After a week of many questions regarding why there wasn’t more deep passing in South Bend, the Wolverines went to the air early and fired downfield on their very first offensive play. Braylon Edwards (8 rec, 130 yds, 2 TDs) got behind the defense on a hitch-and-go. Freshman Chad Henne (11-24, 162-yards, 2 TDs, 3 INTs) lofted the ball high and long, but a bit behind his target. That’s when his senior wideout lived up to his reputation as the strongest receiver in Michigan history. After turning completely around for the ball on a dead run at the 17, Edwards reeled in the pass carried the San Diego State defender all of the way to the endzone for the 54-yard score. “Terry Malone made that call,” Michigan Coach Lloyd Carr said. “We got the coverage we wanted. We had a receiver down the middle and Chad Henne did a great job of looking down the middle against 2-deep coverage. It drew the safety in. He under-threw the ball a little bit. Had he not under-thrown it, it would have been a perfect play. But Braylon made a very good play to get it into the endzone.”
After stonewalling the Aztec offense on their opening possession, the defense registered one of its three turnovers on the day on their second defensive series. Ernest Shazor stepped in front of a hurried Matt Dlugolecki’s pass for his second interception of the year to give the offense excellent field position on the SDSU 21 early in the first quarter. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, the Aztecs would return the turnover favor on the next play. Senior Josh Dean came free on a safety blitz and nailed Henne in the backfield right as he released the ball. The tipped pass fluttered high into the air, which allowed defensive lineman Antwaan Applewhite to intercept the pass and return it deep into Michigan territory to set up the Aztecs first touchdown
A few minutes later, Michigan’s ground game began to really show signs of life. Jerome Jackson opened the drive with a 10-yard gain…followed up by a 13-yard burst up the middle by freshman Mike Hart on a lead draw. Hart would be responsible for gaining the remaining yardage on the drive and rushed the Wolverines into field goal range. Garret Rivas did the rest by converting his sixth field goal of the year to make the score 10-7 with 3:45 left in the opening stanza.
The defense continued its penchant for creating turnover after the ensuing kickoff. Roy Manning went around the end, came up on Dlugolecki’s backside, and swiped at the ball as he registered his first sack of the season. Lawrence Reid picked up the loose ball and carried it in 50yard touchdown return to make the score 17-7. The defense was on a roll at that point, but it would soon come to a stop. On the next series, SDSU broke open a big play Robert Ortiz took a shovel pass 61 yards to put the Aztec’s back in the red zone. Coach Tom Craft then went to his bag of tricks with a 12-yard halfback pass from Michael Franklin to wideout Jeff Webb to cut the Wolverine lead to three with 1:30 left in the first.
A Braylon Edwards fumble midway through the second quarter keyed another Aztec touchdown. That closed the scoring in the half, as both teams missed field goals before heading into the locker room. The Wolverines were in a precarious position (down three points at the half) but the defense would rise to the occasion and save the day…. but not before the offense put the Wolverines notched the go-ahead touchdown early in the third.
Edwards, who became Michigan’s all-time receptions leader in the game, hooked up with Henne on another hitch and go for 45 yards to get the ball deep into Aztec territory. That set up a Henne to Edwards 7-yard touchdown strike to move the score to 21-17. Despite a few more threats from the opposition, the Wolverines would not look back.
The Michigan D slammed the door shut on SDSU, holding them to two short drives (3 and 4 plays respectively) in the third quarter. As time waned in the period, the Aztecs started a 7 play 14-yard drive the defense sputtered at the Michigan 30 yard line. They attempted the field goal but missed. Another opportunity presented itself on their next possession, which came courtesy of errant Chad Henne pass that bounced off the hands of Tim Massaquoi and was intercepted at the SDSU 48. The visitors were only able to move the ball 21 yards before missing yet another field goal. The defense was then called to the fore one more time when they had to get right back on the field after a short UM drive gave to ball back to the Aztecs with 3:49 remaining in the game.
The Wolverine defenders were up to the task, forcing an SDSU 3-and-out. After giving up 213 passing and 30 rushing yards in the first half, the maize and blue defense held the Aztecs to 76 yards passing and 8 yards rushing in the second half. Still, it was up to the offense to close the game out.
Mike Hart put the exclamation point on his breakout performance in the game’s waning moments. On 3rd and 10 with a little over a minute to go and no timeouts remaining for the Aztecs, Hart exploded over right end for 11 yards and drove the final nail in the coffin. His 25 carry 121 yard performance was exactly what the stagnant Wolverine ground attack needed. “Mike has been a presence since the day that he got here,” Carr said. “From an experience standpoint you know he is going to make some mistakes. There was a pass play in there early where a guy slipped off and hit the quarterback, but he is tougher than the devil. Everybody is going to like this kid. He is special. Again he has a lot to learn, but we have a group of guys at tailback and all of them are going to have to play a role. To carry 25 times in September at Michigan as a true freshman and do that well, I think that speaks to Mike Hart.”
Though pleased with his outing, Hart gave most of the credit to the guys up front that paved the way for him. “They (the offensive line) came out real strong this week during practice and worked hard to get the run going,” Hart said. “They just came out today and did a great job of opening up holes.”
The New York native’s performance should establish him as the starter as Michigan prepares to begin Big Ten play against Iowa next week.
Be sure to check out the drive chart, here.