Henne and Hart: Michigan’s Dynamic Duo

Will Chad Henne or Mike Hart have a more vital role in Michigan?s 2006 offense? Both had surprising and astounding freshman seasons for the Wolverines. Both struggled in their sophomore years. Both will be expected to perform at a high level in order for Michigan to have a successful season. But one must step up to the plate to fix what drastically hurt the Wolverines? offense last year.   

Both of the ?Fabulous Freshman?, Chad Henne and Mike Hart, blossomed in their first year wearing the maize and blue. Chad Henne, who was appointed starting quarterback after Matt Gutierrez suffered a shoulder injury, threw for over 2,500 yards and 25 touchdowns. He completed 60% of his passes and threw only 12 interceptions. He also was the first freshman quarterback to lead his team to the Rose Bowl and only the second freshman in Michigan history to start in the opening game. Mike Hart, on the other hand, had to wait a few games until the starting role was given to him. He tallied only 37 yards in his first two games against Miami (OH) and Notre Dame while Lloyd Carr and the coaching staff shuffled around with other backs.

Hart was handed the starting role before the 3rd game and finished the season with an impressive 1,455 rushing yards. Needless to say, Hart and Henne were poised for excellent sophomore seasons, andMichigan fans across the country got excited about this highly touted duo.

2005 was a wake-up call for the then ?Super Sophs?. Both started off well in their season opener against Northern Illinoisbut a nauseating performance followed against hated rival, Notre Dame. Chad Henne struggled along with the entire Michigan offense. Against the Irish, Michiganwent 0-3 in the red zone with multiple turnovers. It didn?t help causes that Mike Hart went down with a leg injury late in the first quarter. “It wasn’t his best performance,” Carr said of Henne. Carr was right. The Wolverines, behind a disastrous offensive showing, went on to lose to the Fighting Irish, 17-10. The season finished with a loss to most hated rival, OhioState, and a ho-hum Alamo Bowl berth which resulted in another defeat.

Chad Henne and Mike Hart now play vital roles in Michigan?s 2006 run. Which one will have the more crucial part in the Wolverine offense? First of all, Chad Henne has played quite well in crucial games including against OhioState and in the Bowl Games. In Henne?s two OhioState match-ups and the Rose and Alamo Bowl performances, he has thrown for 1,048 yards, 10 touchdowns, and only 3 interceptions. Henne has played well in most crucial games, but a better outing against Notre Dame, the Wolverines? first road match of 2006, is much needed if Michigan wants to pull out of South Bend with a W.

In the five 2005 losses, Henne threw for 1,133 yards, 7 touchdowns, and only 3 interceptions which leads us to believe that a good running game may have propelled the Wolverines to more wins. A significant factor in Michigan?s offensive decline in 2005 was the rushing game. Not only Mike Hart, but the entire running back corps only averaged roughly 162 yards per game. Granted, Mike Hart was in and out due to injuries along the way but his numbers declined from 1,455 yards in his freshman campaign to 662 yards in his sophomore year. The Michigan offense was successful in 2004 because both components of a potent offense, rushing and passing, were there. Last season, the rushing game was not.

So, whose performance is most critical? Henne?s solid performances cannot carry the entire burden. If Mike Hart leads the Michigan backs, Kevin Grady, Jerome Jackson, Carlos Brown and others, to a powerful rushing attack, we will come out with fewer L?s on our schedule and more W?s including against Notre Dame, OhioState, and the Bowl Game. Henne must continue to perform at a high level, but Hart?s health and his ability to stimulate an effective rushing game will be most crucial to offensive success.

You gotta have Hart.

Twas the Night Before Practice

Today I visited the Big House and Schembechler Hall in anticipation of the first day of practice tomorrow..  I was thinking about writing an aticle called, “The Calm Before the Storm,” but as I walked around I kept thinking how it was really more like the night before Christmas.

 

‘Twas the night before Fall practice, and all through the Big House

Not a creature was stirring, not even a gopher;

The helmets were hung by the lockers with care,

In hopes that a National Championship soon would be there;

The players were nestled all snug in their beds,

While visions of hotties danced in their heads;

With my wife sleeping soundly, and I resting too,

Had just settled down for a long summer’s nap,

When at Fort Schembechler there arose such a clatter,

I drove in from Pittsfield to see what was the matter.

Away to the athletic campus I flew like a flash,

Jumped out of car and ran to the Stadium.

The moon on the breast of prescription athletic turf below

Gave the lustre of mid-day to the scoreboards above,

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But the Michigan Assistant Coaches, harnessed like reindeer,

With a stern old driver, so lively and quick,

I knew in a moment it had to be Lloyd!

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,

And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

“Now, Debord! now, Campbell! now, English and Jackson!

On, Loeffler! on Moeller! on, Stripling and Szabo!

From Endzone to endzone! Now to the Press Box you go!

Now blitz away! pass away! tackle away all!”

As old programs that before the wild hurricane fly,

When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,

So up to the Big House the coursers they flew,

With a book full of plays, and Lloyd Carr too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard the pacing and stirring of each coach’s foot.

As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,

Down to the sideline came Lloyd with a bound.

He was dressed all in blue, from his head to his foot,

And his clothes were all from Nike with Maize accents to boot;

A bundle of playbooks he had flung on his back,

Ready for the new season soon to begin.

His eyes — how they burned! his jaw was set firm!

His cheeks were pale, while his nose fared like a bull!

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,

And his hair had specks of white from last year’s 7-5 toll;

He had a serious face and hardly no belly,

But his jowls shook, when he screamed like a bowlful of jelly.

He was stern and serious, hardly a jolly old elf,

But I smirked when I saw him, in spite of myself;

For I know that opponents of Michigan were in for a shock!

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,

Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,

And flipping through playbooks; he then turned with a jerk,

And laying his finger aside of his nose, as if to lecture a ref,

he seemed ready for the challenge ahead

He gave a final nod, and through the tunnel he strode;

To his coaches gave a whistle,

And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.

But I heard him exclaim, as he disappeared out of sight,

“Team Sleep well, for tomorrow WE GET TO WORK!”

The Dog Days of the Off-Season

Doldrums: (noun) a part of the ocean near the equator abounding in calms, squalls, and light shifting winds.

Doldrums is a term popularized in colonial times to describe the placid seas off the west coast of Africa. When explorers sailed to Asia, they had trouble getting around the Cape of Good Hope in Africa because of the Atlantic Ocean?s calmness in that region. In order to get around the Cape, they would navigate further west into the Atlantic so they could gain enough wind to make it to the other side of Africa. On one occasion, the Portuguese went so far west they ended up discovering Brazil. The word doldrums can also describe a bout of despondency. Similar to what BlueFan is experiencing during the Wolverines off-season. Perhaps the above definition is arcane and unnecessary to describe the mood brought about by the off-season. But with all the free time in lieu of actual football, BlueFan, left to his own devices, opened the dictionary looking for a word to describe the feeling.

It?s already been a long off-season, and we?re only about a quarter of the way through. National signing day has come and gone, so what remains? There?s always basketball. No, thanks. How about hockey? Good, but not the same. Well?what then? BlueFan doesn?t like to look too far ahead, but each off-season seems to get longer and looooooonger. The summer is a great time, but BlueFan lives in the mortal Hades known as Arizona. The spring then? Birds are singing, it rains once (maybe) and the temperature is a comfortable 100 degrees (instead of 115)? Great, but nothing is better than a Saturday afternoon in the fall?especially in the Southwest. Wake up in the morning, wear shorts to walk the dogs. Most games start at 9 or 10 am (depending on daylight savings time in the rest of the country), so you still have much of the afternoon to do whatever it is the ?normals? do with their weekends. Or you can hit UMGoBlue.com and commiserate (or argue) with your Michigan family in the event of a loss, or disagree with the same family about whether the players or coaches deserve a bulk of the credit, in the event of a win.

There are days BlueFan doesn?t even bother looking at UMGoBlue?s Football Forum. Opting instead for the distractions provided by the ?Other Discussions? forums. Everything in context, but the thought of not keeping up-to-date in the Football forum is?well unthinkable during football season. Often times, though, the Football forum is just a sad reminder of how long it?s been, and how long it continues to be, until the Maize and Blue strap on the pads and ready themselves for another season.

But after last year, should we really be looking forward to the up-coming season with such enthusiasm?

It?s been over two months since the season ended, but still the pain lingers. Changes have been made, but the team?s five-loss season is fresh enough in the minds of fans to temper much of the excitement that these changes should generate. Will the offense open up a little? Will the defense play more aggressively? It?s tough to say at this point, but absent these changes, neither question would be answered with a ?yes?. At least there?s a chance of change with the new, er, different blood running the offense and defense.

BlueFan has found that the closer the summer gets, the greater the anticipation. Last year, the season could?ve started in June and it would have still been too long a wait. With the longing and anticipation already high, BlueFan can only imagine how bad the emptiness will have gotten by the time late August rolls around.

So, here?s to making this off-season count?

Go Blue!

Clawing Back

In the most remarkable comeback in its football history, Michigan’s Wolverines stared down defeat and clawed back to victory, barely escaping from the Metrodome with a 38-35 victory over the undefeated Minnesota Golden Gophers. The Gophers were under estimated because of their soft schedule, but Michigan was the underdog in the game. Michigan trailed 28 to 7 at the start of the fourth quarter, scoring 31 points to win on a Garrett Rivas field goal with less than a minute left. Unbelievable!

In so doing the Wolverines maintained their self respect, the Little Brown Jug, and perhaps more importantly, they preserved a chance to compete for the Big Ten title for at least one more game, as a happy Lloyd Carr indicated in a post game interview.

Outplayed by a good Minnesota offense for most of three quarters, Michigan’s offense roared back to win. Late in the game the defense got a couple of critical stops.

This was a tale of two halves. Michigan was lousy offensively and defensively in the first half. They were flat. They were scoreless, and it looked as if they were clueless. The enigma that is John Navarre did not pass accurately sometimes, mainly in the first half, which helped stall drives, and all that observed probably thought that here we go again to another “away game” defeat. Michigan was down 14 at the half and things could not have looked worse for the Blue. The Gopher ground game looked unstoppable only because it was.

In the third quarter, Michigan finally scored a TD on a John Navarre pass to Steve Breaston, who in turn tossed it back to John Navarre. Navarre then galloped into the end zone to break the ice. He was accompanied downfield by at least four 300 pounders who cleared a path all the way to the end zone. John didn’t outrun the big fellows, and scored from 36 yards out.

John Navarre was the Michigan player of the game. Granted that he made some errant tosses when it counted, one resulting in an interception, and threw into coverage. He played over these mistakes by making some athletic plays, and he engineered some long fourth quarter drives that were simply outstanding. He ran for an occasional first down, and sneaked for more, and caught a pass for a touch down. He finally won one in a hostile environment against a ranked team, having failed six prior times. He was 33 of 47 for 353 yards, one TD and one interception.

Chris Perry also played with heart, and ran well. His single miscue on the day on Michigan’s last drive came as the result of an outstanding hit. That error was a potential drive killer, and game loser, but an alert Tim Massaquoi recovered to save the drive, and the day. Michigan’s winning field goal was kicked after the recovery. Chris Perry was Michigan’s leading receiver, gathering in 11 for 122 yards and a TD. Additionally, he rushed for 85 yards and scored another TD on the ground.

Braylon Edwards caught a critical 52-yard scoring pass in the fourth, Jason Avant made receptions and fought for yardage, and Steve Breaston contributed by making some receptions and some good punt returns.

The defense gave up lots of yardage. The Gophers had a hefty 495 net yards on the ground and an additional 71 harmful yards in the air. The defense let a very quick and experienced Minnesota QB, Asad Abdul-Kalig, loose on the ground on occasion, but when it was crunch time they stepped up and stopped the Gophers. Jacob Stewart intercepted an A-K pass and returned it 34 yards for a TD, in that critical fourth quarter.

Minnesota scored the only points of the first half with Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney of the Gophers running in from 20 and 8 yards respectively for TDs. Michigan started the third quarter down 14. Then Michigan got on the board with the Navarre to Breaston to Navarre TD. Now Michigan trailed only 14-7 even though Minnesota is clearly playing better than the Wolverines. Laurence Maroney extended the Minnesota lead to 21-7 on a 38-yard run, and I have to reach for the Maalox. Thomas Tapeh then raised the deficit to 28-7 and I am considering turning the game off, and I am definitely bad mouthing the Wolverines. A 28-7 lead to begin the fourth quarter has to be insurmountable. Always before, in all the history of Michigan football, it has been enough to ensure a loss.

Surprisingly, the Wolverines didn’t fold, fought back, and closed the gap. Chris Perry caught a 10 yard-TD pass adjusting the score to 28-14. Then Jacob Stewart ran in his interception to bring it closer at 28-21. Minnesota did not surrender and answered with a nifty 52 yard run up the middle for six to put the Wolverines behind 35-21. A 52-yard John Navarre pass to Braylon Edwards made it 35-28 and a Chris Perry 10 yard run tied it at 35-35. The defense held the Gophers, and a Garrett Rivas field goal made it Michigan 38, Minnesota 35 in the last minute of play.

Spectacular! An awesome finish!

To say that a Michigan victory was unexpected when the fourth quarter began is to dramatically understate the case. Minnesota proved on the field that they are a quality football team, especially offensively. Marion Barber is a great running back this year, and their other backs are good. Asad Abdul-Kelig is quick and played a good game with the qualifier that he sometimes tries to make nothing into something. Fortunately for the Blue, Jacob Stewart returned that kind of mistake for a TD at critical point in the game. A-K made up for this with a with a 52 yard sprint from scrimmage, but he seemed more careful after the interception. The interception was a turning point. While Minnesota’s defense played well for much of the game, they were not up to stuffing the Wolverines for four quarters. Michigan’s special teams did not attract special attention this time. The coverage was adequate and the kicking was good.

Fortunately! Unexpectedly!

This will not stem all the criticism of John Navarre and the coaches, and the quality of their season, but absolute disaster has been averted and expectations preserved.

This victory will go a long way toward providing a base of confidence the team can build on for the rest of the season, and will provide the hope that Michigan can win away from home, in a loud environment. Remember we have those ugly green helmets coming up in East Lansing yet this year.

Next week we will be back in the friendly confines of Michigan Stadium and we will be able to resume the normality of a Saturday afternoon game.

Hopefully, we will be able to enjoy most of next Saturday’s game against the Fighting Illini. Friday night only the fourth quarter was enjoyable.

Of course, the Illini will do their best to see that we don’t enjoy it.