Sunday, September 02, 2007

The offense sputtered when it mattered most

Coming into this season there was a lot of hype about the high powered Michigan offense and the senior leader at its controls, namely quarterback Chad Henne. There was even a fair amount of Heisman Trophy buzz surrounding Henne who had started all 37 games (27 wins-10 losses) during his three-year career as a Wolverine. However, yesterday Henne looked more like a rookie quarterback trying to find his way than an experienced signal caller who is contending for All-American honors. Henne was out-of-sync all game and the Wolverines relied almost exclusively on the run late in the contest despite being behind as Henne was so ineffective through the air.

On the day, Henne completed 19 of 37 throws for 233 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception. However, that stat line does not tell the whole story. It should be noted that the offense failed to convert two 2-point conversion attempts and it was whistled for four costly penalties (two false starts; an illegal procedure; and a delay of game) in its last six offensive possessions. Although the offense did manage to scrape together fifteen (15) points in the second half, it could and should have scored many more. Following is a closer look at the offense's struggles beginning in the last 1/3rd of the Third Quarter through the end of the game.

Michigan was trailing 31-20 with about 4:30 left in the Third Quarter and possession of the ball on its own 28 yard line. Appalachian State had just missed a 46-yard field goal attempt when the kick hit the upright. Michigan desperately needed a score to cut into the Mountaineers 11 point lead and Henne came out throwing. However, Henne threw three straight incomplete passes and the Wolverines went three-and-out.

On Michigan's next offensive series, Henne threw an incomplete pass on first down but completed an eight-yard pass to Adrian Arrington on second down. After that, the Wolverines kept the ball on the ground as Offensive Coordinator Mike DeBord called four (4) running plays in a row which culminated in a four-yard touchdown run by Mike Hart. However, the Wolverines botched the two-point conversion attempt as a result of a poor exchange on the snap from center.

On Michigan's first possession of the Fourth Quarter and with the Wolverines still trailing 31-26, Mike Hart carried the ball for 7 yards on each of the first two plays of the drive. However, Michigan's momentum was stalled by a False Start penalty on Center Justin Boren. On the very next play, Henne was pressured and he rolled to his right where he threw an ill advised pass that was intercepted.

On Michigan's next drive, the Wolverines kept the ball on the ground despite the fact that it was still trailing by 5 points and the clock was winding down. The Wolverines ran four straight times before Henne threw a 6-yard pass to Greg Mathews. The drive was then slowed by an illegal procedure penalty. After one more running play the Wolverines incurred another False Start penalty. Now stuck in 2nd-and-14 on the opponent's 42, Henne threw an incomplete pass. On third down, Henne could not find an open receiver and lumbered for 9 yards but was five yards short of a first down. Michigan went for it on fourth down but Henne's pass to TE Mike Massey was incomplete and the Wolverines turned the ball over on downs. At this point, Henne was 2 for 8 passing for 14 yards over the course of Michigan's previous four possessions. Hardly, clutch play with Michigan trying to mount a comeback.

Michigan got the ball back with just under five minutes remaining in the game and with it still trailing by the score of 31-26. The Wolverines had excellent field position as it had the ball on its own 46 yard line. On the first play of the drive, Hart took the handoff and made an incredible, darting 54-yard touchdown run to give the Wolverines the lead. For the second time, however, the Wolverines failed on its two-point conversion attempt.

The offense returned to the field quickly as the Michigan defense came up with an interception on the first play of Appalachian State's next offensive series. Michigan's offense resumed possession on the Mountaineers' 43 yard line with just under 4:30 to go in the game. It was the offense's job to pick up a couple of first downs and ice the game as the Wolverines had a 32-31 lead. After rushing the ball four times (which included picking up a first down), the Wolverines were flagged for delay of game on 3rd-and-five. This made the play a 3rd-and-11 and Henne's pass to Greg Mathews only went for five yards. On fourth down from the 26 yard line with 1:37 remaining, Coach Carr elected to attempt the field goal to stretch the lead to four points. The kick, however, was blocked and the Wolverines tenuous lead remained at one.

The Wolverines got the ball back for the final time of the day with :26 remaining and trailing by two points as the Mountaineers had kicked a go-ahead field goal. After throwing an incompletion on first down, Henne completed a desperation bomb to Mario Manningham for 48 yards which put Michigan in position to attempt the fateful kick to end the game. The rest, as they say, is history.

In reviewing the last seven offensive possessions (punt after 3 & out; turn over on downs; interception; two touchdowns with two failed 2-pt. conversion attempts; and two missed field goals), Michigan's "high powered" offense performed miserably against Division I-FCS competition. In particular, it is evident from reviewing the above that the coaches had to gameplan away from relying on Henne as he was underperforming so badly in this game. Despite being behind the coaches relied extremely heavily on the run even though they had the #1 receiving tandem in the country (Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington) at their disposal. Hopefully, Henne can shake this performance off and return to form. Go Blue!

*Note: Photo of Chad Henne (7) by JOHN T. GREILICK/The Detroit News

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