Washington Visits the Big House

Forecast calls for sunny skies, Michigan victory. Here's the inside scoop.

Imagine you are 6-foot-7 Mike Kolodziej and you are standing at the back of a line of 100 football players, stacked side-by-side inside the dark tunnel leading out to hallowed Michigan Stadium.

Imagine it's College Football Game Day. All you can see is the radiant glow of the late-summer sun shining in your face and the fingertips of a few fans reaching down from above to show their undying support for the Wolverines.

Soon, you will run through that tunnel, run onto the playing field just as Harbaugh and Harmon, Oosterbaan and Owens and so many Michigan players have before, the band trumpeting your arrival with a stirring rendition of The Victors.

You will not have to jump to touch the block-letter "M" on the booster club's banner. You are tall. Also, you are flying.

As a true freshman, you are dressed for your first game at Michigan.

The opener is at noon (EDT) Saturday and shapes up as a dandy: No. 9 Washington vs. No. 10 Michigan. Chances are, you will not play a single down. You are listed as a tight end in the 2002 Michigan football meida guide.

You likely will sit out the entire season as a redshirt and scout-team player. There is widespread speculation you will shift to tackle at some point down the road.

For Kolodziej, a product of the football factory at Joliet Catholic (Ill.), there will plenty of time to sort out what lies ahead in his collegiate future.

For the Wolverines, the time is now. There is a matter of kicking some Washington fannies on the immediate agenda, a matter of raising the curtain properly on a new season at The Big House.

Washington beat Michigan 23-18 in the opener a year ago in Seattle without scoring an offensive touchdown. How can that be? The Wolverines led 12-6 early in the fourth quarter when Hayden Epstein attempted a 33-yard field goal.

The kick was blocked by the Huskies' Omare Lowe. Roc Alexander scooped up the ball and raced 77 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.

Two plays into Michigan's next series, John Navarre threw a pass that bounced off Chris Perry. Lowe plucked the carom out of the muggy Pacific northwest air and returned the interception 21 yards for a touchdown.

And that was the ballgame.

The rematch figures to take on a whole new look. Navarre returns as Michigan's starting quarterback but will throw to a cast of new receivers.

Perry will start at tailback but will run behind a revamped Michigan offensive line. Tony Pape (6-6, 305, Sr./Jr.) has shifted from left to right tackle in a move designed to bolster the Wolverines' ground game. Dave Pearson (6-3, 291, Sr./Jr.) will start at center after playing all last season on the defensive line.

Washington will not have two NFL prospects starting on its ‘D' line to stop the Wolverines. Nor will the Huskies have much experience in front of Cody Pickett, the returning starter at quarterback. Rather, the Dawgs will put three sophomores in front of Pickett and depend on him to fend for himself.

It's a good thing he can run because Michigan's defensive front is big, fast and physical. Pickett will seldom have the luxury of planting his feet before throwing.

In Reggie Williams (6-4, 220), Pickett might have the best wide receiver in the country to throw the ball to, Williams already considered in a class with Michigan State's Charles Rogers.

The key matchup will pit Michigan's Marlin Jackson vs. Williams. Both are sophomores. Both are on a fast-track to the NFL. Jackson is drawing comparisons to Michigan Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson. Yes, Jackson is that good.

The Wolverines will be one of the few teams with the personnel to play man-to-man coverage in the secondary against Washington. Of course, they'll likely mix up their coverages to keep Pickett and Huskies coach Rick Neuheisel guessing.

Neuheisel takes over this year as the Steve Spurrier of college football. You love him or you hate him. There is no in between, no room for debate.

Neuheisel, with his fourth-quarter comeback magic, toothy smile and salesman style, comes across as brash and braggadocios. Yet, there is this: His teams have come from behind in 19 of his 26 wins at Washington.

Don't look for it to happen this time. Rather, look for Jackson to spring Michigan into action. Look for the Wolverines to dominate at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Look for the Dawgs to slink back to Seattle with their collective tail drooping.

Said Neuheisel of the Williams vs. Jackson showdown: "I think coach (Lloyd) Carr hit the nail on the head when he said, `You've got two great athletes that are going to compete like crazy, and I think probably both will make some plays.

You would expect that when you have that kind of talent and that kind of competitive energy being exhibited on the field of play in front of 108,000 people.

"Reggie is fun to have on our team because he is exactly what their fine cornerback is to them. He exudes a passion for the game. He loves to play, and it's not just when he has the ball in his hands.

He likes to block, he likes to celebrate when someone else scores, he loves being in there. We had to sit him out for the first week of practice resting his foot, and he is completely healed from that injury thankfully."

Kremer's call: Michigan 24, Washington 14

Footnote: On the Huskies' depth chart, Casey Paus is listed as the No. 3 quarterback behind Pickett and Taylor Barton. Paus (6-5, 215) is a redshirt freshman. He played high school football at New Lenox (Ill.) Lincoln-Way and was heavily recruited by Michigan.

In the end, he picked Washington because of Neuheisel. Pass first met Neuheisel when Neuheisel was coaching at Colorado. Casey's older brother, Cory, was recruited by the Buffaloes but decided on UCLA. Cory is the Bruins' starter at QB.

Signoff: Thanks for reading. Now, I'll go back to my little Korner of the world.

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