Michigan-Notre Dame: Ryan Mallett Takes His First Shot

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Michigan-Notre Dame: Ryan Mallett Takes His First Shot
When Ryan Mallett committed to the University of Michigan in the summer of 2006, Wolverine fans could hardly contain their excitement.

They envisioned three, maybe four, seasons of the 6'7", 230-pound signal caller running a deadly offense up and down the field.

Big, confident, and competitive, Mallett is supposed to make fans of the Maize and Blue forget about that Tom Brady guy.

The high school stories are legendary. Mallett once threw an 87-yard pass...and dislocated one of his teammates’ fingers with a throw...and fired a 71-yard touchdown pass as a freshman in the state playoffs...and was compared to the likes of Peyton Manning and Carson Palmer during the recruiting process.

He has a perfect pigskin pedigree, a thorough understanding of the game, and a cannon arm.

All told, he's the perfect guy to replace Chad Henne next season.

He's just not supposed to be starting now.

A mysterious knee injury to Henne threw Mallett into the proverbial fire against Oregon last week. The true freshman played the entire second half and performed decently—especially considering that Michigan was down by nearly four touchdowns at the time.

Mallett had time to show off his arm in his brief stint, throwing one pass 65 yards in the air (Mario Manningham, dropped it) and firing countless other darts that bounced off the hands of his receivers. One of those deflections was intercepted.

Mallett also demonstrated the true freshman inside him, missing throws, forcing passes, staring down receivers, and generally looking confused and altogether disoriented at times.  

When head coach Lloyd Carr named Mallett as the starter for Saturday, his teammates were justifiably quick to dismiss last week’s appearance and acknowledge this week’s game against Notre Dame as his first real test.

“I think Ryan can get the job done,” said running back and team captain Mike Hart. “Obviously, the game plan we had [against Oregon] was fostered toward Chad, so it’s a lot more complicated stuff. You can’t expect a freshman to come in and do what Chad does. It’s not going to happen. The coaches are going to do their job, they know what they have to do [to prepare].”        

Mallet's role has only added to the intrigue (most of it negative) surrounding the historical matchup between Michigan and Notre Dame.

The teams are facing each other with 0-2 records for the first time even, and they are both unranked entering the contest for the first time since the polls came into existence.

There's also the controversy surrounding Hart and his guarantee of a Michigan victory. Expect quite a few copies of that quote to find their way onto the walls of the visitor’s locker room at Michigan Stadium on Saturday.

And as if one true freshman quarterback weren't enough, enter Jimmy Clausen—the newest member of the Godhead at the University Of Notre Dame (joining offensive mastermind Charlie Weis, of course).

The flamboyant Clausen made himself an immediate enemy of all Notre Dame haters in the world (meaning everyone but Notre Dame fans) by predicting four national championships during his career as the Irish quarterback.

Many expected classic battles to take place between the two young quarterbacks during their respective careers. No one, however, expected Mallett and Clausen to face off this early.

Even in the "Bummer Bowl," Michigan and Notre Dame fans alike will get a look at their respective futures. Yes, it will be sloppy, and there are sure to be some poor throws and lousy decisions by both quarterbacks...but there will also be the promise of better things to come.

In the end, one team will emerge victorious, and one team will mourn an abysmal 0-3 start to the season. Whatever the outcome, though, Mallett will get his first exposure to the often unpleasant life of Michigan’s starting quarterback.

Just ask John Navarre, or Chad Henne, or even Tom Brady—they know what it’s like to deal with the criticism that comes with the job.

They also know what it’s like to experience the thrill of being the biggest name on campus, and how to live with both wins and losses in the biggest games.

Mallett won't be Michigan's main man for some time yet, but Saturday will give all of us some early insight as to what the future might hold—for the young QB and for his dedicated, Maize-clad fans.
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