Sometimes you're the windshield. Sometimes you're the bug. And sometimes you're the bug who, after hitting the windshield, is immediately drowned in a bluish ammonia solution while still alive, tossed to the side by the edge of a wiper, and then run over while still weakly conscious by an onrushing semi.
Michigan's been all three: windshield (most notoriously in the Yakety Sax Notre Dame game), bug (against Ohio State), and then mangled bug against USC. A 3-3 game at the half turned to a 32-18 loss of definitive nature. How, when Michigan seemed so poised to confound the BCS system with a potential dual claim to the national title, did Michigan get hammered so badly in a crucial spot?
Hypotheses, in order of probability.
Michigan couldn't block. Like a heart attack: simple, fatal, and quick. On both sides of the ball Michigan slid backwards all day like they were on carpet skates. Our best guess why? USC's stronger than Michigan, a hypothesis that will infuriate Michigan fans already fuming at their conditioning program, which has been described as being so antiquated we always imagine their facilities to look a lot like the video for "Physical" by Olivia Newton-John, though not as gay.
Culpability:Robert Blake-killing-his-wife certainty. You can see it all game long--USC's pushing Michigan off the ball on nearly every play. Verifiable, doom-spelling, and damning.
Carpet skates: Michigan had them on at the Rose Bowl.
USC's defense and Michigan's offense= water, meet silver nitrate and magnesium. USC's marauding, blitz-giddy defense and Michigan's stodgy, run-first 1982 hottness attack probably meant disaster from the start. Michigan could not pass block. Michigan could not run block. Their counters to the pressure--screens and draws, just like Lee tells us to do on NCAA 2007--were eaten alive by linebackers. Slants, the great prophylaxis against blitzes in the passing game, either never happened or were never called.
Hot reads vanished in the fog of indecision and panic. All of that equalled a mini-Enschede for the Michigan offense, who came out flat and received zero help from playcalling or halftime adjustments.
Culpability: Super-string theory certain. Certainly sounds complex and interesting, and definitely requires an understanding of the subject we can't possibly hope to have. Occam's suspicious.
You're living in your own private Enschede, Michigan.
Michigan got out-coached. Not really a point of debate. USC came out, racked up 16 points in the third, and changed what they were doing to win the game. Michigan's offense tried to gamely keep up, but it was like watching a hippo run windsprints to see the Wolverine offense keep pace (or not) with USC. Waggle; run. Run; waggle. Michigan showed nothing new, showed no desire to destroy its opponent in its game-planning, and in total had us sounding like Merrill Hoge on the couch. (You must be a killer to play this game!!! A mad, bloodthirsty, hard killerman!!! Killerman yarrrrrrr!!!!)
By points alone USC's halftime adjustments were at least twice as good as Michigan's. Halftime adjustments for Carr mean a change of pants and a cup of coffee; for USC they meant redesign, a slew of new blitz looks, and taking more chances offensively in the name of forcing Michigan into a corner. It wasn't rocket science; they just couldn't guard Dwayne Jarrett, who solved the problem of the Cover 2 umbrella by sprinting straight through the gap in coverage and daring the Michigan secondary to knock him on his ass. Who dares wins--and USC did.
Culpability: Tommy Lee gave Pam Anderson Hep C Certainty. Certainly makes sense on a gut-level, right? Then again: unprovable, really. Maybe Michigan just didn't execute all the great ideas Debord and English had. Then again: they're responsible for getting those across, right? And really, Pam could have gotten that from any number of ex-boyfriends, right?
Pete Carroll was doin' it for the kids in Darfur. You just can't win a karmic battle with a noted humanitarian like Pete.
Culpability rating: Oh, like-gravity-certain. He's out there right now in an old Huey dropping MREs into Burmese rebel camps while texting recruits on his Blackberry.