that this had started slowly, but wound up being a very good game. In essence, the 1999 Wolverines were much the same, finishing the season with five consecutive wins, including three consecutive comeback victories to end the season. Many players went on to prominent careers in the NFL, but this team will always be remembered for being so close to winning so much more. Yet, on the other hand, Michigan fans over the past 20 years would crave that kind of ending to their season. Ultimately, I think most historians will consider the 1999 Wolverines to be successful. On a personal note, this was the second time I attended a game at Michigan Stadium, and the only time I’ve attended a Michigan-Ohio State game. I flew in the day before with a press pass, and arrived at the Pioneer High School parking lot shortly before 9 a.m. I walked on the field before pre-game warmups had even started, and saw a couple of Ohio State players in their sweats, casually throwing a ball around. The day was in the low 40s, with a constant dampness in the air, and a morning dew on the stadium grass. After the game, I was in the postgame press conference in the then Crisler Arena (now the Crisler Center). I stood within a few feet of Brady while he was being interviewed, and I was next to massive guard Steve Hutchinson while he asked an assistant coach how Michigan State had done that day. For obvious reasons, the 1999 game was one of the most memorable in my opinion.

Thanks to ABC Sports, YouTube, and YouTube poster WolverineHistorian. As always, I own nothing, I do not profit in any way from this blog post.