By the time a regular-season finale rolls around, there are certain things that no coach wants to worry about.
High on that list his starting quarterback. But both teams in this year”s edition of the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry are dealing with uncertainty under center.
Michigan”s John Navarre has been far less effective in the second half of the season that he was in the first. Last week at Wisconsin, he threw for just 58 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Meanwhile, the situation in Columbus is far more hairy. Senior Steve Bellisari, the Buckeyes” three-year starter, was suspended last weekend after being arrested for driving under the influence. After missing Ohio State”s loss to Illinois, Bellisari was reinstated for the Michigan game, but will not start.
“Steve will be available to play and I can honestly say that I have mixed emotions,” said first-year Ohio State coach Jim Tressel. “I”m sure the guys can tell you that they have mixed emotions also. They shared a little bit about that yesterday. My plans are to get Craig (Krenzel) and Scott (McMullin) ready to play against Michigan. As I stand here today, Steve would be No. 4 (on the depth chart).”
Bellisari was arrested with a blood-alcohol level of .22, more than twice Ohio”s legal limit.
Krenzel will start in Bellisari”s place. The sophomore, who replaced Scott McMullen against the Fighting Illini, threw for two touchdowns and 164 yards in just over two quarters of play.
Krenzel”s teammates realize that the situation may not be ideal, but they still support the quarterback.
“I think everybody needs to step up, not just myself,” senior running back Jonathan Wells said. “I plan to step it up every game I want to get better every week. This is a special game for us. I think all the seniors, especially, have to step up their game as well as the rest of the team.
“We have a guy with some inexperience who is going to be our quarterback, but I”m confident he can get the job done. We need to go there and makes some plays for him and give him some confidence.”
A quarterback issue is particularly problematic against a team like Michigan, which gives up so few yards on the ground.
“I don”t even know exactly how to attack Michigan,” Tressel said. “They”re giving up 80 yards a game rushing. They”re the top defense statistically in the Big Ten. We”ve got a lot of work to do to figure out what it is that is the best attack. Then I think you plug in who can do what best.”
Michigan needs to prepare for both a scrambler (Bellisari) and a pocket passer (Krenzel) something that could cause some problems.
“We have faced both pocket passers and scramblers all year long, so our preparation is just that,” defensive lineman Shawn Lazarus said. “Last week, we faced Brooks Bollinger and he scrambled, so I think you have to rely on your experience over the year.”
Michigan”s quarterback situation is less troubling, but is certainly a concern. In each of the last two games, Jermaine Gonzales has seen action, but has not been restricted to garbage time.
Navarre is still the starter, but Michigan will need a better performance if it wants to hang with Ohio State”s impressive secondary.
“This might be the most aggressive secondary we face this year because they are fast and have an aggressive mentality,” said Michigan wide receiver Marquise Walker. “They also have an experienced group back there and have made a lot of big plays throughout the season.”