ANN ARBOR - Lloyd Carr, the fifth-winningest active college football coach in Division I-A, is becoming known as the coach whom Jim Tressel has in his back pocket.
Carr continues to struggle against his arch- nemesis, falling to 1-4 after Tressel's Ohio State Buckeyes rallied to topple Carr's Michigan Wolverines 25-21 yesterday before the fourth-largest crowd ever at Michigan Stadium.
Yesterday's game was Carr's biggest of the season. It was his chance to atone for the Wolverines un-Michigan-like season, and another chance for him to one-up Tressel.
Speaking to reporters after the loss, Carr seemed almost resigned and accepting of UM's fate this season.
Michigan coach Lloyd Carr is furious over a delay of game penalty. He thought he had called time out.
"This has been the unluckiest team I've been around,'' said Carr, who cited injuries to star running back Mike Hart and several offensive linemen along with a rash of bad luck for UM's 7-4 record and 5-3 finish in the Big Ten.
Carr had the same look of hurt he wore after last year's 37-21 loss to Ohio State in Columbus, or two years before that when OSU knocked off the Wolverines 14-9 in Columbus, or way back in 2001, Tressel's first season, when UM dropped a 26-20 decision to OSU in Ann Arbor.
In Tressel, Carr appears to have met his coaching match. Tressel is starting to own Carr in much the same way that Carr used to own former Ohio State coach John Cooper.
Carr's outstanding 102-33 record speaks for itself. He guided UM to a national championship in 1997 and five Big Ten titles in the last eight years.
This has been one of Carr's best coaching jobs.
A month ago, UM's season wasn't panning out. The Wolverines, as always, had potential and promise, but it took almost reaching bottom at 3-3 before they responded with four consecutive wins.
Another bitter loss to the Buckeyes forced Carr to stand on the sideline yesterday and watch Tressel bask in the spotlight, a spotlight that has shone brightest on Tressel in this rivalry.
The Wolverines aren't more talented than Ohio State, but UM led 21-12 midway through the fourth quarter because Carr coached up his players, and because the Wolverines converted two Ohio State turnovers and a shanked OSU punt into a pair of touchdowns, a two-point conversion and a field goal.
Tressel hardly ever gets outcoached. It's only happened once in five meetings against Carr.
Something happens when Carr matches wits with Tressel. Something unexplainable.
Carr's daring fourth-quarter gamble paid off when quarterback Chad Henne gained two yards on fourth-and-inches at the UM 38. Garrett Rivas' 19-yard field goal capped the 69-yard drive and gave the Wolverines a nine-point lead at the 7:49 mark.
Carr refused to take a similar gamble on UM's next drive. Go figure.
He didn't trust his offense on fourth-and-4 at the OSU 34, when he went for it on fourth-and-inches at the UM 38.
The Wolverines had allowed Ohio State to drive 67 yards in only 1:07 to score a touchdown and make it nail-biting time at 21-19. Yet, Carr elected to punt deep in OSU territory based on the belief his defense could win the game when it hadn't shown it could stop the Buckeyes on their previous possession.
"I never gave it a thought,'' Carr said of his decision not to go for it. "It was an easy call.''
Carr chose a slow, painful death for UM.
Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith picked the Wolverines apart in directing a virtuoso 12-play, 88-yard drive resulting in Antonio Pittman's game-winning, three-yard touchdown run with only 24 seconds remaining.
It's going to be a tough 365 days for Carr, who needs to find a way to beat Tressel more often.