With a little more than 2:30
remaining in Saturday’s game, San Diego State head coach Tom
Craft had a decision to make. The Aztecs had the ball at their own
46-yard line facing a fourth-and-10 and a three-point deficit, and
Craft could have either (a) gone for the first down to keep their
drive alive, or (b) punt the ball away, counting on the Michigan
offense to go three-and-out.

Bob Hunt
Bob Hunt
Freshman running back Mike Hart blasts through two San Diego State defenders en route to a career-high 121-yard performance.

The Aztecs chose option B.

And if it wasn’t for an 11-yard run by running back Mike
Hart on third down, Craft’s plan would have worked. San Diego
State would have had the ball at midfield with a chance to win or
tie the game.

Although the San Diego State defense was one of the top-10
defenses in the nation statistically last season, Craft’s
choice signifies how much respect opposing coaches have in the
Michigan offense through three games — little to none.

The situation may seem bleak for a team that went into the
season with such high expectations. But the problem is not that the
offense is not talented enough, or that the coaching staff is not
putting the team in the right position to move down the field.

The problem is that the offense is just going to take time to
develop.

If it wasn’t for Mike Hart’s breakout performance
yesterday (which was very nice to see) and Braylon Edwards’s
big-play ability, the Michigan offense would have come into the Big
Ten season next week with little for opposing defenses to fear.
Although Michigan has one of the more heralded receiving corps in
college football, its extended drives this season can be counted on
one hand. On Saturday, the Wolverines basically had three offensive
weapons: (1) The deep fade down the sideline to Edwards, (2) the
Hart run up the middle or (3) the turnover.

All 24 of Michigan’s points on Saturday were scored or set
up in one of these three ways. While the Aztec defense should
receive due credit, the Wolverines can’t depend on this
combination of Hart and Edwards to take them to the top of the Big
Ten standings. Edwards could be double-teamed. Opposing fronts
could stack up on Hart. Offenses could hold onto the football.

Throughout the preseason, Michigan received more hype than any
other team in the Big Ten. We were told that Matt Gutierrez would
be able to step up and take charge of the offense. We were told
that David Underwood would be able to be a clear-cut No. 1 starter.
And, although it’s possible we could see one or both of those
Wolverines in significant roles later in the season, we were left
after Saturday’s win with the impression that Henne and Hart
would start at quarterback and running back for the time being.

Both have shown great strides in their time on the field, but
both are also true freshmen.

Neither has spent an entire year learning the ultra-complex
Michigan offense, something that takes years, not weeks to master.
Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said as much during the post-game press
conference.

“It is what it is,” Carr said of the situation
facing his team on offense. “Experience is a great thing, but
it’s hard to get without suffering sometimes. There are going
to be some rough days ahead.”

The reality is that Michigan no longer has John Navarre and
Chris Perry in the backfield. By last year, they had the experience
of going through the rigors of a full season and a full grasp of
the offense. Remember that neither Navarre or Perry fully came into
their own until their senior seasons. It’s impossible to
expect the same results with players who have four fewer years of
experience.

As for Henne, the quarterback has impressed many with his arm
strength and poise in his first three games. But, then again,
it’s been just three games. Even fellow quarterback Spencer
Brinton admitted last week that Henne knew about 50 percent of the
offense.

“For a freshman to come in, he’s going to make some
mistakes,” said wide receiver Jason Avant, who has had a
less-than-deserved role in the offense so far this season.
“We just have to help him with it.”

As for Hart, many scouts felt that the biggest knock on him,
other than his size, was the lack of competition that he faced at
such a small upstate New York high school. Now he’s going to
face the trenches of the Big Ten.

“What you try to do with a young back is that every week
you try to give them a little bit more,” Carr said.
“The thing you want to avoid is having a guy in the game
where everyone knows it’s a run or a pass. Sometimes with
young backs you’re going to have to do that because of their
limited experience.”

Like Saturday, the Michigan offense is going to have troubles
offensively. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

It’s just going to take time.

 

Bob Hunt can be reached at
“mailto:bobhunt@umich.edu”>bobhunt@umich.edu

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