TEMPE, Ariz. — It used to be that the only throwing going on at University of Michigan football games had to do with the fits and tantrums Coach Bo Schembechler threw on the sidelines.
The new Wolverines, like the new Bo, are balanced and streamlined. But still powerful.
The new look will be on display today when the fifth-ranked Wolverines play seventh-ranked Nebraska in the Sunkist Fiesta Bowl in Arizona State's Sun Devil Stadium.
The teams in the Big Ten have already seen the once-grounded Michigan team take to the air this season, but longtime followers of Michigan football who haven't seen this season's revised version will likely do some double takes.
"We are more balanced," Schembechler said. "We are a running, passing team. We can do both and we have to do both to be successful."
As foreign as it may seem to Michigan teams, the passing attack is a natural for quarterback Jim Harbaugh. The senior from Palo Alto holds most of Michigan's single-season passing records and was the nation's top-rated quarterback in passing efficiency. Harbaugh completed 65.6% of his passes this season, throwing only six interceptions.
Even better for the Wolverines, Harbaugh has recovered fully from the broken arm that sidelined him for much of last season. Harbaugh has come on in the last three games of this season and will try to extend his streak of 109 passes without an interception.
Of course, Harbaugh has some sizable targets. There are 6-foot 6-inch tight end Eric Kattus and 6-7 split end Paul Jokisch, a refugee from the Wolverine basketball team. Harbaugh probably couldn't overthrow them if he wanted to.
Elsewhere on offense, there's Michigan rushing leader Jamie Morris. Morris, the younger brother of running back Joe Morris of the New York Giants, is listed at 5-7, but that must be with cleats on.
The speedy Morris averages five yards a carry and is a key to the Michigan offense.
You will have to move to the other side of the ball, though, to find the real key to this Michigan football team--defense.
The Wolverines lead the nation in scoring defense, having allowed just 6.8 points a game. Michigan has allowed only five touchdowns this season.
Lou Holtz, the former Minnesota coach whose team lost to Michigan, 48-7, called the Wolverines "the best defensive team I've ever seen since I've been coaching."
The team concept that pervades all of Michigan football is never so strong as on defense. Big brother is All-American tackle Mike Hammerstein, known as the Hammer. He was one of four Lombardi Award finalists and is the leader of the aggressive Michigan defense. Linebackers Andy Moeller and Mike Mallory are the team's leading tacklers. Moeller is the son of Wolverine defensive coordinator Gary Moeller. Mallory is the son of Indiana Coach Bill Mallory.
Defensive back Brad Cochran, who was a medical redshirt two years ago when a hormonal imbalance caused erratic behavior, has come back to lead a strong secondary.
"Sometimes when you have a defense that plays as well as Michigan's, the offense is overlooked," Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne said. "They have the balance."
And Nebraska has the beef. As usual, the Cornhuskers are team of strong, huge football players. Osborne has had no comment this week on the Sports Illustrated article that quoted a convicted trafficker in steroids as saying that he had supplied the muscle-building drugs to several members of Nebraska's football team.
Osborne told the magazine that he became suspicious when about one-third of his players showed substantial weight gains. He also said that he instituted a drug-testing program last season.
The Cornhuskers (9-2) are no different than they have been in years past. Offensively, Nebraska will run and run, then run some more. Defensively, Nebraska will hit and hit, then hit some more.
Nebraska is an I-formation team, but today the Cornhuskers may be without I-back Doug DuBose. Osborne said that DuBose injured his shoulder in practice Sunday and is a questionable starter. If DuBose is out, 5-10 sophomore Keith Jones will replace him.
The Cornhuskers are the nation's top rushing team, averaging 374 yards rushing a game.
"We haven't seen anyone quite like them," Schembechler said. "That could throw us off."
The Cornhuskers are coming off a 27-7 loss to Big Eight rival Oklahoma. Michigan may still be riding the high of its 27-17 win over archrival Ohio State.
"We could have lost a little confidence," Osborne said. "It was a critical game for us. But I don't anticipate anyone throwing in the towel."
Hardly anyone anticipates a high-scoring game. Michigan has allowed teams to drive down the field but not score touchdowns, so Osborne may be sending in kicker Dale Klein.
Schembechler may be hoping he doesn't find himself in a similar situation. He suspended field-goal kicker Mike Gillette and kickoff specialist Rick Sutkiewicz before the Ohio State game for breaking training rules. They have not been reinstated.