Way Back When-sday: September 4, 2004

With all of the prognostication, pre-season polls, simulations, and general banter going on in the college football world, I thought it might be fun to take you back to a time where nobody had any idea what was going on in the world of Michigan Football. In August of 2004, the Big Ten Championship defense was on deck for the Wolverines. They finished the previous season with a historic victory over Ohio State in the 100th meeting between the two schools, followed by a devastating defeat at the hands of what would become the USC dynasty in the Rose Bowl. The Wolverines also lost the runner-up for the Heismann Trophy, Chris Perry, and 4-year QB John Navarre, both of whom were selected in the NFL draft. New QB, new RB...a scary proposition for any team. But there was some optimism in camp, with the heir apparent Matt Gutierrez ready to take the signal calling reigns, and Lamar Woodley's high school teammate, Jerome Jackson, prepared to fill Chris Perry's shoes as the offensive workhorse.

I remember with great detail, though the Godfather and I had nearly polished off a jug of Captain Morgan's, when the word began to trickle in from the corner of Stadium and Main. Stunned and skeptical at the news of the demise of Matt Gutierrez, I became even more skeptical upon hearing the news of the replacement, true freshman Chad Henne. All I new at the time of Chad was that we stole him away from Joe Pa's backyard, and now he was going to be leading the Maize and Blue? Rumors had been coming out of practice that Henne had been doing well, but better than everybody else? I don't think so, not Coach Carr, who seemed at the time to have a great prejudice against the younger players. What about Clayton Richard, Matt Wilde, or 6th year senior Spencer Brinton? At least they've been here more than 3 weeks!

But game time came and out trotted the 19-year old, fresh faced Henne, wearing the same jersey number as the last true freshman to start a Michigan game, Rick Leach's #7. Shaky at first, he managed to lead the Wolverines to a 43-10 rout of Miami of Ohio, assisted (actually lead) by a stellar defensive performance that netted 7 turnovers.

Of course, that was just one of the surprises we endured during the 2004 campaign...

During the embarrassing upset of the Wolverines in South Bend, a light chuckle came over the crowd as tiny little man entered the game at running back. A second true freshmen, Mike Hart, entered the game and had 5 carries for 17 yards. Mike was an afterthought in a weekend where we truly began to feel like it was a rebuilding year. Little did we know that #20 would be...

Big Ten Freshman of the Year (coaches and media) ... All-Big Ten first team (coaches and media) ... SI.com All-America honorable mention ... Collegefootballnews.com All-America third team ... Scripps/Football Writers Association of America Freshman All-America ... Rivals.com Freshman All-America first team ... The Sporting News Freshman All-America second team ... The Sporting News Freshman All-Big Ten ... The Sporting News Big Ten Offensive Freshman of the Year ... led the team in rushing with 282 carries for 1,455 yards and nine touchdowns ... caught 26 passes for 237 yards and scored lone touchdown reception on a 25-yard screen pass from Chad Henne at Purdue (Oct. 23) ... led the Big Ten in rushing in all games (121.2 avg.) and conference only games (151.8 avg.) ... finished 10th nationally in rushing yards per contest (121.2 avg.) ... led the Big Ten in attempts (228) and yards (1,214) during conference play ... became the third true freshman in Big Ten history to lead the league in rushing, joining Wisconsin's Ron Dayne (1996) and Minnesota's Darrel Thompson (1986) ... set a U-M freshman rushing record with 1,455 rushing yards and placed seventh on the school's season rushing yardage list ... his rushing total was the second highest all-time in Big Ten history for a freshman ... third in the conference and 26th nationally in all-purpose yards per game (141.0 avg.) ... fumbled the ball just once in 308 touches (282 carries, 26 receptions) ... carried the pigskin 230 times without a miscue following his only career fumble against Iowa (Sept. 25) ... his one lost fumble was the fewest by a Michigan starting tailback during Lloyd Carr's tenure ... had 13 plays of 20 yards or more during the season (nine rushing, four receiving) ... played in all 12 games and started final eight games at tailback ... carried three times for 20 yards and grabbed one reception in career debut vs. Miami (Sept. 4) ... rushed five times for 17 yards and had an eight-yard reception at Notre Dame (Sept. 11) ... became first back to surpass 100-yard barrier on the year, rushing 25 times for 121 yards vs. San Diego State (Sept. 18) ... carried 26 times for 99 yards and scored first career touchdown on a seven-yard run vs. Iowa (Sept. 25) ... had two receptions for 14 yards against the Hawkeyes ... made first career start at Indiana (Oct. 2), gaining 79 yards on 20 carries and scored on a one-yard fourth-down run ... caught two passes for 36 yards against the Hoosiers ... gained 213 offensive yards vs. Minnesota (Oct. 9), rushing 35 times for 160 yards and one rushing touchdown and catching six passes for 53 yards ... carried the ball 40 times for 234 yards and one touchdown and caught three passes for 23 yards at Illinois (Oct. 16) ... won Big Ten co-Offensive Player of the Week honors for performance at Purdue (Oct. 23) ... rushed for 206 yards on 33 carries and caught three passes for 22 yards and a touchdown against the Boilermakers ... scored team's only TD against Purdue on a screen pass that covered 25 yards ... became only the second Wolverine to rush for 200 yards in back to back games (Jon Vaughn 1990) with his performance against the Boilermakers ... named Cingular/ABC Sports All-America Player of the Week and Rivals.com National Freshman of the Week for his play against Purdue ... became first Wolverine in history to record three straight 200-yard rushing games, scampering for 223 yards on 33 carries and scored one rushing TD vs. Michigan State (Oct. 30) ... passed the 1,000-yard mark for the season against the Spartans, becoming the first true freshman in U-M history to accomplish the feat ... ABC Player of the Game vs. Northwestern (Nov. 13), scoring a career-high three rushing touchdowns on 23 carries for 151 yards ... became the first Wolverine running back with at least 150 yards rushing in five straight games following performance against the Wildcats ... carried the ball 18 times for 61 yards and scored one rushing touchdown at Ohio State (Nov. 20) ... added a 39-yard reception against the Buckeyes ... rushed for 82 yards on 21 carries and caught a four-yard pass vs. Texas in the Rose Bowl (Jan. 1) ... had his streak of eight consecutive games with at least one touchdown snapped against the Longhorns.

Michigan would go on to win a second straight Big Ten title with the help of Henne, Hart, and Braylon Edwards, and earned a second consecutive trip to the Rose Bowl, where they would fall to the Texas Longhorns on a last second field goal.

The rollercoaster ride of 2004 is a great example that you just never know. What surprises are in store for the 2006 Wolverines? I can't wait to find out...