Oct. 21, 2006
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) -Mike Hart kept his legs churning and his knees chugging, plowing into an Iowa defense stacked to stop him.
It took a while, but Michigan’s little engine finally broke through – and the Wolverines’ defense did the rest.
Hart and Michigan brushed off the burden of being No. 2 by bullying the Hawkeyes around the Big House in a 20-6 victory on Saturday.
The 5-foot-9, 196-pound tailback ran for 126 yards and two second-half touchdowns on 31 carries, and linebacker Shawn Crable and crew put together another punishing defensive performance.
With Iowa (5-3, 2-3) out of the way, only three losing teams stand between Michigan (8-0, 5-0) and top-ranked Ohio State on Nov. 18.
The Wolverines are trying to tune out the Ohio State talk and take’em one at a time, but it’s not easy.
“I guess you have to deal with it,” Hart said. “Everyone is talking about Ohio State, Ohio State. We know we have games before then. Obviously, that’s the big one, but we have three more games.”
No. 2 has been a sticky spot in the Top 25 this season. Four times already this season No. 2 has gone down, including the previous two weeks when Auburn and Florida fell.
Michigan’s first game as the second-ranked team in the country – and second consecutive game without injured star receiver Mario Manningham – wasn’t easy, either.
“You have to remember where you’re trying to get,” defensive end LaMarr Woodley said. “It’s not where you’re ranked now.”
Revered former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler, who fell ill Friday and was hospitalized, contacted school officials and told them to let everyone know he was doing OK and watching the game.
He had to have liked what he saw.
Iowa, coming off a stunning 31-28 loss at Indiana that knocked the Hawkeyes out of the rankings for the first time this season, muscled up on defense, especially against the run.
The Hawkeyes crowded the line to contain Hart, the Big Ten’s second-leading rusher, and without Manningham, the Wolverines couldn’t go deep.
Hart was held to 27 yards on eight carries in the first half, but the relentless junior appeared to get stronger as the game wore on – Michigan needed it.
“I think we wore down there a little bit at the end, and that’s what good running teams do,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.”
Iowa’s Mike Humpal intercepted a pass that Chad Henne forced into a crowd on the first possession of the second half at the Michigan 27, and it set up Kyle Schlicher’s 34-yard field goal to tie it at 3.
Steve Breaston responded for Michigan, finding a seam in the middle and returning the ensuing kickoff 64 yards to the Iowa 35. The Wolverines took advantage of the short field, with Hart running through tacklers on a 9-yard touchdown run that made it 10-3.
“You better make sure the full teams tackles him,” Woodley said.
After Iowa got a 22-yard field goal from Schlicher to make it 10-6 with 2:11 left in the third quarter, Michigan went back to Hart.
He carried six times for 34 yards to help set up a 37-yard field goal by Garrett Rivas to make it 13-6 with 12:55 left in the fourth quarter.
For Michigan’s defense, ranked seventh in the nation and first against the run, that was enough.
“They are without question the best defense we’ve played all season,” said Iowa quarterback Drew Tate, who faced Ohio State just a few weeks ago.
On consecutive plays, Woodley and Crable sacked Tate deep in Iowa territory. After Crable ran Tate out of bounds for his third sack, fellow linebacker Prescott Burgess waved his arms and urged on the roaring crowd of more than 110,000 before the third-down play.
Woodley blew through a blocker on the next play and nearly got to Tate again.
“We knew he was hurting back there,” Woodley said.
Hart put the capper on the game with a 9-yard TD run with 3:59 left through a big hole, one of the few he had all day. He went over 1,000 yards rushing for the second time in his career.
Tate finished 21-for-36 for 197 yards and Dominique Douglas, who has been nursing a knee injury, caught six passes for 63 yards. Iowa could muster only 41 yards on the ground.
Henne went 23-for-33 for 203 yards and Adrian Arrington caught eight passes for 79 yards.
But it was Hart and the running game that delivered the decisive blow.
“More than anything else, we had patience in calling the running game,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “We were big in the second half.”