PASADENA, Calif. — Well, that
didn’t last long. John Navarre’s leave of absence as
resident punching bag is officially over.

Janna Hutz

He temporarily gave up that position after beating Ohio State in
the Big Ten title-clinching game that should have defined his
legacy.

But in the stands during the Rose Bowl game, in the airport on
the way home and in my inbox, Michigan fans grumbled about the
28-14 loss to Southern Cal., placing the blame squarely on the
senior quarterback. He’s slow. He should’ve thrown the
ball away. It’s all his fault.

My response to all of this jumping on the Navarre-sucks
bandwagon?

Get off Navarre’s back. The Southern Cal. players were
there enough on Thursday.

The Trojans sacked Navarre nine times. They hurried, harassed
and hit him all afternoon.

Navarre spent nearly as much time on the ground as on his feet.
He fumbled twice, although he recovered the ball both times. He was
taken down by guys he never even saw coming. He threw an
interception, albeit on a fluke play. He did not, to state the
obvious, have a good game.

But it could have been worse. Much worse. Navarre didn’t
have room to breathe, let alone look for receivers. Every time
center Dave Pearson snapped the ball, the Southern Cal. defense
blew through the offensive line and swarmed Navarre. The
quarterback, who owns a reputation of having slightly less mobility
than a tree stump, had to dance out of reach of Trojans players to
get his passes off. He was able to scramble away some of the time,
including when Michigan went for it on 4th-and-3, and Navarre
followed tailback Chris Perry’s lead and ran the ball those
three yards because there was no time to throw.

So before you go blaming Navarre for this one, you have to take
a hard look at the offensive line. What had been one of
Michigan’s top units crumbled. This was the same line that
didn’t allow a single sack against Ohio State.

Even Southern Cal. defensive end Kenechi Udeze said he was
“dumbfounded” by how many times the Trojans were able
to get to Navarre.

It was like trying to stop a flood with mesh fencing.

But don’t stop with the line. Take a look at the Michigan
coaching staff, which was outdone by its Southern Cal. counterpart.
Navarre said Michigan didn’t expect the Trojans to blitz as
much as they did. Southern Cal. cornerback Will Poole said the
Wolverines “were just not ready for” the Trojans’
speed or their blitzing scheme.

“They kept us on our heels, and they kept us
guessing,” Michigan offensive tackle Tony Pape said.
“They changed it up on a lot of plays. They had great speed
around the edge. They have four great players up front, and I have
a lot of respect for them.”

And that is what it came down to: Southern Cal. The Trojans
outplayed the Wolverines. Their receivers won the one-on-one
matchups with Michigan’s secondary. The offensive line
wouldn’t let Michigan’s defense get to quarterback Matt
Leinart, giving the redshirt sophomore plenty of time and a chance
to shine. The coaches made the right adjustments.

Michigan made mistakes and didn’t make big plays. But much
of that was because of Southern Cal., forcing those mistakes and
wearing the Wolverines down.

The Trojans were faster, more athletic, better.

A lot of Michigan fans probably came in expecting to see a suave
West Coast team with plenty of firepower but no grit. What a
surprise to find that the Trojans had style and substance.

“People say the Pac-10 is finesse, but we’re not
finesse,” Poole said. “We’ve got speed, finesse
and we hit.”

A lesson Navarre and Michigan’s offensive line learned the
hard way.

I understand Michigan fans’ need to blame somebody for the
loss. You’re not accustomed to seeing your team lose this
way. Usually, it’s missed field goals or blocked punts or
multiple interceptions that do the Wolverines in. It’s been a
while since Michigan lost without beating itself.

This time, Southern Cal. turned on its defensive tenacity and
got its offense rolling, and Michigan was never really in it. Just
when the Wolverines got some momentum going, a Southern Cal.
linebacker would burst through for another sack for a loss, or
Leinart would launch another perfectly placed pass.

Southern Cal. was like the big kid that holds the little guy by
the head to keep from getting punched. Michigan kept swinging, but
it couldn’t get any closer than an arm’s length
away.

“They played us perfectly,” Pape said. “They
had a great game plan. They played a great game, and we
didn’t come out and match them on the offensive
end.”

Or the defensive end, for that matter.

Michigan got beat. Plain and simple. If the fans need somewhere
to point the finger, they can start with Southern Cal.

Courtney Lewis can be reached at
“mailto:cmlewis@umich.edu”>cmlewis@umich.edu.

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