The loud sounds of helmets colliding and shoulder pads cracking could be heard during practice sessions for the East All-Americans all week long. The physical nature of their preparation might have given some the idea that the West would exit Saturday’s game bruised and battered. When the game actually rolled around, however, those folks were in for a huge surprise.
The practices for West All-American’s hadn’t been nearly as hard-hitting, but in hindsight, they didn’t need to be. The West coaches knew they had arguably the best player in the game on defense (Everson Griffen) and far more talent at the quarterback position (Ryan Mallett and Jimmy Clausen). The game-plan played to those strengths and led to a 24-7 domination.
The story on offense for the West was clearly Mallett’s precision rifle passes. The more heralded Clausen started the contest, and had he his moments. He led the West on a 63-yard scoring drive on the opening possession to make the score 3-0. Then it was Mallett’s turn to hurl the pigskin. It didn’t take long for the 6-6, 240-lb. fireballer to show the record 35,151 fans in attendance and the millions watching on NBC just why the folks in Ann Arbor have been salivating over him the past few years. After completing his first pass for no gain, he got the ball rolling on his next attempt when he connected on a 25-yard bullet down the seam. He then followed that up with a 17-yard strike that put the West in the redzone. The drive eventually stalled when he scrambled to his right to buy time in the pocket, but delivered the ball a tad late to his intended target in the endzone. That slight tardiness allowed the defender time to get over and break up the play, forcing the West to settle for another field goal. Mallet’s disappointment over the missed opportunity was obvious, but he knew when given the chance that he’d make up for it.
Meanwhile, on the defensive side of the ball for the West, Griffen was utterly dominating up front. The future USC Trojan couldn’t be blocked by one man, and he often fought through the blocks of two of them. The attention commanded by him and his comrades up front freed things up for his future Trojan teammate, Chris Gallipo. The speedy linebacker finished the contest with seven tackles and a sack, and earned MVP honors.
The West defensive backfield also got into the play-making act when Curtis Brown intercepted a Tyrod Taylor pass late in the second quarter and returned it to the East six yard line. Mallett came back into the game and surprised onlookers with a designed scramble that moved the ball inside the two. Tailback Joe McKnight then plunged into the endzone to make the score 13-0. By halftime the West had tacked on another field goal to increase the lead to 16-0. The two score deficit would have seemed manageable to East supporters had the West defense not been so smothering. They held the East offense to a paltry -16 yards of total offense in the first half, signifying to many that the game was already over. Despite that, the game still had more exciting moments in store.
After the intermission Mallett again came through with a few fireworks. His arm strength was back on display when whistled another 18 yard strike down the seam for another big play. After guiding his team into the redzone for the second time, he was faced another scoring opportunity that called for him to throw on the run. After evading a few defenders while scrambling to his right, Mallett threw a rocket across his body to Terrance Tolliver for the touchdown. Then for good measure, he added a pass for a two-point conversion after faking the hold on an extra-point attempt. The score at that point was 24-0.
When the stadium camera panned into the crowd after the impressive drive, the camera fixated on a youngster wearing a shirt that read, “First God gave us football … then he gave us Mallett!”
The only intrigue left after three quarters stemmed from the yet-to-be-announced decision of West defensive back Michael Williams. When the camera panned over to him, the 5-11, 185-pounder grabbed a Navy hat with a Maize block M emblazoned on front, and placed it on his head, thus signifying his intent to become a Wolverine.
The East eventually got on the board in the waning moments of the fourth when Greg Little hauled in a pass in the back of the endzone, making the final score 24-6.
On the game, Mallett led all passers, going 6/9 for 92 yards and a score. Clausen finished with a respectable 6/11 for 58 yards and one interception. After the contest, the future Irish QB said he was impressed with his soon to be rival.
“He’s good,” Clausen said of Mallett after the game. “He has got a cannon for an arm and we saw what he could do out there tonight.”
Stay tuned to GoBlueWolverine for postgame interviews with both future Wolverines.