Fifteen minutes was all it took.
That quarter of an hour may be what sophomore quarterback Chad Henne needed to return to form and put the Wolverines back into the Big Ten race.
It was obvious from the first four games of the season that Henne was not the quarterback he was last year. Was it because he was without departed wide receiver Braylon Edwards? Was it a sophomore slump? Or was he just not as good as everyone thought?
Although Henne had eight touchdowns and only two interceptions, he completed just 53 percent of his passes heading into the Michigan State game. More worrisome was his play when games were on the line. Against Notre Dame, Henne threw an interception – a forced pass to a covered receiver – in the red zone when the Wolverines were ready to score. In the road opener at Wisconsin, he often looked rattled and couldn’t keep the offense on the field as the Michigan defense tired.
But after his performance against Michigan State – in which Henne went 26-of-35 for 256 yards and three touchdowns – it may have just been a mechanical problem that was affecting Michigan’s signal caller.
After the 23-20 loss to the Badgers, Henne and the coaching staff questioned whether his form was affecting his throws. He admits that many of his passes were either too high or behind the intended target.
“I think, at Wisconsin, I had a lot of physical mistakes; it wasn’t so much mental,” Henne said. “We went back on Sunday and Monday and fixed those. It was something with my release and body weight in my drop. It probably only took about 15 minutes.”
Henne looked confident as he threw on Saturday, especially early on, when he completed six-of-nine attempts on the opening touchdown drive. The last pass, a perfect toss to Jason Avant on a fade route, gave Michigan a 7-0 lead and Henne plenty to work with. Although he did throw an interception on Michigan’s first drive of the third quarter, Henne doesn’t think it was another sign of second-half woes for him.
“They dropped back into coverage, and (Michigan State’s Sir Darean Adams) reacted late and made a great play,” Henne said. “But you play each play and forget that play and move on.”
And Henne was able to do just that, in part because of a change the team made for the Michigan State game.
Other than working on mechanics, Henne also benefited from having offensive coordinator Terry Malone on the sideline.
“I thought it was a big impact, just having the offensive coordinator to talk to between plays,” Henne said. “Even though I talk on the phone with (quarterback) coach (Scott) Loeffler, it’s just not the same having someone out there on the sideline with you.”
Maybe fixing his mechanics and talking to Malone was all Henne needed to turn his season around and help Michigan get back into the top 25. But if the Wolverines want to stay in the Big Ten race and win a third straight conference title, Henne is going to have to play more like he did against Michigan State than how he did against Wisconsin and Notre Dame.