Kremer's Korner

Illinois coach Ron Turner elected to gamble with his defensive scheme against Michigan. Junior quarterback John Navarre made Turner and the Illini pay a huge price. Navarre enjoyed his best day since arriving at Michigan in the Wolverines' 45-28 victory on Saturday in Champaign.

In devising a game plan for Michigan, Illinois coach Ron Turner and his staff made the same mistake as many Michigan fans, selling short 6-foot-6 quarterback John Navarre.

Injuries in the Illini secondary not withstanding, there is no other possible explanation for Illinois' defensive strategy. Turner and his staff elected to play seven, eight and nine men within almost an arm's reach of the line of scrimmage. The Illini blitzed on nearly every play and opted to use man-to-man coverage on the Wolverines' young receivers.

Clearly, the thinking was Illini corners Christian Morton and Eugene Wilson would take away Braylon Edwards and Ronald Bellamy. Clearly, the idea was to rattle Navarre by putting a ‘D' lineman in his face. Clearly, the Illini wanted to make Big John stand up to the pressures of playing the Big Ten opener on the road and in a hostile environment, no less.

With a true freshman starting at safety, Turner and his staff gambled.

The gamble backfired as Navarre played his best game since arriving at Michigan, leading the Wolverines to a 45-28 victory on Saturday in Champaign. He completed 22 of 37 for 264 yards and matched his career-high with four touchdown passes.

Navarre threw a pretty fade pass for a TD to Bellamy. Navarre threw a tight spiral on a slant to Edwards for a TD. Navarre twice connected with tight end Bennie Joppru for touchdowns, Joppru making a running, one-handed catch on one ball, a catch so good it will take its place some day on the Michigan highlight reel.

Navarre, reading the stacked Illini defense, checked out of running plays at the line of scrimmage. He found his hot receivers to beat the Illini blitz. He threw to his second and third options. He minimized his mistakes, just as he has in the first month of the season, even as criticism of his performance has mounted.

True, Navarre delivers the ball with a sidearm type motion that lends itself toward pass deflections. True, the Illini batted a couple balls down at the line of scrimmage. What is hard to judge is whether this is Navarre's fault or the result of poor pass blocking techniques by his young linemen.

Two redshirt freshmen -- Adam Stenavich and Matt Lentz -- continued to work into the ‘M' rotation against the Illini. Both show signs of becoming dominant forces up front. Both have more to learn about playing in the Division I ranks.

True, Navarre was sacked once on a route where he had only one receiver going deep. With that receiver covered, he must learn to unload the ball, throw it out of bounds, out of harms way. Or, he must make like a Big John deer: Tuck the ball and run like a tractor toward the nearest open field.

Navarre's touch -- or lack thereof -- is the subject of scrutiny. He throws the ball hard, sometimes off the mark. His receivers have dropped too many that were right on target, though. Again, Navarre was victimized in the early going against the Illini by bobbles and blunders.

Later, his receivers made some spectacular plays. Calvin Bell ran under a ball that he tipped for a first down. Joppru's touchdown was thing of beauty. These plays were made possible because Navarre stood tall against the Illini defense.

He will see tougher defenses in the coming weeks and months, defenses with better personnel and more varied plans of attack. The Illini were as predictable as they were short-handed.

As long as Navarre continues to make plays, Michigan will come out on top. This is now his team and his offense.

Navarre has found his niche in the Wolverines' system. He doesn't have to win the game by himself, nor does it appear he is capable of pulling this off very often. He does have to play with poise and play like a fourth-year junior, a big guy who has been around the block. He is the ‘M' leader and the best of the Wolverines' current quarterback crop.

The Illini dare to Navarre is one that will be duplicated: He's Johnny on the spot. He is also no longer one to be sold short.


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