A Passing Matter

Sept. 23, 2004

Iowa is 2-1. Michigan is 2-1. Michigan is ranked 18th on the ESPN/USA Today poll. Iowa’s ranked 24th. Iowa is playing first-year starter Drew Tate at quarterback. Michigan is playing true freshman Chad Henne.

But the similarities don’t end there.

Tate is 37-of-63 with three interceptions and three touchdowns for a 133.5-yard average per game. Henne is 50-of-88 with five interceptions and five touchdowns for a 181.3-yard average.

Two young upstarts will be calling the shots Saturday as the eighth- and ninth-best pass offenses in the Big Ten Conference face off at 2:30 p.m. before 110,000 inside Michigan Stadium for the league opener.

“They’re playing a true freshman, and I don’t feel too bad for them,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. “(Henne) was an extremely highly recruited, and there’s good reason for that. He’s an outstanding talent.”

Henne was the No. 3 quarterback in the nation for the 2004 recruiting class according to analyst Tom Lemming and PrepStar. He was also considered the best player in Pennsylvania last year by SuperPrep, among other honors.

But like Tate, who has only recently learned how to slide as opposed to taking a tackle, Henne has had some growing pains playing Division I football.

Last week when the Wolverines escaped San Diego State with a 24-21 win in Ann Arbor, Henne misread the team’s clocking-burning knee play, stepped back after the snap and allowed a 250-pound defensive lineman to tackle him.

Henne better not give Iowa’s defensive end Matt Roth or linebacker Chad Greenway that kind of opportunity. Greenway says he’s under self-imposed orders to tackle more.

“We need to be physical,” he said. “We need to tackle and get back to what we do.”

Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, however, says Henne’s picked up a lot in his first three games.

“The things that he’s learned–just to begin with, he is, I promise you, much more comfortable in the huddle,” the coach said. “He feels better about managing that, of getting a play call, of getting the signals or of getting a wristband call read to his teammates. Now, it may not sound like much, but when you are trying to do it, you know in the back of your mind the 25-second clock is running.”

“I think we can get better,” tight end Tim Massaquoi said of his pass offense. “I think each week we get better with our passing game. I think Chad is getting more comfortable and more consistent with his throws. I think the quarterback is getting more comfortable in the system.”

Getting Henne out of his comfort zone is probably the No. 1 task for the Hawkeye defense, according to Greenway. Iowa has the seventh-best pass defense starting league play, but Michigan has the sixth.

“If you get a good quarterback and good receivers, they can sit back and pick apart the defense if you give them enough time,” he said. “You have to make the guy run and move. But it’s going to be tough to get to him. He’s played in tough situations, so we have to come ready to play.”

Henne also has “one of the best receiving corps in the nation, and that includes some NFL teams,” says Ferentz.

Braylon Edwards, Steve Breaston, Jason Avant and Massaquoi are the Wolverine’s top receivers. And while Edwards, who made last year’s Iowa-Michigan matchup a bit more competitive with seven catches for 114 yards and two touchdowns, still leads his team with a 116.7-yard per game average, Ferentz says junior Steve Breaston is Michigan’s “No. 1 threat.”

“He’s a very dangerous receiver, one of them that I mentioned in that group,” he said. “Also, he’s a great return player. He’s going to be a real threat every time he has a ball in his hands, and they do a good job of giving him room to get going.”

“If you get a good quarterback and good receivers, they can sit back and pick apart the defense if you give them enough time. You have to make the guy run and move. But it’s going to be tough to get to him. He’s played in tough situations, so we have to come ready to play.”
Junior linebacker Chad Greenway

On the flip side, Carr says he really can’t evaluate the play of Tate.

“Other than to say that I think he’s like a lot of young quarterbacks; he’s got things that he will improve on,” Carr said. “But, he’s got to have all the qualities that you’re looking for or he would not be in that position.”

After being held to 44 passing yards and just 100 yards of total offense last week against Arizona State, Tate says he’s “just forgotten” about the loss and is looking forward to the trip to the Big House.

“I’m excited to go up there and see what it’s like,” he said. “I’m sure a lot of people are. But like Coach Ferentz says, it’s just a business trip and another opportunity for us to play and get better.”

Tate also isn’t worried about playing in front of more than 100,000 Michigan fans in one of the most intimidating atmospheres in college football.

“I hadn’t really thought about it,” he said. “If you’re thinking about that, then you’re thinking about the wrong thing. You don’t really need to worry about the crowd or anything like that. You just have to worry about the game plan. That’s where I’m at right now.”

Barry Pump, hawkeyesports.com