Early in the second quarter of Saturday’s game, Michigan quarterback Ryan Mallett threw a lateral to wideout Adrian Arrington, intending to receive it back on a pass. Before he could make the catch, though, the 6-foot-7 freshman tripped, falling on the ground as the ball sailed over his head.
Although he spoiled that rare opening of the Wolverine playbook, Mallett – and his size-16 shoes – mostly kept out of Michigan’s way. Doing just what he needed to do, Mallett completed 7-of-15 passes, threw three touchdowns and, most important, successfully handed the ball off to senior Mike Hart 35 times in Michigan’s 38-0 win over Notre Dame.
“It was everything I dreamed of – a win,” said Mallett, who filled in for the injured Chad Henne. “It’s all I wanted my first start.”
Last week against Oregon, Mallett – widely considered the second-best quarterback in this year’s national recruiting class – entered the game trailing 32-7 at halftime. Forced to play catch-up, he went just 6-for-17 and threw an interception.
But this week, Mallett started with a clean slate and a clear mind. To avoid distractions, the freshman turned off both his cell phones Thursday.
Michigan teamed up to keep the pressure off Mallett, too. The coaching staff limited his role in the offense, the defense handed him good field position and Hart kept moving the ball.
Playing with a short field for most of his first-half drives, Mallett rarely needed to unleash his cannon arm; he threw for just 90 yards, and all three of his touchdowns were shorter than 26 yards each. On the longest of them – also Mallett’s longest completion of the game – wide receiver Greg Mathews caught the ball just behind the Fighting Irish linebackers and then sprinted 21 yards to the end zone.
“(Mallett) was surrounded by good people out there today,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “We just asked him to do the things that were in the game plan. … He showed good poise.”
Mallett also deserves credit for calming down after a mistake-ridden start. The always-confident freshman said he wasn’t nervous to start the game, but he fumbled his first snap, missed an open wide receiver and had a pass batted down at the line before Michigan settled for a field goal on its first drive.
Mallett turned things around, though – and scored a personal victory over Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen. The only quarterback ranked ahead of Mallett in last year’s recruiting class went 11-of-17 for 74 yards and an interception. The Michigan defense pulverized his offensive line for eight sacks, and the complete lack of a Fighting Irish rushing game didn’t help Clausen, either.
Mallett, on the other hand, got all the help he needed. In addition to Hart and running back Brandon Minor’s combined 52 carries, the senior Henne walked Mallett through tape before the game.
Mallett might want to go to Henne for additional aid this week, since it’s likely the freshman will have to throw a bit more in this Saturday’s game. Michigan faces Penn State, which has the nation’s best run defense, and Hart says he expects to run up against a stacked box in Ann Arbor.
But Hart’s convinced his young teammate can handle it.
“I think he can,” Hart said. “It all comes down to gameplanning, and he knows what he has to do every game. He made the right throws today when he had to throw the ball, so when he’s making the right throws, he’s going to get more confident every week, so we’ll see.”