In Michigan’s first two blowout wins, quarterback Chad Henne didn’t get an opportunity to prove himself.
On Saturday, Henne finally got that chance. But it probably didn’t come the way he envisioned it.
On the third play of Michigan’s first drive, the Wolverines’ offensive line failed to pick up the Notre Dame blitz. Under pressure, Henne threw an ill-advised pass into the hands of Irish safety Chinedum Ndukwe, who returned the interception 51 yards to the Michigan four-yard line. Notre Dame scored a touchdown two plays later.
“It was just a poor decision by myself,” Henne said. “Some of those plays are out there, and you don’t want them to happen, but it’s all about bounce-back ability. Coming to the sideline, I explained to everybody, ‘That was my fault.’ I knew I was going to come back because I always put that stuff behind me and go out and make better plays.”
Which is exactly what Henne did. On the Wolverines’ third offensive series, Henne hit a wide-open Mario Manningham with a gorgeous pass for a 69-yard touchdown. It was Henne’s first completion longer than 30 yards this season.
“Those deep balls he threw to Mario, all three of them couldn’t have been placed better,” running back Mike Hart said. “They were all perfect. Hit him on the run, they were perfect passes.”
Henne completed 13-of-22 passes for 220 yards and three touchdowns, by far his most productive game of the still-young season. Through two games, he had amassed just 248 passing yards and two touchdowns, totals he nearly doubled against the Irish on Saturday.
Unlike Vanderbilt and Central Michigan, which had played deep and forced the Wolverines to throw underneath, Notre Dame loaded the box and covered Michigan’s receivers man-to-man. With speedy Manningham breaking free from the Irish cornerbacks, Henne exploited the coverage. Five of Henne’s 13 completions went for more than 15 yards.
“We really didn’t throw the ball in the first two games,” offensive coordinator Mike DeBord said. “We really wanted to get our running game going, and I’m sure people were saying, ‘Are they ever going to throw?’ Chad never blinked an eye and just said, ‘I don’t care what we’ve got to do to win.’ Then we knew coming in here we’d have to throw it, and he did a great job.”
Hart to stop: Mike Hart had been the Wolverines’ hero in their first two games, gaining 262 yards and scoring three touchdowns.
Not so against Notre Dame, which focused on stopping Michigan’s rushing attack, ranked fourth in the nation coming into the game.
“They had a lot of people up in the box, so we couldn’t run the ball too well at first, but then we just threw it over the top of them,” Hart said. “It loosened everyone up, so we started getting running lanes. The passing game started everything off today.”
In the first quarter, Hart gained just 12 yards on seven carries. But once the Wolverines’ passing game heated up and Notre Dame’s defenders started backing off, Hart made the most of it. The junior ended up with 124 yards on 31 carries for his third 100-yard rushing game of the season.
Hart’s most impressive runs weren’t always his longest. In the first quarter, Hart leaped over the pile to score his lone touchdown of the day. Late in the second quarter, he ran over a Notre Dame defensive lineman for a two-yard gain.
Injury report: It was a scary sight for any Michigan fan.
Wearing a blue jacket over his uniform, Manningham walked through the tunnel and into the Michigan locker room just three minutes into the third quarter. The sophomore had fallen on his wrist during the Wolverines’ first drive of the second half.
But Manningham’s day wasn’t done just yet. At the end of the quarter, he caught a 26-yard pass that gave Michigan a first down and helped set up another Garrett Rivas field goal.
Talking to reporters after the game, the sophomore said he wasn’t hurt and twisted around his wrist to show that it felt fine.
Manningham wasn’t the only Wolverine to suffer an injury in the third quarter. Right tackle Rueben Riley missed most of Michigan’s first series of the quarter after his left knee got kicked during a play. The fifth-year senior went into the locker room to ice his knee and returned to the field for the Wolverines’ next drive.
Notes: With a 17-yard return in the third quarter, Steve Breaston became the Big Ten’s career punt return leader. The senior wide receiver had a season-high 64 yards on four returns, giving him 1,352 punt return yards in his career . Placekicker Garrett Rivas moved into fourth place on Michigan’s all-time scoring list. The senior made two field goals and four of five PATs to give him 290 career points . Cornerback Leon Hall’s first interception of the season moved him into a tie for ninth place on the Wolverines’ career interceptions list.