Two different years, two different roles, two different results.
For sophomore wide receiver Mario Manningham, Saturday’s Wisconsin game marked a full-circle turn in his young career.
Last season, Manningham was the silver lining in the Wolverines’ 23-20 loss at Wisconsin. The then-true freshman had his first career 100-yard receiving performance in the losing effort, which ended up being his lone game with triple-digit receiving yards in 2005.
It was a nice story: A third, maybe fourth option at best, who is unfamiliar with the playbook coming up with some big plays. It’s a game most role players would kill for.
But Manningham no longer has to have murderous thoughts – he’s the star now.
His biggest concern is no longer combating opposing defenses or understanding all of his routes. That’s cake. Manningham’s biggest obstacle on Saturday came when he had to face the media about his success.
Ever caught five touchdowns in two games?
“No, no sir, no I’ve never (done) that,” Manningham sheepishly replies during Saturday’s post-game press conference. It’s the first time he’s had to appear at the dreaded podium in front of the media following a home game.
He looks behind him to see if he can leave yet. Sorry, the torture has just begun.
Did you hear it a lot around campus about the Notre Dame game?
“No, not really. I wear a hat around, so …”
Manningham drifts off. Nice try, you’re not off the hook yet.
Is that by design that you wear a hat? Are you trying to hide?
“No, I just wear a hat,” Manningham says matter-of-factly. “It’s been raining this week.”
Makes sense. Affected by rain, you say? Maybe he is human, after all.
One last question: Would you rather just lay low and have others take the spotlight?
“As long as we’re winning, it don’t even matter,” Manningham says. “As long as we’re winning, I don’t care if I get the ball once, eight times, two times. It don’t matter to me.”
Well, it matters to Michigan. Something tells me there might be a correlation between Manningham touching the ball and the Wolverines winning.
Don’t believe me? Let’s look at some of Michigan’s big games since Manningham’s arrival.
Penn State enters the Big House undefeated with national championship aspirations. Yawn. Manningham’s game-winning-no-time-remaining-just-another-day-at-the-office grab sealed the Nittany Lions’ fate there.
Notre Dame? All Manningham did there was end a school’s national title hopes (again), a quarterback’s Heisman Trophy aspirations and his own school’s 12-year drought of wins in South Bend.
And then Saturday’s game against Wisconsin: Seven catches, 113 yards, two touchdowns and about 2,000 people coming up to him today on campus asking him when he’ll wear No. 1.
Sorry, Mario, but I’ve got a feeling you’ll be back at that podium. Again and again. We’ll actually save you a spot at the podium for the next two-plus years for convenience sake. I think your quarterback agrees.
“I think he’ll get used to it,” said quarterback Chad Henne after replacing his teammate in front of the podium following Saturday’s game. “With a young guy like that, everyone’s nervous their first time coming in. But he’ll get used to it, especially if he keeps making plays like this. He’ll be in here a lot.”
Remember after Michigan’s first two games when everyone was up in arms about the Wolverines’ lack of a passing attack? I don’t want to say that was an overreaction, but even Tom Cruise thinks you guys should switch to decaf.
Over the past two weeks, Michigan hasn’t just beaten two good football teams. The Wolverines have helped themselves by filling in the biggest perceived hole in their game.
Consider the passing game hole (if there ever was one to begin with) filled in, covered, cemented in with a cement truck – however you want to look at it, it’s gone.
Gone should also be the questions about the passing game for the rest of the season, because the solution is right in front of our eyes.
He’ll be the guy walking down the Diag with his hat on and his head down – rain or shine.
– Bell can be reached at email@example.com