Navarre eyes spot in UM grid history

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 22, 2002

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- John Navarre has done enough at Michigan to have his name among former star quarterbacks Tom Brady, Elvis Grbac, Brian Griese, Jim Harbaugh and Rick Leach in the school's record books.

But he hasn't done enough to quiet all his critics.

A win at Ohio State would do that.

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When the 12th-ranked Wolverines (9-2, 6-1 Big Ten) play at No. 2 Ohio State (12-0, 7-0) on Saturday, they will need a performance somewhere between solid and spectacular from Navarre for a victory.

Navarre has improved dramatically this year after collapsing in the second half of last season.

The junior has completed 55.7 percent of his passes for 2,339 yards with 20 touchdowns and just six interceptions.

Navarre has shown the ability to throw to a second or third option, after throwing to Marquise Walker last season whether he was covered or not.

The 6-foot-6, 236-pound quarterback will not remind anybody of Michael Vick -- or Leach -- but he has improved his agility and footwork enough to move in and around the pocket, after looking like he had cement in his cleats the previous two seasons.

Against the Buckeyes and Michigan's bowl opponent, Navarre needs eight completions, 20 attempts, 390 yards and five touchdowns to break Michigan's single-season records set by Brady (completions), himself (attempts), Harbaugh (yards) and Grbac (TDs).

The Cudahy, Wis., native, will have a good chance next season to surpass Grbac's career records in all four categories.

''I treat that as an honor,'' Navarre said. ''There's a tradition at the quarterback position here and I want to be a part of that. I want to play well enough that my name is mentioned in the same breath with Griese, Brady, Grbac and those other great guys. It just motivates me to keep pushing on to put myself in that echelon.''

While Navarre has accomplished a lot, some still look at him as the quarterback who didn't make the necessary plays to win at Notre Dame this year -- or last year against Ohio State or at Washington or Michigan State.

Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, who earlier this year said he was finished answering Navarre's critics, tried to take some pressure off him this week.

''The quarterback is not out there by himself,'' Carr said. ''The problem is that he is going to take all of the blame if you lose and that is just the way it goes. But the truth is that everybody around him has to play well.''

While many believe the game in Ohio Stadium will be a huge game for Navarre's legacy, he doesn't see it as a defining moment.

''I do not feel personal pressure because I did not have to win the game last year and I do not have to win it this year,'' he said.

In the 26-20 loss to Ohio State at home last year, Navarre was 21-of-47 for 206 yards with four interceptions, a fumble and two touchdowns.

''I was trying to do too much,'' Navarre said. ''Looking back on it, I thought I had to win the game and I did not have to do that. I just had to manage the team, run the offense.''

Navarre admits it's tough to manage a game -- which is football speak for not committing mistakes -- while making the difficult throws and decisions necessary to win a game against an undefeated team on the road.

''It is a balance,'' he said.

''You want to play to win. But at the same time, the winning strategy is to possess the ball, manage the game, ball control and field position. At times those can look like passive strategies, but they are the winning ways to do things,'' Navarre said. ''If you possess the ball, it is going to come down to who makes the least mistakes. That makes a difference in the game.

''You want to be aggressive, and when you get your chances to be aggressive you have to capitalize on them.''

The Buckeyes have been impressed with Navarre's improvement.

''He's definitely matured and grown up in that Michigan program and made some things happen for those guys,'' Ohio State safety Michael Doss said. ''He's been throwing the ball pretty well. He only had one interception (in Big Ten play) going into last week's game.

''There was a lot of pressure on him in the off-season and he's stepped up to the challenge.''