FOOTBALL: O-line, running game key Wolverine attack
Pat Leonard | Friday, September 9, 2005
While Notre Dame exploded with a 35-point first half against Pittsburgh last Saturday, Michigan was also making a statement of its own.
The Wolverines scored 27 first half points against unranked Northern Illinois on the same day, all but sealing the win early and allowing coach Lloyd Carr to run the ball – and the clock.
“Last year they scored over 30 points a game, and last week was no different scoring the 33,” Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said. “They have a lot of weapons.”
Michigan’s style of offensive play prioritizes a strong running game which sets up a more experienced, and possibly improved, passing game. Though last season’s leading receiver Braylon Edwards (97 catches, 1,330 yards, 15 touchdowns) is departed to the NFL, Michigan retains a solid core on its offense.
Sophomore quarterback Chad Henne, who started all 12 games his freshman season, opened the 2005 season completing 20-of-31 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns, throwing no interceptions.
Sophomore running back Mike Hart, who saw limited action in Notre Dame’s 28-20 victory at Notre Dame Stadium last season (five carries, 17 yards), also holds onto the ball well.
“My biggest concern with Hart is in 283 touches in a row, he has not fumbled the ball,” Weis said. “So obviously he’s very good at ball possession, which was a critical factor in their win last week.”
Michigan did not turn the ball over against Northern Illinois. Hart carried the ball 27 times for 117 yards and one touchdown while freshman and Michigan high school phenom Kevin Grady registered 42 yards on nine carries and a touchdown of his own. Jerome Jackson – who started last season against Notre Dame and carried the ball 15 times before getting injured – also saw action in the backfield behind Henne.
“Any time you can put two or three guys in there that have different types of abilities, I think it creates issues for the defense,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “You still have to block them, but certainly we’ve got three guys in there.”
To make up for Edwards’ departure, veteran wide receivers Jason Avant and Steve Breaston lead the way as Henne’s primary targets.
Avant caught nine balls for 127 yards and a touchdown last week, while Breaston grabbed five passes for 42 yards and a touchdown.
Michigan’s strength, however, lies in pounding opponents into the ground with the running game. And Notre Dame’s strength on defense – last season and this season as well – has been its run defense.
“Defensively, I like their linebackers,” Michigan coach Llyod Carr said. “They’re very athletic and they get to the football well.”
Linebackers Brandon Hoyte, Corey Mays and Maurice Crum, Jr. will focus more on running backs in Saturday’s game than in any matchup the rest of the season, with the exception of facing Navy’s option attack.
Hoyte was second on the team in tackles last weekend with nine total, six of them solo and 4? for a loss against a fresh Pittsburgh squad. Weis said Notre Dame will have to adjust on defense because he expects the well-coached Wolverines, like his own Irish team, to show new offensive schemes and plays.
“I’m not expecting just to see what they did last week against Northern Illinois,” Weis said. “They are not expecting for us just to do what we did against Pittsburgh.
“I think that we have to both be ready to adjust on the fly.”