This to shall pass
Michigan fans are fretting about the state of the passing game as the Wolverines only gained 135 yards through the air vs. Vanderbilt and followed that with 134 passing yards vs. CMU this past Saturday. Intent on establishing the run, the Wolverines only attempted 22 passes in game one and 21 passes in game two. As Lloyd Carr commented after the CMU game, "We didn't throw the ball many times, 21 times, we're used to throwing that many in the first half."
Fear not Wolverine faithful, the forward pass will return as planned this week for the Notre Dame game. There has been much debate (and hand wringing) in the Michigan blogoshpere and on talk radio about Michigan's "inability" to throw the deep route and/or over the middle during the course of the first two games of the season. I put the word "inability" in quotes because fans debate whether U of M was unable or just unwilling to throw deep and/or over the middle. I am in the camp that firmly believes that Michigan's decision to refrain from calling those plays is simply a result of an unwillingness to call those plays when it was not absolutely necessary. The aversion of Offensive Coordinator Mike DeBord to calling those type of pass plays in the first two games could be spotted a mile away. The game plan was to establish the run and go with safe, short passes to avoid the possiblity of turnovers. Chad Henne executed the offensive game plan to a "T" and he has yet to throw an interception this year while guiding the offense to 27 points vs. Vanderbilt and 34 points vs. CMU. From a field general standpoint, Henne has performed well even though his individual statistics are not awe-inspiring this season.
The naysayers assert that if Michigan had the ability to throw deep and/or over the middle in the first two games they should have done so because the receivers needed the experience in game conditions of making such plays. I think there is some merit in that assertion. However, as you often hear (and see me post), Michigan does not like to "show" everything it has on offense. It seems to me that you have to do a cost/benefit analysis. The "cost" of running those plays in the first two games is that you run a risk of an interception and you are showing Notre Dame what your play looks like. The "benefit" is that you may make a big gain and the receivers gain experience running the play in game conditions prior to Notre Dame. Now in my own simple mind I would probably factor in that Notre Dame Coach Weis knows what a deep route looks like so that Michigan probably would not be "showing" him much if they actually ran one during one of their first two games. That being said, I knew which way Coach Carr and Coach DeBord were coming down in this analysis and thus I did not get worked up when Michigan refrained from passing deep and/or over the middle. It was expected.
Michigan will open the playbook vs. Notre Dame this upcoming Saturday. I also know based on the experience of the past two years that QB Chad Henne can make the required throws. The question is who will be on the receiving end of his passes. The Spring Football talk of Michigan being deep at receiver has quickly faded away as a situation has developed where the Wolverines have many mediocre but no standout receivers. For the Wolverine passing game to be successful, the Wolverines need a receiver who can run crisp routes, get separation and hold onto the ball. No one (not even Mario Mannigham or Steve Breaston) has demonstrated those qualities thus far. I do not believe that Greg Mathews and/or LaTerryal Savoy have gotten enough work to allow them to step up to play a major role at Notre Dame in front of a hostile crowd. I think the passing game is going to rise or fall on the shoulders of Mannigham, Breaston and possibly Adrian Arrington. If they can get open, Henne can get them the ball and the passing game will take off. That is IF they can get open. They will have to find a way to get open for Michigan to be successful against Notre Dame because the games of just running Hart over the left side are over. Go Blue!
*Note: Photo of Chad Henne by Eric Seals/Detroit Free Press