I thought about going with John Navarre as my pick to click in Michigan's matchup with Notre Dame on Saturday (2:30 p.m. EDT/NBC-TV) in South Bend, Ind.
He's completed 36 of 61 passes for 442 yards and five touchdowns in Michigan's first two games. He threw one interception against Washington in the season-opener at The Big House and one the following week against Western Michigan. He led the Wolverines to victories in both games by spreading the ball around to a number of different receivers, by showing his strength and new-found savvy.
Navarre (6-6, 228) took out two Washington defenders with a crushing block on an end-around play. He twice led Michigan into field goal position in the final minutes and was rewarded for his efforts when Philip Brabbs kicked a 44-yarder on the final play to beat the Huskies.
Navarre is 20 pounds lighter than a year ago. He is moving better in the pocket. While he has been sacked on several occasions already, he's stepped up and turned huge losses into small setbacks. His biggest mistake involved tangling his feet with running back Chris Perry on a crucial third-and-inches against Washington.
Navarre, in effect, made the tackle on a play that prevented Michigan from making a first down and, perhaps, going in for the winning touchdown. But all that is behind us now, as is much of the criticism of Navarre. He has one more demon to conquer, winning on the road. He has experienced hostile crowds at Illinois and UCLA.
"Well, I think anytime you would rather have a guy that has some experience in those kinds of games," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said of Navarre starting against the Irish and his counterpart, Carlyle Holiday. "In terms of this game, I think the fact John has played in a lot of big games on the road will help him certainly."
Said Navarre: "Winning on the road really defines your team. Coach Carr always says it is more difficult to win on the road because at home the fans are cheering for you. On the road, they are cheering against you. If a team can win on the road, it defines how good that team is. Once we go into that situation, we will have a stronger identity and be much more confident. This will be a test for us, and I think we are up for the challenge."
Navarre's No. 1 target in the early going has been little-known wide receiver Tyrece Butler, a young man from Indiana who returns to his home state to take on the Irish. Butler, 6-3, 213-pound junior from Indianapolis/Decatur Central, has caught 10 passes for 129 yards, including six for first downs. While his teammate, Braylon Edwards, has emerged as a home run threat, Butler is the guy moving the chains for Michigan.
He's my pick to click against Notre Dame because the Irish likely will do whatever it takes (double coverage?) in an attempt to negate Edwards' big-play prowess. Butler remains a secret weapon, but not for long. His fumble recovery kept alive the Wolverines' winning drive against Washington. He has 14 career receptions for 228 yards (16.3 average) in 20 career games.
His sat out all of last season with an injury.
"It was great being out there, especially after my knee injury," Butler said after the `M' victory over the Huskies to start the season. "It is great to be able to do something for this team by making plays and being out there and doing what I can do."
Navarre's growth has been well-documented.
"He started developing in the summer as everyone has said earlier," tight end Bennie Joppru recently reiterated. "He is coming around. I have had confidence since he got here and took over for Drew Henson in 2000. He is playing with more confidence now, and I think that is a very dangerous thing."
Butler will be the guy to jump in the spotlight next. Who beat the Irish? The Butler did it.
Thanks for reading. Now I'll go back to my little korner of the world.
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