ANN ARBOR - A quarterback crisis is the absolute last thing Michigan needs right now as the Wolverines (0-2) stagger into Saturday's game here with Notre Dame (0-2). Michigan has opened the season with two losses at home for the first time since 1959.
But the 39-7 humbling defeat at the hands of Oregon, Michigan's worst loss since 1968, was more damaging than initially thought.
Senior quarterback Chad Henne, who has started every game in his Michigan career (39), was injured in last weekend's loss and is not expected to play against the Fighting Irish.
That left Michigan coach Lloyd Carr to offer this terse, direct and abrupt assessment of his quarterback situation as he prepares for Notre Dame.
"Ryan Mallett," Carr said yesterday, referring to the freshman from Texarkana High School in Texas.
The injury to Henne, which Carr declined to discuss, has made Michigan's quarterback of the future now the man of the moment.
"He's got very, very good poise for a young kid," Carr said of Mallett, who completed 526-of-938 passes for 8,331 yards and 76 touchdowns with 24 interceptions during his high school career.
"Now this test, of course, will be different than any test he's had. So he's going to make some mistakes. He's going to learn some things."
Mallett (6-7, 252) played the second half against Oregon in relief of the injured Henne and threw an interception while going 6-of-17 passing for 49 yards. Henne, who Michigan media outlets have reported has a "lower leg injury", completed 12 of 23 passes for 172 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
"It's tough losing Chad because he's such a great player and a great leader," Michigan senior offensive tackle Jake Long said yesterday, "but Ryan Mallett has really stepped up. He's gotten better all through camp and spring ball. He's going to step in and fill the position, and he's going to be good at it. We're going to be all right."
Mallett enrolled at Michigan in January and was able to take part in spring practice, as well as all the summer workouts that preceded preseason camp. Long said that additional time has allowed Mallett to become more comfortable with the offense.
"It's kind of like he's a red-shirt freshman," Long said. "He was here all spring and learned the offense then. He was here all summer, and then during camp, and he just fine tuned what he needed to with the offense. I think that gives him confidence. It gives everyone around him confidence."
Long admitted that it was unusual to have anyone but Henne calling the shots in the offensive huddle as the Wolverines experienced in the second half against Oregon.
"He's been the only quarterback I've ever played for, so it was different having someone else out there," Long said. "But Ryan stepped out there; he didn't hesitate and took charge."
Michigan senior wide receiver Adrian Arrington said he was impressed with the way Mallett carried himself in his debut in front of almost 110,000 fans in Michigan Stadium.
"He seemed real calm to me," Arrington said. "He wasn't out there shook up or anything. He just went out there and acted like it was practice - just call the plays, go through his reads and try to make the right calls."
Carr said Mallett has all the tools to be successful at quarterback for Michigan.
"I think he's a bright guy, and he's a competitive guy. He likes to compete," Carr said.
"But I can guarantee you, he's not intimidated by anything. I think that's one of the things I like about him. He's got a lot of confidence. He's got a great arm, and yet he's got to go into this week and play within himself and within the context of the game plan, because it's really about winning. And it's not about Ryan Mallett. It's about doing the things that will help this team win."