Yesterday, at MGoBlog, Brian posted his “Michigan Offensive team of the Decade”, which, upon reading the title, made this blogger eager to possibly write one of his own. Unfortunately, his post makes absolute sense, and makes further work largely pointless – save two small differences of opinion.
As staunch defenders of John Navarre’s legacy at Michigan, this blog was overjoyed to see Brian’s inclusion of the converted tight-end’s 2003 season as the best single season turned in by a Michigan Quarterback this decade. Navarre lead the Wolverines to a 10-3 overall record and captained what many at this blog consider the second-best team of the Lloyd Carr era (yes, better than 2006). The 2003 Wolverines lost nail-biting games to Oregon (giving up punt returns and punt blocks for two Duck TD’s) and Iowa (WHAT WAS THAT PUNT FORMATION) in what was a few strokes of bad luck away from being a National Championship appearance. We’re still in shock that Braylon didn’t catch Navarre’s 41 yard pass at the close of the game in Autzen. Navarre’s 2002 and 2003 seasons were unqualified successes, and we’re excited they’re being remembered as such.
But he didn’t turn in the decade’s best QB performance. That would be oft-maligned, somewhat hated, Drew Henson. If this was a UFR, I’d write something like “Henson left to play baseball (-1), poorly (-5), for the Yankees (-172) minor league affiliate (-9872).” But – RESULTS ORIENTATION!
Henson missed the first three and half games of the season with a foot injury, ceding ground to a RS Freshman John Navarre, who lead the Wolverines to easy victories over preliminary cupcakes, a loss at UCLA in which he failed to complete his last two zillion passes, and a terrible first half in Champaign, until Henson and Rocky Harvey rode in on their white horse, accompanied by the refs on their zebras to give Michigan the win (sorry, Rocky. Hope the head is better).
In the games he played, Henson’s stats were staggering – 61.6% completion, 14.7 yards per completion, 9.1 yards per attempt, and an 18/4 TD/INT ratio (and one pretty memorable scramble). For the record – that’s the 2nd best completion percentage of the decade (marginally behind Chad Henne’s 2006), the best yards/competion ratio by anyone in the modern era not named “Rick Leach”, the best yards/attempt in Michigan history (and it’s not particularly close – only two other seasons broke 8 yards per attempt), and the best TD/INT ration in Michigan history (only Grbac in 1991 is vaguely close).
If you made a Frankenstein-QB of non-Henson seasons in this decade, and took Henne’s 2006 completion %, his 2005 TD/INT ratio, Navarre’s 2003 yards per completion, and Henne’s 2006 yards/attempt, you would have an inferior QB in every single category to Henson’s 2000 performance, save for a precious 0.3% of completion percentage. The only reason why Henson doesn’t enter into the conversation is volume – he didn’t throw the ball as much for two reasons – he missed 3.5 games, and this was prior to the 12 game regular season.
But lets look at what he missed compared to Navarre. He missed games against Bowling Green and Rice – two tomato cans that a RS Freshman John Navarre (who would later prove himself overmatched) pasted for a 73.5% completion, 11.6 yards per attempt, and 15.8 yards per completion, without throwing an interception. UCLA wasn’t a tomato can per se, but they were a middle-of-the-pack 6-6 Pac10 team that allowed 31 points per game. In other words, he missed two defenses that a vastly inferior Navarre eviscerated, and a third that allowed career days to the likes of Ryan Kealy of ASU, some QB from Cal whose last name is Bennett and has been excised from google forever, Jonathan Smith from Oregon State, a two-headed Stanford QB tandem of Lewis and Fasani, and Marques Tuiasosopo (and Carson Palmer, but – fine). Navarre, on the other hand, rolled Central Michigan, Houston, and a 5-7 Notre Dame team in 2003.
It’s impossible to argue that the 2000 Michigan team depended on Henson as much as the 2003 team depended on Navarre – excising Navarre’s three games against tomato cans he still threw 140 more passes than Henson. It’s also impossible to argue that they had comparable protection, as Henson likely played behind the best offensive line Michigan history. It also, however, stands to note that halfback screens were more of an offensive staple during Navarre’s time, and he also had an excellent safety outlet in Chris Perry – who caught 44 passes during the season. Henson’s running backs caught a similar number of passes (35 between Anthony Thomas and BJ Askew), but few were screens and outlets (going for 7 more yards per completion). Ah, but Navarre’s team was more successful! Sure, but can we hold it against Henson that he played with one of the worst defensive units of the entire Carr era (4 ppg worse than 2003, giving 86 points in losses to Purdue and Northwestern).
As will always happen when comparing players between eras, the differences are hard to reconcile. The two quarterbacks piloted the most potent offenses of the Carr era, and each capped their seasons with vindicating victories over Ohio State (our last two wins in the series). The weight of statistics, however, swings towards Henson.
The second quibble, and more minor, is Brian’s selection of lead-blocker extraordinaire Jared Dudley. While Dudley is a fine choice, we wish there was room for the selection of utility-back BJ Askew. Askew served as Anthony Thomas’s caddy in 1999, and became the third-string tailback behind Thomas and Chris Perry in 2000, eventually moving to starting Fullback, as he hauled in 18 passes for 257 yards. As Chris Perry proved mercurial and inconsistent in 2001, however, slid back to tailback and took the reigns of the rushing offense from Perry – rushing for 902 yards, as Perry stumbled for 517 yards at 3.8 yards per carry. Askew again contributed in the passing game – catching 26 passes for 236 yards.
In his senior season, Askew again moved back to fullback to make room for Chris Perry but combined with Perry to give the Wolverines their most dynamic starting backfield in the modern era – adding 576 yards rushing from his FB position and 36 catches for 280 yards (the 2002 starting backfield caught a whopping 80 balls).
Askew served as Perry’s lead blocker, continued to produce when Perry struggled (129 yards on 11 carries against Minnesota), and proved to be a dynamic blocker from out of the backfield. Bruising gritty blockers may be your preference, but BJ Askew gave the Wolverines a presence from the FB position that they had never really experienced, and probably never will again.