As if a local boy spurning Penn State for another Big Ten school wasn’t bad enough, Chad Henne will look to play a key role in defeating the Nittany Lions for the second straight season when No. 4 Michigan visits State College on Saturday.
Henne, a junior quarterback from Wyomissing, Pa., chose to attend Michigan (6-0, 3-0) over Penn State (4-2, 2-1) and is sure to be a polarizing figure in his first college game back in his home state.
One year ago at Ann Arbor, he helped beat the Nittany Lions with a touchdown pass on the final play. Henne’s second scoring strike to Mario Manningham from 10 yards out with no time left lifted the Wolverines to a thrilling 27-25 victory Oct. 15—Penn State’s only loss of 2005.
The pass capped a stunning eight-play, 53-yard drive in the last 53 seconds.
Henne’s detractors are sure to be even more vocal if he continues to play the way he has this season, as he’s completed 80 of 129 passes (62 percent) for 1,103 yards, 13 touchdowns and only four interceptions.
“It’s not so much personal,” Henne said of facing the Nittany Lions. “It is kind of difficult to say that you don’t ever want to lose against them, because you don’t want to go home and hear, ‘Oh I should have gone to Penn State’ and all of that stuff. You just want to win so bad.”
Henne, though, won’t have Manningham on the field as he tries to help Michigan keep Penn State from returning the favor from last season. The sophomore receiver underwent arthroscopic knee surgery Tuesday after injuring his knee in Michigan’s 31-13 win over Michigan State last week.
Manningham leads the conference with 527 yards and nine touchdowns, and has caught eight of Henne’s 11 TD passes in the last four games.
The Wolverines have won seven straight over the Nittany Lions, and a Michigan team eyeing a run at the national championship will look to extend that streak by continuing its dominant play on both sides of the ball this week. The Wolverines have outscored opponents 201-85 this season after knocking off the Spartans on Saturday.
Big Ten rushing leader Mike Hart ran for 122 yards on 22 carries and the Michigan rush defense, which entered the game tops in the nation, allowed only 60 yards.
“We do have confidence that we can run the football,” said Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, whose team is 6-0 for the first time since 1997, when the Wolverines won the national title. “We feel like we can run it even when they have a lot of guys stacked up there.”
Hart has rushed for 794 yards and five touchdowns, and has reached the 100-yard rushing mark in all but one game this season.
Penn State will look to the quarterback it landed instead of Henne, Anthony Morelli, to help it deal Michigan its first loss.
The junior is coming off a strong game, going 20-for-34 for 281 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s 28-27 overtime win over Minnesota. Morelli had not thrown a touchdown pass in his previous three games, and played despite dislocating a finger on his non-throwing hand two days earlier.
Tony Hunt has 31 carries for 144 yards against the Golden Gophers, and has rushed for 669 yards and seven touchdowns this season. He has run for at least 135 yards in each of his last four games for Penn State, winner of two in a row.
Hunt rushed for 102 yards in last year’s loss to Michigan.
“I’m very impressed with this Penn State team,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “We have to go back on the road and play our best game.”
The Nittany Lions will look to extend their winning streak at Beaver Stadium, where the Wolverines haven’t played since 2001, to 12 games as they try to end their skid against Michigan. The Wolverines lead the series 8-3, and have won the last three matchups at State College.
“Michigan,” Penn State coach Joe Paterno said, “may be the best team in the conference.”