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Monday, September 24, 2007

9/22/2007 - Michigan 14, Penn State 9 - 2-2, 1-0 Big Ten

Adrift on a sea of bodies, legs gone, head yanked back, enemies all around and pawing, Mike Hart stretches for the inch he needs and gets it. When Hart is gone and I am old and my mind flips through the rolodex of players past, this will be the image that lingers. It's his career writ microscopic. He takes his natural ability, and stretches it to its breaking point, and Michigan has a season again.

Somehow Mike Hart still feels like a secret. In some extremely obvious ways he is not: one of Michigan's vaunted triplets going into this season, he is widely acclaimed as the best back in the Big Ten and one of the best in the country. Anyone claiming the "no respect" card for Hart is going to have to make a strong case indeed. Everyone knows he is good. Maybe even great. But they don't know.

No one who doesn't live and die with Michigan's program can really know. He came off the bench, this freshman from upstate New York the size of a flea, against San Diego State and helped Michigan avert an Appalachian State disaster, and since then he has been the linchpin of Michigan's offense. A few games later Abdul Hodge stripped him as he dragged three Hawkeyes from the ten yard line to the four; this was the last time he lost a fumble. In that time we've watched Max Martin and Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown and Kevin Grady cough up seemingly every other carry they get, but Hart has not fumbled. Sometime this week or next he will become Michigan's all-time leading rusher. When he breaks into the secondary his arm starts pirouetting, orbiting around as he seeks his balance to cut behind an overaggressive safety. Last year against Notre Dame he ripped off a 21-yard run in the closing minutes, dove to the ground as he neared the sidelines, and made the run-the-clock hand signal as he got up. Sometimes four defenders claw at his body and end up yards from where they should be. He runs out to block when Michigan only has ten guys on an extra point attempt. He cheats at cards. His high school graduating class was like a dozen people, six of them women and three of them Canadians, and Hart dragged them to multiple state championships. Whenever he's not on the field I am alarmed at what might happen.

So you can watch him intermittently, whenever your team plays Michigan or when you're flicking through the game on a crowded Saturday afternoon, and not really comprehend what he is to the program. Set aside the rushes, the yards, the relentless pounding he took while battling some sort of flu or strep illness. Sometime midway through the second half he limped off, battered, then reversed course and told Minor to get off the field. It was third down and too far to run. As Mallett dropped back to pass, Dan Connor, Penn State's all-everything linebacker, blitzed right up the middle. Hart, eight inches shorter and 30 pounds lighter, clocked him. Ran right up into him and stopped him dead in his tracks. The blitz picked up, Mallett converted the third down. Hart would stretch for the winning points a few plays later.

Mike Hart does not care. He does not care that he is the size of Toad and runs about as fast as Richard Nixon, who is dead. He does not care that Michigan ruined everything the first two games of the season as he rode a bike on the sideline. He does not care that some people think he should shut up. He does not care that his legs are on someone else's legs and there is no possible way he can worm the ball to the goal line. It takes someone like this to pull you back from despair and ennui, to turn emo week into something other than emo year.

Mike Hart does not care what came before.

All he cares about is getting there.

Bullets that, if Keith Jackson had done the game, would no doubt have been dubbed "hoss" several thousand times:

  • Count me in with the people upset about the offensive playcalling. I do not think it was a coincidence that Michigan came out of its shell when PSU put up its second field goal; it was a pure "scoring offense" situation and one that demonstrated the effectiveness of, you know, throwing on first down every once in a while.
  • The thing to be most upset about: a give-up-and-punt on third and long that gave Penn State one last opportunity. There's really not much difference between 2:10 and 1:34 in that situation for the offense. With no timeouts they must pick up big chunks of yards either way. If it goes well they won't have issues with time. If it doesn't, time won't matter because it'll all be incompletions anyway. Giving up the chance for a game-killing first down was frighteningly reminiscent of the Year of Infinite Pain.
  • Mallett was 8-20 in the first half and 8-9 in the second. The third down conversion on the final drive to Mathews was a play about four people on the planet could have made. Henne's still better, but if you assume Mallett has a standard progression curve... holy crap.
  • That said, man... throw it to wide open Arrington in the endzone plz.
  • Yay missed 29-yard field goal!
  • Brandon Graham appears to be the best player on the defense, possibly by a wide margin. Five sacks in basically two games of starting, even against those two offensive lines, is an impressive accomplishment.
  • Very disappointed to see Penn State's defensive line get so much push against our OL. Don't know if that was just guys getting beat or us tipping our plays or what; will be a focal point in UFR.
  • Hey... we 1) ran opposite the shuffle, 2) passed off the shuffle, and 3) threw with Clemons in the game. Did any of these plays work? No, aside from one third-down conversion.
  • No deep balls all game. Odd. If they were really in three-deep the whole game we should have been hammering them underneath. This is a major problem I have with our offensive design: we don't punish people from loading the box and playing soft behind it. Those easy completions to Manningham at the start of the first touchdown drive are there all the time.
  • I erroneously termed some of Appalachian State's QB draws "Incredibly Surprising." This is an incorrect application of my own nomenclature: a true ISQD is one in which a running back or wide receiver lines up alone in the backfield and takes off, like Junior Hemingway did against Penn State. I hate ISQDs. They are stupid.
  • If we ever, ever punted from the 31 my head would explode. JoePa remains even more ossified than Michigan is, and that's the primary reason we've owned them for the past 9 games. If you line up and come right at us, you die. Many teams have figured this out, but JoePa is old and only interested in pudding and Betty Grable.
  • UFR will be Wed-Thurs this week if all goes well... I forgot to tape it and the MGoVideo guy's kid changed the channel. So tape is delayed but coming.