It’s inevitable. John Navarre will hold all the Michigan passing records. But what about the record?
Navarre entered Saturday’s game against Notre Dame with a 1-4 record in rivalry games. While the senior will downplay it in a second, a Michigan quarterback’s legacy is shaped by how he plays against Notre Dame, Ohio State and Michigan State.
In his first five rivalry games, Navarre completed 49.2 percent of his passes (93-of-189) and threw eight interceptions. Saturday, he played one of the most efficient, mistake-free games of his career, and he did it against a big rival on an even bigger stage.
As the nation looked on and listened to ABC commentator Brent Musburger rave about Navarre, it was Navarre’s quiet, workman-like performance that did most of the talking. He completed two-thirds of his passes (14-of-21) for 199 yards, had one touchdown and no interceptions, bringing the record to 2-4 in a 38-0 rout of Notre Dame Saturday.
Navarre’s third play from scrimmage seemed like an early omen that this would be another day the Cudahy, Wisc., native would like to forget. Navarre fumbled on a sack by Notre Dame linebacker Courtney Watson, and the Irish recovered at the Michigan 38-yard line.
But Navarre’s confidence wasn’t shaken. After 31 games as the Wolverines’ starting quarterback, he’s seen it all.
“We worked hard enough all week that we had confidence,” Navarre said. “And (the fumble) was just a fluke thing. He put his helmet right on the ball. (Losing confidence) was never an issue.”
After the fumble, Navarre settled into a groove, allowing Chris Perry and the running attack to set up the play-action pass.
Navarre hit redshirt freshman Carl Tabb for 21 yards to set up Adam Finley’s 24-yard field goal. On Michigan’s next drive, he utilized the play-action fake on consecutive plays to connect with Braylon Edwards and Jason Avant for 31-yard receptions.
On 3rd-and-goal from the 5-yard line, Navarre stayed patient and found Perry, his third read on the play, to put the Wolverines ahead 17-0.
“(The success on play action) is a credit to an aggressive defense which Notre Dame has,” Navarre said. “We wanted to take advantage of that.”
Navarre struggled in his first two games of the season without Bennie Joppru and B.J. Askew, his favorite third-down targets from last season. He completed just 50.8 percent of his passes.
But the senior looked comfortable with all of his receivers Saturday, as the Wolverines converted on 12-of-19 third downs. Navarre hit Perry three times for third-down conversions, as well as tosses to Avant, Tabb and tight end Tim Massaquoi for first downs.
“Those guys all work really hard,” Navarre said of his receivers. “They know exactly what’s expected of them.”
Perhaps Navarre’s most impressive drive of the game was the Wolverines’ 10-minute, 25-second drive (the longest in Michigan history in time elapsed), which began in the middle of the third quarter and finished with more than 13 minutes left in the fourth.
Navarre kept the Wolverines moving forward with his feet. He rushed for eight yards and a first down on the drive.
“That’s what we wanted to do,” Navarre said. “That’s part of putting it all together. We did not let up, and we did not give them a chance.”
The Wolverines probably won’t know if they’ve put it all together until they win a nonconference game on the road for the first time since Syracuse in 1999. The past three seasons, Michigan has lost to UCLA (2000), Washington (2001) and Notre Dame (2002) with Navarre under center. Needless to say, Navarre isn’t happy with that 0-3 record entering this weekend’s Oregon game.
“It’s always on my mind,” Navarre said. “We want to win out there on the West Coast. We haven’t done that in a while.”
Regardless of a win or a loss at Oregon, Navarre has gotten used to being dissected after every game. When asked Saturday if his performance against the Irish will alleviate the pressure on him, he responded:
“I doubt that. I don’t think that will ever happen. (The criticism) will always be there.”