ANN ARBOR - You can't play quarterback for the University of Michigan if you can't engineer pulsating, late-game comebacks. Michigan quarterbacks must produce during crunch time or coach Lloyd Carr will find someone who can.
John Navarre's turn in the hot seat arrived yesterday in a Big Ten taffy-pull against Penn State. If you want to understand what Carr saw in Navarre to make him the full-time starter a year ago, analyze Navarre's performance in Michigan's 27-24 overtime victory before 111,502 fans at Michigan Stadium.
Even Navarre's harshest critics would have to admit that something special happened yesterday. His performance against an excellent Penn State team was very exciting and fun to watch.
He threw two touchdown passes. He completed 27 of 41 passes for 244 yards. He was incredibly resourceful, making key third-down conversions late in the contest when failure would have resulted in handing the ball over to Penn State and its superb quarterback, Zack Mills.
With Michigan on the brink of losing a game it was favored to win, with fans booing Navarre after he misfired on some passes he should have completed, Navarre suddenly turned into Captain Clutch.
Trailing 13-7 late in the third quarter, Navarre capitalized on a second chance. After throwing three straight incompletions to force a punt, Navarre was reprieved when Penn State's James Millon was penalized for running into the punter.
Navarre passed to Bennie Joppru for 18 yards and Ronald Bellamy for 16 more. After an incompletion to open the fourth quarter, Navarre stared down the pressure of third-and-10 at the Penn State 22, whipping a 13-yard completion to Bellamy.
On second-and-goal from the 5, Navarre connected with Braylon Edwards in the corner of the end zone for a 14-13 lead.
By the time Michigan got the ball back, Penn State had regained the lead 21-14 as Mills led another scoring drive: 80 yards in 10 plays, 6:05 off the clock.
Mills is not one of those outrageously talented quarterbacks who can run, pass and do the moonwalk at the same time. He doesn't dazzle you with a cannon for an arm. What Mills does best is make plays.
Mills' only problem was that he couldn't play defense.
Navarre opened Michigan's next possession by throwing to Joppru for nine yards. He passed to the right side to fullback B.J. Askew for seven yards. Looking left, Navarre passed to Edwards for 17 yards. Keeping Penn State's defenders guessing, Navarre passed right again to Edwards for 12 yards to the Penn State 7. On third down at the 3, Navarre drilled a pass to Edwards in the back of the end zone to make it 21-21.
In overtime, Navarre made his final contribution, connecting with Edwards for an important nine-yard gain. It led to Chris Perry's winning three-yard touchdown bolt.
“Once you get past the first couple of drives, you get into the groove of the game,” said Navarre, attempting to explain his slow start and incredible finish. “That is the sign you are looking for, when you get your confidence you are going to win the game.”