January 1, 2007

Michigan can't protect Henne

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PASADENA, Calif. Michigan knew its offensive line would have to protect Chad Henne and open holes for Mike Hart to have a chance against Southern California.

The Wolverines were right.

Michigan ruined any shot it had at winning the Rose Bowl because it didn't give Henne time to pass and failed to give Hart room to run, leading to the Trojans' 32-18 win Monday.

USC sacked Henne five times in the first half and finished with six sacks - the most the third-ranked Wolverines (11-2) gave up in a game this season.

"We didn't handle the guys up front," Henne said. "They established things up front so much that we couldn't even get to their secondary.

"Their speed overcame us."

Relentless pressure on Henne set up three straight scoring possessions for the eighth-ranked Trojans in the second half, allowing them to build a 19-3 lead after it was tied at 3 at halftime.

USC (11-2) forced Henne to get rid of the ball quicker than he wanted on Michigan's first drive of the third quarter and his screen pass was intercepted by defensive end Lawrence Jackson. Henne was hurried on the Wolverines' next possession, leading to an errant pass that forced them to punt. He was sacked and fumbled the next time Michigan had the ball.

"If we could've punted the football, then we're still in the game," said Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, referring to both third-quarter turnovers.

The Wolverines seemed to make some adjustments early in the fourth quarter, when they scored to pull within eight, but it was simply too late.

"They were bringing new blitzes and we had a hard time picking them up early in the game," All-American tackle Jake Long said. "Once we changed some stuff, we could pass the ball, but it was too late."

It looked a lot like the last USC-Michigan matchup in the 2004 Rose Bowl when the Trojans had nine sacks in a 28-14 win.

The Wolverines insisted they were ready to deal with the pressure this time, but it didn't look like it because they often appeared to miss assignments against stunting linemen and blitzing linebackers.

Henne was 26-for-41 for 309 yards with two TDs, an interception and a fumble.

Michigan tried to run Hart to take pressure off Henne and the passing game only to find the quicker Trojans had answers for that facet of the game, too.

"It's only a matter of time, when you can't run the football that you're going to give up sacks," Carr said.

Hart had 17 carries for 47 yards, ending his distinction as the nation's only running back with at least 90 yards rushing in every game this season.

"We're proud that we were able to do that," USC coach Pete Carroll said.

Michigan had a lot of success with a new blocking scheme this year, which called for Hart to run in an area and not a specific hole, but it didn't work against the Trojans.

"With the zone scheme you can't allow penetration," Hart said. "They were getting penetration that was making me cut quicker and I couldn't stretch out their defense."

Hart and Henne have achieved a lot individually, but are 0-6 in bowls and against Ohio State.

"We have another year," Hart said quietly.

For more coverage of USC, visit USCFootball.com; for more on Michigan, visit TheWolverine.com.


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