Michigan football is known for a few things strong defense, a power running game, and middling special teams.
Superstar quarterbacks are conspicuously absent from this list, and for good reason.
Although Michigan has sent a number of signal-callers to the NFL including Jim Harbaugh, Elvis Grbac, Todd Collins and Brian Griese the school is still not considered a haven for the forward pass.
That changed a bit last year, with the emergence of Drew Henson as a bona fide star. Henson directed one of the most prolific offenses in school history, as the Wolverines rolled up over 400 yards per game and broke the 30-point barrier on multiple occasions.
Granted, Henson benefited from the presence of All-America wide receiver David Terrell, stud tailback Anthony Thomas and three offensive linemen who were NFL draft picks.
But Henson still demonstrated considerable ability and appeared to be a Heisman Trophy frontrunner for this season.
With Henson”s somewhat surprising decision to leave school in favor of the New York Yankees” organization, Michigan was sent back to square one at football”s most important position who would take over at quarterback?
Enter sophomore John Navarre. When Henson missed the first three games last year with an injury, Navarre filled in capably, leading Michigan to a pair of home wins and tossing seven touchdown passes in the process. Once Henson returned, Navarre promptly resumed his prior role as a clipboard caddy, but this year he is the undisputed starting quarterback.
Navarre played reasonably well, completing 19-of-32 passes for 205 yards as Michigan toppled Miami (OH), 31-13. But, since it was the first game of the season, Michigan coach Lloyd Carr was hesitant to offer any resounding judgments on his quarterback”s performance.
“I thought Navarre did a good job in the pocket,” Carr said. “I thought his pocket presence was better, but we”ve got a long way to go.”
Navarre”s switch from understudy to starter is accompanied by a tremendous amount of pressure. Although current backup Spencer Brinton has some game experience from his time at San Diego State, it has a been a few years since he played Division I football. Third-stringer Jermaine Gonzales has virtually no game experience.
Brinton and Gonzales each only received one snap in last Saturday”s tilt. Clearly, the onus is on Navarre to play consistent, error-free football for a team with Big Ten championship aspirations.
“I think I did an okay job getting in there and keeping the team going,” Navarre said after the Miami game. “But, I”ve got some things to work on. There”s some reads I missed, but that”s expected for the first game. I”ve just got to go back, look at the film, and get them corrected.”
With so much seemingly stacked against him, it”s important to remember that Navarre did get some playing time last year. As mentioned, Navarre started four games while Henson was recuperating from an injury. Two of those contests games against UCLA and Illinois were on the road in hostile environments.
The lessons learned from those starts can only help Navarre as the Wolverines head to Seattle this weekend to take on defending Pac-10 champion Washington, whose home field has been dubbed “The House of Pain.”
“There”s going to be some ups and downs,” Carr said. “I”ve always said that experience is hard to get without suffering.”