Tuesday, March 20, 2007

It's up, it's...no good

A team's kicker is often overlooked and underappreciated as a football player. However, as Michigan has learned in the past, a team's fortunes can rise and fall on the ability of the team's kicker to come through in the clutch. For the past four seasons, Garrett Rivas (Michigan's all-time leading scorer) performed the kicking duties for the Wolverines. However, with Rivas' graduation, Coach Carr is looking to replace him with someone who can be relied upon to come through in 2007 when a big kick has to be made. At the Pre-Spring Football Press Conference, Coach Carr stated that,"We have a young freshman, Bryan Wright, that we recruited who will get a good look. Jason Gingell, K.C. Lopata -- those are guys that have been in this program, and both of them have kicked very well. I don't know that we'll make a decision on that until training camp. Those are the frontrunners."

It is vital that Coach Carr find a kicker who can perform under pressure, especially end-of-game situations. Missed field goals as time was running out cost Michigan dearly in several big games in the 1970's during the Bo Schembechler-era. Here are a few of the more memorable (or forgetable) examples:

Nov. 24, 1973: #1 Ohio State (9-0) at #4 Michigan (10-0)
A then NCAA record crowd of 105,233 packed Michigan Stadium to watch the two titans of the Big Ten battle for a Rose Bowl berth. The score was tied 10-10 when Tom Drake intercepted a pass for the Wolverines and he returned the ball to the Ohio State 33 yard line. Michigan advanced the ball to the Ohio 28 before using its final timeout. On third down, with :28 seconds left on the clock, kicker Mike "Super Toe" Lantry set up for a 44-yard field goal attempt. He had hit a 30-yarder in the third quarter and had narrowly missed a 58-yard field goal attempt earlier in the fourth quarter. If Lantry hit the 44-yard field goal attempt, Coach Schembechler's Michigan team would advance to the Rose Bowl as an undefeated team for the second time in three seasons. Lantry's kick went wide right and Michigan's Rose Bowl hopes were dashed as the game ended in a tie. The next day the Big 10 Athletic Directors voted 6-4 to send Ohio State to the 1974 Rose Bowl game.

Nov. 23, 1974: #3 Michigan (10-0) at #4 Ohio State (9-1)
Trailing 12-10 with :18 seconds left in the game, Michigan set up for a 33-yard field goal for the win and a trip to the Rose Bowl. Attempting the kick for the Wolverines again was Mike "Super Toe" Lantry. Lantry's kick was ruled "no good" although to this day some Michigan fans swear the ball was inside the uprights. The miss gave the Buckeyes another victory and meant the Wolverines season was over as the Big Ten's Rose Bowl-only-policy was still in effect.

Nov. 6, 1976: #1 Michigan (8-0) at Purdue (3-5)
(Sports Illustrated 11/15/76 issue; Article part I and part II)
Michigan was ranked #1 in the nation and had a chance to escape West Lafayette with a victory and keep its perfect record intact. Trailing 16-14 with :14 seconds remaining in the game, kicker Bob Wood came on for a 37-yard field goal attempt. Wood had set a Michigan record in 1975 by kicking 11 field goals and he was a very accurate 6 for 8 to that point in 1976. The kick was long enough but it was off to the left. No good. Purdue won.

Sept. 15, 1979: #9 Notre Dame at #6 Michigan (1-0)
(Sports Illustrated 9/24/79 issue; article part I, part II, part III)
In the first game in Ann Arbor between these two teams since 1943, Notre Dame clung to a 12-10 lead with :07 seconds remaining in the game. Michigan had the ball at the Irish 25-yard line and kicker Bryan Virgil attempted a 42-yard field goal for the win the for the Wolverines. Virgil had already hit a 30-yarder earlier in the contest for Michigan. On the last second field goal attempt for the win, the kick was blocked by a leaping Bob Crable. Notre Dame consequently escaped with the hard fought victory.

As illustrated by the above examples, blown opportunities in the kicking game can have devastating consequences. Thus, it is imperative that Coach Carr find a kicker with ice water in his veins to perform the kicking duties in 2007. Go Blue!

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