Thursday, November 09, 2006

Carr Faces Bigger Challenge This Week, Not Next

Lloyd Carr must know that today and tomorrow, he needs to put the finishing touches on his best coaching work of the season. Maybe of his career, at Michigan. Certainly he knows that Saturday's game at Indiana will be no walk in the park. Not so much because of the prowess of the Hoosiers -- the Wolverines are heavily favored -- but because it is the last game before The Game. The Ohio State Buckeyes loom the following Saturday.

It can't be an easy task, to keep a group of college kids focused on a lesser opponent when the biggest football game of their young lives lies just behind it.

The newspapers don't help matters. They run Countdowns daily, ticking off the days until The Big Game. They treat the games prior to the Ohio State matchup as mere annoyances, contests to be suffered through until the Big Two of the Big Ten collide like two behemoths. The Ohio State talk started in September, really, when both schools appeared to be headed for very special seasons.

The U-M/OSU game, rife with history, is already the biggest game on the schedule. But this year, 2006, with both teams unbeaten, #1 and #2 in the polls, it is accorded Super Bowl status. It figures to be the most-watched game of the season, and has direct National Championship implications. All this, and coach Carr has to somehow get his players ready for 5-5 Indiana, on the road.

Carr: Toughest job yet is this Saturday

It's been argued that the Wolverines learned their lesson last Saturday, when they monkeyed around with Ball State before finally prevailing, 34-26. It was a mighty struggle in a game that should have been a cake walk. But they got it out of their system, the U-M apologists said. Lesson learned. Won't do that again.

It would be almost too much to ask anyone who is human to play the Indiana Hoosiers and not think about the school from Ohio. The Buckeyes, similarly, have a road game against a far inferior opponent, the 3-7 Northwestern Wildcats. And that comes after Illinois gave Ohio State a slight scare, just as Ball State did to Michigan. Perhaps Jim Tressel's bunch learned a lesson, too, from their tussle with the Illini.

Regardless, this is the toughest part of Lloyd Carr's job. These are the games in which the big time college coach earns his big time paycheck. Not so much games against Ohio State, although the success against the Buckeyes trumps all. I'm talking in terms of overall preparation. Carr has his hands completely full as this week winds down. He must summon his players to treat the Hooisers as something more than a three hour scrimmage prior to playing the "real" game the following Saturday. Same thing with Tressel in Evanston.

The big time coaches earn their big time pay this weekend.

Because only nine days to go until ... you know.

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