The effects of the bye week seem to weighing on the Wolverines early as they struggled to find their offensive rhythm in the opening half of play. Penalties and offensive line breakdown stymied all of their first quarter drives. Northwestern capitalized on that lack of production by driving 64 yards in 12 plays for a field goal on their second offensive possession. "Coming off a bye you never know what you are going to get," Coach Lloyd Carr said. "We practiced well, but we certainly did not come out here ready to play offensively. It was obvious. Then we had penalties. We fumbled the ball. We did everything. We had guys open and we missed them. So we were in a dog fight."
Michigan finally got on track in the second quarter when a familiar hero came through with a big play. After running the ball up into the line, freshman Mike Hart shook a Wildcat defender with a sidestep, cut to the outside, and burst up-field 34 yards for the home team's first touchdown.
While the Michigan offense was slow in getting started, the defense seemed to have rounded back into form. The Wildcats threatened again early in the second when Bret Basanez completed a 30-yard pass to Taylor Jones to put the visitors in field goal range. Randy Walker had his club attempt the 36-yarder, but in what has become a common occurrence, six-foot seven-inch Pat Massey broke through and got a hand on the ball to prevent it from going through the uprights.
More inconsistency on offense caused Michigan's subsequent drive to bog down with just over 3 minutes remaining in the half. Basanez took advantage of the remaining time by driving his club down the field, going 6/8 for 50 yards through the air to set up a 32-yard field goal attempt. This time Joel Howells connected to make the halftime score 7-6.
The coaches and players were obviously displeased with the first-half effort on offense and that problem was addressed in the locker room. "The thing that we did very poorly in the first half is that our offensive line gave up too many sacks and we just did not control the line of scrimmage," Coach Carr said. In the second half the improvement was obvious.
The men in the trenches responded in a big way in the second half and Mike Hart and Steve Breaston benefitted. On the intial drive of the second half Hart carried the ball 7 times for 49 yards (which included a gorgeous spinning run up the middle for 16 yards) and Breaston chimed in with a reverse for a another 20. A four yard touchdown run from Hart capped off the drive to make the score 14-6.
The momentum swing would be short-lived, though, as Northwestern hit a homerun on the following drive. Tailback Noah Herron took a draw play up the gut and outran the Wolverine defense 68 yards for the touchdown to cut the lead back to 1. That, however, was as close as the Wildcats would get. The Michigan defense stiffened and their offense went on an absolute tear.
The Wolverines scored on their next five drives without an answer from the opposition. On drive one, four rushes for 13 yards from Hart and 2 receptions for 18 yards from Breaston set up a 14-yard touchdown lob from Chad Henne to Jason Avant. Breaston then set up drive number two with a 26 yard punt return before Hart completed the 47 yard march with a 15 yard touchdown run. "Stevie B" capped things off by scoring the next two touchdowns himself; one coming on a 10-yard grab and the other on a 67-yard punt return down the right sideline. When the dust settled the score 42-13. The visitors later tacked on another touchdown, but by then it was too late. Michigan cruised to the 42-20 victory.
Mike Hart, who finished with 23 carries for 151 yards, said that his elusive teammate is startling to look like his old self. ""He did a great job," Hart said of Breaston. "He caught a couple balls and returned the punt. He just did a great job of breaking a lot of tackles and getting first downs. He's back. He's been hurt during the year, but he's back now." Breaston indicated that there was a very good reason for his return to form. "I think going into the bye week and all last week during practice, I felt real good," Breaston said. "I felt like I was getting back in shape and I felt that my foot was a whole lot better. I just had a great week overall."
With Michigan's victory today and Wisconsin's loss to the Badger's the Wolverines
clinched a share of the Big Ten Title. Next week the maize and blue will be
playing the Buckeyes for the right to return to the Rose Bowl.