Boring. Conservative. Unimaginative.
Those were just a few complaints heard during the Wolverines’ first nine games. But against Indiana – of all teams – Michigan delved deeper into the offensive playbook and showed some of the tricks up its sleeve.
Although the Hoosiers had been giving up over 200 yards of rushing per game, the Wolverines didn’t pound the ball as expected. The varied looks came right from the get-go on Michigan’s first possession.
On first-and-10 from the Indiana 34-yard line, Chad Henne took the snap and play-action faked to running back Kevin Grady. As Henne rolled to his left, he looked for Tyler Ecker, but the 6-foot-6 tight end was covered. He tucked the ball and ran for two yards. It wasn’t a huge gain or even a new play, but Michigan showed that it was willing to do whatever was necessary to put Indiana away early.
“We just came out and figured we could express our offense a little bit more,” Henne said. “And the plays that we do have that are just kind of simplified, we complicated them and made them bigger plays and just added bigger attributes to the play.”
Saturday’s game also showed what versatile freshman Antonio Bass means to the offense. Getting his most extensive playing time this season, the Jackson native lined up both in the backfield and as a receiver against the Hoosiers. In the backfield as a running back on Michigan’s first offensive series, Bass went in motion. And in the same formation on the Wolverines’ second series, Bass took a toss from Henne around the right side. The quick receiver slipped an Indiana defender, then spun forward for a nine-yard gain and a first down.
“I think during the course of the season we’ve tried to find ways to get Antonio Bass more involved in the game – the same with (freshman) Mario (Manningham) – so we can spread the ball so that we’re not just a team that relies on (wide receivers) Jason Avant or Steve Breaston,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “So I think that really diversifies us more than we were at the beginning of the season.”
Tosses and new formations were just the tip of the iceberg for Carr and the rest of the Michigan coaching staff. Leading 20-7 in the second quarter, the Wolverines came out in a typical formation. At the snap, Henne looked to his left and threw a pass in the flat to Breaston. But because the pass was a lateral, Breaston could throw the pigskin back across the field to a wide open Henne. Unfortunately, Breaston – a former quarterback in high school – couldn’t make the throw. If completed, Henne had a caravan of blockers to lead him down the field.
“I just didn’t step into it. I threw it flat-footed,” Breaston said. “(The Buckeyes aren’t) worried about my arm.”
With Michigan chugging away in the second quarter, Carr kept the trick plays coming. Leading 27-7, Michigan ran a reverse to Breaston. The receiver gained 30 yards on the play. The Wolverines had complete control of the game in the first half, but still showed a couple new formations that Ohio State will have to prepare for. Mario Manningham went in motion to line up in the Wolverines’ diamond formation and Michigan used Bass as a decoy several times on fake end arounds. Whether the coaching meant to or not, the Buckeyes will have to worry about the new plays since Michigan had success on most of them.