With less than five minutes to go
in the fourth quarter, Michigan trailed Minnesota 24-20. While the
Wolverine defenders ostentatiously demanded noise from 100,000-plus
Maize and Blue faithful, true freshman quarterback Chad Henne sat
on Michigan’s bench with his helmet positioned between his
feet. Jermaine Gonzales and Mike Hart rested to Henne’s
immediate right, and Braylon Edwards was perched on a separate
bench to Henne’s left. Each player seemed to be fully engaged
in deep thought.

Gennaro Filice
Michigan tight end Tyler Ecker caught a pass and ran past two Gophers into the endzone, completing an 87-yard drive to defeat Minnesota. (RYAN WEINER/Daily)
Gennaro Filice
Gennaro Filice

No phone hugged Henne’s ear providing advice from the eye
in the sky, no coach stood over the players drilling two-minute
offense strategy into their heads and no emotion released from
either bench.

About seven yards in front of the benches, the scenario was
quite the contrary. A wall of Wolverines lining the sideline
whooped and fist-pumped before, during and — besides one
first-down pass to Minnesota’s Jared Ellerson — after
each play.

But the bench quartet remained stoic and speechless. The players
craned their necks to one of the scoreboard screens because all
view of the field was blocked by the maize and blue wall. Each
seated Wolverine exuded a quiet confidence while mentally preparing
himself for one final drive to retain the Little Brown Jug.

“We know that our defense, when they’re out there,
it’s a good chance they’re gonna get the ball
back,” Gonzalez said. “We knew we just had to be ready
to go when that happens.”

With the Golden Gophers facing a third-and-sixteen, Henne picked
up his helmet and took a few paces before settling in a seat next
to Edwards. The duo shared a few casual words as the game came to a
screeching halt thanks to two Minnesota timeouts and a Golden
Gopher false start.

“There was never any doubt that we couldn’t get it
done,” Edwards said. “There was never any panic. It was
always just, ‘It’s time to go.’ ”

Grant Mason interrupted the silence that ensued by giving
Edwards and Henne five, along with some words of encouragement.

After Michigan’s defense stuffed Minnesota, the duo
strapped up the winged helmets and scurried over to the edge of the
sideline. Henne shared some quick words with injured quarterback
Matt Gutierrez and — following an illegal block in the back
by Darnell Hood during the punt return — dashed into the
spotlight.

With 3:04 left in the game, Henne — who earned his high
school diploma less than a year ago — faced 87 yards of real
estate without the luxury of a time out.

It was the final examination on a day when Henne was fully
tested by Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, who drastically opened up the
playbook for the 19-year-old signal caller.

Henne had enjoyed a relatively solid day thus far, going
28-for-43 for 241 yards and a touchdown. But, two third-quarter
interceptions inside the Minnesota 35-yard line had ended promising
Michigan scoring drives and let the Gophers back into the game.

The Wolverines strongly believed in their quarterback, though,
as he was very familiar with the situation at hand.

“It’s more like repetition now,” tight end Tim
Massaquoi said. “We do (the two-minute drill) every Thursday,
sometimes on Wednesday. So it’s like, when he gets in the
game, he’s comfortable now just from playing, so it’s
just like practice.”

With his peers in the student section at his back, Henne showed
poise well beyond his years.

Minnesota employed a conservative cover-two defense with its
linebackers dropping back into coverage. Although this scheme makes
it difficult to throw the ball way downfield, it leaves a defense
vulnerable to short passes. So, instead of panicking and trying to
force a big play, Henne just took what was given to him, and went
5-for-6 on the drive. He hit Hart out of the backfield for a first
down. He went through all his progressions and found Avant over the
middle twice for a combined 37 yards. He put the ball in
Edwards’ hands on a quick hitch. Then, he hit Tyler Ecker on
a five-yard crossing route and Ecker rumbled 31 yards for his first
career touchdown.

In just 67 seconds, Henne pioneered Michigan’s
second-longest drive of the season. In just 67 seconds, Henne
etched his name into Michigan folklore. And in just 67 seconds,
Henne showed that over the last six weeks, he’s aged about
three years.

“It’s hard for any freshman to play at this
level,” Mason said. “Then you add the mental part of it
and the responsibility and the scrutiny that’s put on a
quarterback, especially at Michigan — if you didn’t
know he was a freshman, you wouldn’t know he was a
freshman.”

One of the biggest knocks on Henne’s predecessor, John
Navarre, was that Navarre couldn’t excel in high-strain
situations. Henne proved superb under such pressure a
month-and-a-half into his college career.

While Edwards celebrated the game’s final snap with a back
flip that probably took a few years off of Carr’s life, Henne
remained very even-keeled, much like he was just a short time
before, when Michigan was trailing.

Following the game, Henne spoke with quarterbacks coach Scot
Loeffler, who mirrored the freshman’s calm demeanor.

“Win, lose or draw we’re going to talk, and we
talked about a lot of the things that we need to work on,”
Loeffler said. “He’s a freshman still. We’ve
still got a long ways to go, and every week we’re going to
try to get better.”

Loeffler’s probably right. Henne’s still is a true
freshman. And he still makes some freshman mistakes, like his two
interceptions, which were both horrible decisions.

But, on Saturday, the Wyomissing, Pa., native showed the savvy
of a Super Bowl Tom Brady. And it all started on the sideline right
before Michigan embarked on its final scoring drive of the day.
Henne didn’t need last-minute tutelage from offensive
coordinator Terry Malone. He didn’t need words of support
from Michigan’s backup quarterbacks. All he needed was four
words from Edwards:

“It’s time to go.”

And, according to Loeffler, this kid’s nowhere near
realizing his potential …

Gennaro Filice can be reached at
“mailto:gfilice@umich.edu”>gfilice@umich.edu.

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