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Gearing up for The Game

Anticipation builds before Saturday's epic matchup

Posted: Thursday November 16, 2006 4:06PM; Updated: Friday November 17, 2006 1:31PM
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When healthy, Michigan receiver Mario Manningham is one of the most dangerous deep threats in college football.
When healthy, Michigan receiver Mario Manningham is one of the most dangerous deep threats in college football.
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Note to self: when the time comes to leave the press box and head down to the field on Saturday, bring a moist handkerchief.

The last time I attended a Michigan-Ohio State game in Columbus, four years ago, Maurice Clarett was the hero, Craig Krenzel was borne to midfield on the shoulders of delirious fans and police pepper sprayed an unruly mob in one of the end zones. Even though I was at least 20 yards away, I remember thinking -- my eyes began to water up and sting -- Wow. This stuff really works!

Random questions going into The Game: Is this the game we finally see Troy Smith pull the ball down and break off some dazzling runs, like the Troy of yesteryear?

Will the cops need to resort to such heavy-handed crowd control techniques after this game?

Will Michigan be able to move the ball on this Buckeyes defense?

Enough questions.

Michigan's superb color analyst Jim Brandstatter told me an interesting story last week. Bo Schembechler used to have a drill where receivers would run fly or "go" routes -- straight down the field -- and the quarterbacks were instructed to overthrow them. Why? It got receivers in the habit of accelerating under the ball. Bo got annoyed one August because there was a skinny little freshman the quarterbacks couldn't overthrow. He kept running under the bombs and catching them. "Somebody overthrow that kid!" Brandstatter recalls Bo shouting. But no one could.

"That kid was Anthony Carter," says Brandstatter. "Mario Manningham has that kind of burst."

Manningham, of course, is the wunderkind sophomore wideout and Notre Dame-killer (three long TD catches in the first half against the Irish on Sept. 16) who tore cartilage in his knee against Michigan State on Oct. 7. Although he's taken snaps in Michigan's last two games, he hasn't shown the ridiculous burst that got him nine touchdowns in his first six games.

It's not as if quarterback Chad Henne doesn't have other people to look for. In a bit of a role reversal during their 34-3 crushing of Indiana last week, the Wolverines used Manningham as a decoy to get the ball to Steve Breaston, who racked up 231 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns on six touches. Talk about making it count. His three pass receptions went for 103 yards, and included 63-yard scoring pass.

But Breaston is no Mario. "There's no one in college football who runs the go route like Mario," Braylon Edwards of the Cleveland Browns told me last week. The unspoken caveat: when he's healthy. Whether or not Manningham can get to all the gears in his gearbox will be a large factor in this game. Excuse me, this Game.

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