Michigan considered running back Mike Hart’s injury to be a big factor in its disappointing 2005 season.
Hart hopes to avoid a repeat of his second game of last year when the 10th-ranked Wolverines host Central Michigan on Saturday.
After rushing for 1,455 yards his freshman season, Hart spent most of last year slowed by an ankle injury suffered in the second game against Notre Dame, and finished with 662 yards in eight contests.
Hart, though, seems to be back on track after rushing for 146 yards on 31 carries in Michigan’s 27-7 win over Vanderbilt last Saturday.
“It feels great,” Hart said of his ankle. “Now I have to stay healthy. I was healthy the first game last year. Then the second game came and I got hurt. I just have to stay healthy all year long and keep playing.”
Wolverines coach Lloyd Carr had said he wanted to lessen Hart’s workload, but the 31 carries last week surpassed the amount he had in all but one game last year.
“I think our players want to run the football,” Carr said. “I think Mike and our whole offensive staff, that’s really where it all begins.”
Hart helped pick up the slack of quarterback Chad Henne, who was 10-for-22 for 135 yards and two touchdowns against the Commodores. The 135 yards were the second-fewest for Henne in his career.
“It definitely wasn’t my best, but we’ll see next week how much improvement I make,” Henne said.
Hart agreed there are several areas the offense needs to improve on, especially with Michigan’s highly anticipated matchup against the fourth-ranked Fighting Irish looming on Sept. 16.
“We made a lot of mistakes that were drive-killers,” Hart said. “That’s one thing we can’t have in bigger games. Every time you win, you’re going to be happy, but we need to improve a lot to be a championship contender.”
While the offense was less than impressive, the touted Michigan defense held Vanderbilt to just nine first downs, forced two fumbles and had six sacks. Although LaMarr Woodley received much of the preseason hype, fifth-year senior defensive end Rondell Biggs was the center of attention following a breakout game.
Biggs had a career-high six tackles and two sacks, while Woodley added four tackles and two sacks.
“It all started up front,” Carr said. “We had great pressure on the quarterback. … We’re going to be tested by a lot of outstanding quarterbacks and running backs, but I thought we were in good position, and I thought we really hustled to the football.”
Central Michigan lost 31-24 to Boston College in its season opener on Aug. 31. The Chippewas drove to the Eagles’ 34-yard line with under two minutes to play, but quarterback Dan LeFevour threw an interception.
LeFevour, a redshirt freshman, took over after starting quarterback Brian Brunner was knocked out on the second play from scrimmage. Brunner’s status for Saturday is uncertain.
LeFevour went 22-for-37 for 221 yards and also ran for 72 yards on 14 carries. He had two rushing touchdowns and threw for a score.
“Physically we can matchup with anyone we play,” Central Michigan coach Brian Kelly said. “We got some production from the quarterback position, but we need more production carrying the football.
“Michigan presents a great challenge, but it’s one that we look forward to. We must play physical football and clean up our mistakes.”
This is the first ranked opponent the Chippewas have faced since 2003, when they played both Michigan and Northern Illinois. The Wolverines won 45-7 in that contest.