The “We want Mallett” chant started with 3:29 left in the second quarter and grew louder when the Michigan student section saw the freshman put on his helmet two minutes later.
Senior Chad Henne suffered a leg injury when he was forced out of bounds with just more than a minute left in the second quarter. Freshman Ryan Mallett strapped on his helmet, but Henne finished the half. He didn’t return to the sideline for the third quarter, leaving the offense in Mallett’s hands.
And what a game for Mallett to make his debut.
The 6-foot-7 signal caller was faced with the daunting task of bringing the Wolverines back from a 25-point deficit in the first game action of his career.
“Mallett came out and did a great job,” tight end Carson Butler said. “He had to come out and play a big role. We never quit, so with him, it wasn’t just to get experience, it was to make plays and see if he can make reads so we could score and get back into the game.”
Running backs coach Fred Jackson reserved judgment until he could look at the game tape, but he did note that the more playing time the No. 2 quarterback gets, the better he’ll perform.
Mallett finished the day 6-of-17 for 49 yards and one interception. He also lost a fumble on an exchange from center Justin Boren. Many of Mallett’s throws went through wide receivers’ hands, and the interception first deflected off Mario Manningham as the wid receiver fell to the ground.
“I thought he went in there and played with moxie,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “I don’t think he was intimidated at all. I think he made some throws that should have been caught.”
Big plays, big woes: Defensive coordinator Ron English can’t figure it out.
He tried different schemes, but in the end, the same thing kept happening: an Oregon deep pass that resulted in a touchdown.
“They’re happening in zone coverages, they’re happening in man coverages, they’re happening in fire zone, so I’m soul searching right now,” English said. “I just want to find a way to give our players the best chance to be successful. I’ll keep trying to do that.”
The first quick Duck strike came two plays after Michigan wide receiver Adrian Arrington corralled a Henne pass to give the Wolverines a 7-3 lead with 5:29 left in the first quarter.
On the Ducks’ second play of their ensuing possession, quarterback Dennis Dixon hit Brian Paysinger, who beat Brandon Harrison downfield for an 85-yard touchdown.
Dixon lit up the Wolverine secondary again in the third quarter when he connected with Derrick Jones for a 61-yard score.
“I feel like we were more prepared,” cornerback Donovan Warren said. “I don’t know where we went wrong. We didn’t execute on certain plays, and they had too many big plays.”
The moral of the story: During his postgame press conference, Carr took an opportunity to offer a response to the hits he’s taken publicly since the season opening loss to Appalachian State.
When asked a question toward the end of his time at the podium, he responded with a story about Peter, a second grader at Saint Francis Elementary School.
Carr said Peter, who is in the same class as Carr’s granddaughter, is an avid Michigan fan and when Carr’s daughter, Emily, asked him how he was doing, Peter was more concerned about Carr.
Carr took the time to answer it.
“I’m doing great because I’ve got great kids here,” Carr said. “You don’t know me, but those who do know me, friend or foe, I think would agree that I’m a tough-minded, competitive guy, and there isn’t anything that comes my way that I can’t handle, and there is nothing, there is nothing, that can keep me down, not a loss to Appalachian State, not a loss to Oregon, not 100 losses and not the loss of my job.”
Injury update: Quarterback Chad Henne, who did not return to the sideline for the second half after suffering an apparent leg injury, was listed as “very doubtful” by Carr following the game.
Carr added that left tackle Jake Long, who left the game in the fourth quarter, was suffering from cramps and should be fine.
Mike Hart suffered a thigh bruise but said he’ll be ready to play come next Saturday against Notre Dame.