Who will be the QB?
The poise exhibited by Chad Henne during Saturday's game would have been extraordinary for a second or third year player making his first start, but the fact that he did so as a true freshman was downright amazing. Forget everything that was said about him in his recruitment. History has proven that there generally is a tangible adjustment period when incoming prospects hit the field for the first time. Sure he missed some throws and was off target with others, but he eliminated errors and got better and better as the game went on. So, he made freshman mistakes on the day, but the way he responded to them was far from freshman-like. Coach Carr was definitely pleased with his new QB's efficient performance. "Obviously for a true freshman, what I'm really impressed with is the way he handled the communication issues and what he did at the line of scrimmage," Carr said. "You can see that he has a tremendous arm, a great release and I don't think you could ask anything more of a true freshman than what he did today. We had great field position because of the plays our defense made. We didn't sustain a lot of long drives but I thought he really settled down. He's got a lot of things to learn and a lot of improvement to make. He's still competing, but I was impressed….The great news for Chad Henne is this; As much pressure as he could ever have, he got it out of the way in the first game of his freshman year. There will be a lot of other opportunities for him, but he won't have to do it for the first time again."
Braylon Edwards intimated that expected nothing less from the freshman phenom. "Chad had already proved himself in two-a-days," Edwards said. "He's a special kind of person who you automatically have faith in; you believe in what he can do. We just had to come out and support him and do what we were supposed to do and play better than normal. I would grade him an A for the simple fact that he's a true freshman starting in his first game in an environment like this. He played as though he was a veteran. He threw two touchdowns, he stood in the pocket and he made things happen."
The decision to go with Henne came late last week after Gutierrez's arm began to give him trouble. "On Monday and Tuesday he wasn't as sharp as I know he can be," Carr said. "Wednesday morning I had a conversation with Matt and he indicated at that time that he did have some soreness in his shoulder. After conciliation with Dr. Carpenter and our trainer Paul Schmidt, we held him out of practice on Wednesday. They decided based on the feedback to do it again on Thursday. At that time I made the decision that we were going to start Chad."
That Henne was elected the starter over Clayton Richard speaks volumes. Coach Carr indicated that the true freshman was in line to play Saturday even if Gutierrez was healthy. That they were willing to burn his redshirt signifies two things in my opinion.
1,) He has been performing extremely well thus far
2.) If he didn't push for the starting job at some point during this season, that almost surely would have been the scenario during the spring and heading into next season.
Is Chad Henne the most talented quarterback on the roster? The answer to that is probably yes. The question then becomes is his talent gap between he and his counterparts large enough to compensate for any disadvantage he is at because of his relative lack of familiarity with the team and the playbook. If the answer to that question is yes, he'll be the starter in South Bend. And, if he acquits himself well on the road in that hostile environment, it would be very surprising to see him relinquish the job the rest of the year. Right now he has the most crunch time experience of any quarterback on the roster and that has to make him the favorite at this point.
No definitive statement about whom the starter would be was given and Coach Carr made it a point not to give any insight into his thought his thought process. "I'm a pretty slow thinker," Carr said laughing in response to when he would name the starter. "I'm going to look at the film, talk to the trainers, and we'll see. We have a big ball game coming up, so we've got to look at the whole picture and do the best thing we can to help our team win next week." One plausible scenario could be if a healthy Gutierrez returns to practice this week and does well, we could see both quarterbacks on the field.
The Running Game
The run game didn't perform as well as expected against Miami of Ohio. Coach Carr was clearly disappointed with the production on the ground. "I thought that in the first quarter we didn't do much," Carr said referring to his team's rushing effort. "As far as the running game goes, it was not what I would call good. We've got to work on that. I thought Jerome Jackson did a good job coming in there. Michael Hart there at the end. But we did not run the football like I'd like to."
As poised and confident as Michigan stable of QB's is, they're still inexperienced and they're still facing a bitter rival on the road. It's not realistic to expect any one of them to carry the offensive unit nor is likely that they will have as many short field opportunities next week. Realizing that, the running game is going to have to do a better job of taking the pressure off of whomever Michigan lines up behind center.
David Underwood's 22-attempt 61 yard rushing effort must improve versus Notre Dame. The bruising back ran with a little more finesse than we've become accustomed to and it may have cost him some yards on Saturday. Jerome Jackson came in and showed the burst and instincts that moved him up the depth chart last year and allowed him to spell Chris Perry in both the Ohio State game and the Rose Bowl. Prior to his fumble on special teams Pierre Rembert showed well and Mike Hart ran with authority. It would come as no surprise to see one of these players, namely Jackson, get more carries in South Bend. Depending on practice one of them may even start.
The defense as a whole was stellar. Even when Marlin Jackson went down midway through the second quarter, the unit hardly missed a beat. That said, if a game ball were to be given out to a single player, it would have to go to Gabe Watson. He only had 1 tackle on the stat sheet, but as was mentioned in the "Man in the Middle" article last week, the true measure of his production won't be visible there. Watson wreaked havoc ALL DAY LONG and was unblockable at times. His consistent pressure caused turnovers, destroyed running plays up the middle, and made things easier for his teammates. He not only handled double teams throughout the game, he frequently defeated them. That was the Gabe Watson that a great many people have been waiting to see. If he can play that way throughout the season, look out! Behind him, Alex Ofili came in with very liitle drop off. He was one of the better pass rushers along the defensive front.
Check back later today for news and notes from Lloyd Carr's Monday press conference. Also, be on the lookout for the latest edition of the Michigan Insider Hour for more commentary on Saturday's game and a look ahead to the contest with Notre Dame.
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