2008 Michigan Football- The Undiscovered Country

 

Every offseason I spend time watching and re-watching games from the past Michigan football season.

 

While preparing for the Capital One Bowl, the realization hit me that none of what I was watching has any bearing on the future of Michigan football.

 

Every coach except for one is gone next season.

 

On offense, it should come as no surprise that receivers Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington have departed for the NFL.  QB Chad Henne, RB Mike Hart, and OL Jake Long have exhausted their eligibility.  QB heir apparent Ryan Mallett, who filled in this season when Henne was injured, has decided to transfer rather than try and fit his skills into the spread offense.

 

It is completely possible that along with a new offensive philosophy we may see different starters at every position the next time a Wolverine QB snaps the ball.

 

And while I’m excited about the potential of the spread offense,  Michigan fans are facing the great unknown.

 

Even Michigan Stadium will be vastly different as the largest renovation in its history has begun.

 

Ground has been broken on the new indoor practice facility and football weight room has been cleared out in preparation for new equipment.

 

Forget everything you’ve come to know about Michigan football.

 

Between the coaching change and facility upgrades we are oberving on the greatest periods of change in the history of Michigan football.

 

Are you ready?

2007 Michigan Football- Henne and Hart- Invincible?

 

Recently I watched the movie Invicible, which tells the true story of a Vince Papale, a 30 year old bartender who becomes an NFL player after being discovered at an open tryout.  In the movie, Papale freezes and blows a play during his first NFL game against the Dallas Cowboys.  As he leaves the field the head coach screams at him, “I stuck my neck out for you!”

 

The message was clear- it didn’t matter that Papale was a folk hero to the team’s fans, or that the coach personally liked him- if he couldn’t do his job and help the team win he wouldn’t play.

 

I thought about this scene in the movie as I watched QB Chad Henne and RB Mike Hart struggle against Ohio State Saturday.

 

 

It would have been a great story to have them return from injury and lead the Wolverines to victory over the Buckeyes.  It would have awesome to have Lloyd’s loyalty to his seniors validated with a victory in his final game at Michigan Stadium.

 

 

But it didn’t turn out that way.

 

The Michigan mantra is supposed to be “The Team, The Team, The Team” but on Saturday I’m not sure if the best interests of the team were served.

7 is the Loneliest Number

There have been many changes since last season.

 

Gone is long time defensive cooridinator Jim Herrmann,  Also gone is offensive coordinator Terry Malone.

 

There are even rumblings that Head Coach Lloyd Carr is on the hot seat.

 

A 7-5 record will do that at a place like Michigan where expectations are high every season.

 

But sitting in the eye of the storm is Michigan Quarterback Chad Henne.  Henne, who swept in to Ann Arbor in 2004 as the surprise starter when incumbent Matt Gutierrez went down with a shoulder injury.  He took the Big Ten by storm but struggled last season as the offense suffered through injuries to offensive linemen, receivers, and running backs.

 

Chad Henne- Superstar?

 

When considering Chad Henne it’s difficult to reconcile his stellar 2004 season with his dismal 2005 performance.  In retrospect, he wasn’t as good as his 2004 statistics nor as bad as his numbers in 2005.

 

In 2004 he benefiited greatly from all-world receiver Braylon Edwards.

 

Many are quick to crticize Edwards for occasionally dropping “easy” passes but considering the acrobatic catches that he was forced to make due to Henne’s inaccurracy he was probably shocked to see a ball actually come right to him.

 

In 2005, the roof fell in around Henne but he showed great resiliency if not great results as the Wolverines suffered, by their standards, a horrible season.

 

So what of this season?

 

Chad Henne is the focal point of Michigan’s hope for this season.

 

With the transfer of Matt Gutierrez the Wolverines are paper thin at the quarterback position.

 

A severe injury to Henne will almost insure a .500 (or worse) season.  A poor season by him will mean almost the same thing.

 

You can replace an injured offensive lineman or two.  The Wolverines have talented if unproven running backs and wide receivers but there is NO ONE to replace Chad Henne.  It would be like 1984 all over again when Jim Harbaugh broke his arm and the Wolverines struggled to finish 6-6.

 

So watch Chad Henne as he plays this season, and hope that he gets up after every play.

 

Not only does Chad Henne hold the Wolverine’s prospects for a great season in his hands but perhaps Lloyd Carr’s future as well.

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.