Quietly and gradually, the fourth-ranked Michigan Wolverines have expanded their offense and Monday are expected to give coach Bo Schembechler a first Rose Bowl victory.
Washington's Huskies are 13-point underdogs against a Michigan attack that has swallowed its pride and added the forward pass.
In last year's Rose Bowl against USC, Michigan, a slight favorite, lost 14-6, although the Trojans were missing tailback Ricky Bell.
In the game, Michigan quarterback Rick Leach threw only 12 passes, completing four for 76 yards, and, as a consequence the Wolverines showed an embarrassing inability to come from behind.
Michigan's plan had worked in the Big 10 where there is an unspoken agreement that real football teams blow the ball up the middle and leave the frilly pass patterns to the West Coast.
But the Big 10's all-run, no-pass platform has met defeat in eight of the last 10 Rose Bowls.
Michigan's memory of last year's embarrassment, combined with that of the losing effort in 1972 (12 points against Stanford) and 1970 (3 points against USC), provided enough reason to beef up the pass attack.
"The thing we defintely worked on most last spring and this year has been our passing offense," said Leach. "We've accomplished quite a lot with it. We're using more receivers, which has made it easier for me. We throw to out tight end and our backs, and overall our offense has been successful because of the passing game."
Schemechler contends, "I thought we were versatile last year. We just didn't perform well."
But the statistics tell a different story.
Last year in 12 games, including the Rose Bowl, Leach attempted 105 passess for 973 yards. This season, in 11 games, he has thrown 146 for 1,109 yards.
Leach has completed 76 passes with only seven interceptions and thrown for 13 touchdowns.
Both teams' defenses are strong, particularly up the middle, setting up a possible duel between Leach and Washington's Warren Moon.
Moon was booed by hometown fans throughout the first half of this season but went on to become the Huskies' third-leading career passer and Pacific Eight coplayer of the year. He completed 113 of 199 passes for 1,584 yards and 11 touchdowns with only seven interceptions.
Michigans rushing game will be handicapped by the loss of first-string tailback Harlan Huckleby because of a hamstring injury. Second-stringer Roosevelt Smith has a puffy knee. Freshman Stanley Edwards, who carried 33 times this season for 152 yards, is expected to bear much of the load.
"I don't see either team running to any great extent," said Washington's stand-out center, Blair Bush. "They won't completely stop us on the ground, but we won't best them running.
"It's possible to beat them. We have the talent to do it. But we have to play a great game."
Part-time Washington nose guard Stan Welderhaug concurred.
"I think our defense can stop their run," said Welderhaug. "We're not going to shut them out, but if we score fast, get our momentum going from the first play and hold them to 15 points, we can win. If they score fast, it could snowball."
Michigan has been a slow-starting team, scoring 30 points in the first quarters, compared to 108 in the second and 114 in the third.
Shembechler notes that Washington "has not been a mistake team," giving up seven intereceptions and losing 12 fumbles.
"Their team is basically a quickteam in both areas," said Schembechler. "I think the thing that sets them apart is their superb quarterback. A runner, passer, experienced ball player, throwing for more than 1,600 yards with seven interceptions. That is accurate throwing.
"We ignored Washington's first four games (when it lost to Mississippi State, Syracuse and Minnesota). We've looked at the film from their last seven games (when they lost only to UCLA.) I believe that is the real Washington team.
"I think it's going to be a real test."
Shembechler has been solidly tested in each of his previous bowl appearances since he became head coach at Michigan in 1969, losing three Rose Bowls, and one Orange. Yet the players contend that he has mellowed with each successive year.
"I look back on our bowl record," said Schembechler, "and we've been in every game we played. We just haven't won. We have to do a better job offensively. Move the ball and score more points, no matter who we play.
"We've never won a bowl game and I'm not sure how long we can go on this way."