Hart Stoppers?

According to Penn State linebacker Sean Lee, the key to beating Michigan is slowing down talented RB Mike Hart. But saying that and doing it are two entirely different things.

The secret to beating Michigan this Saturday? It might seem elusive after eight consecutive losses in this lopsided series. But as far as Penn State's Sean Lee is concerned, it's actually pretty simple. Said the junior linebacker, “If we want to win, we need to stop Mike Hart.”

Hart, Michigan's powerful senior tailback, is off to a phenomenal start, averaging 167.3 yards through three games. He left Notre Dame's defense in tatters last week, rushing for 187 yards and two touchdowns as the Wolverines romped to their first victory of the season after losses to Appalachian State and Oregon. Penn State, eager to break a bad luck streak that predates Hart's arrival in Ann Arbor by seven years, is every bit as concerned as you might expect.

“We understand he's a great back. We're going to take great pride in trying to stop him and doing whatever it takes to try to stop him,” Lee said. “If we do that, we should be happy, because he is a great player.”

A year ago, Hart rushed for 112 yards on 26 carries as Michigan defeated Penn State, 17-10, at Beaver Stadium. Will Saturday's game prove different? Maybe so. Despite fielding three new starters on the defensive line, the Lions have held firm against the run, ranking first nationally in rushing defense at 17.7 yards a game.

While Hart is the centerpiece of Michigan's running game, the passing game is unsettled. Freshman Ryan Mallett started against Notre Dame, completing 7 of 15 passes for 90 yards and three touchdowns. But on Monday, Wolverines coach Lloyd Carr didn't rule out senior Chad Henne, who is recovering from a knee sprain he suffered against Oregon. Carr said Henne has enough experience to play against the Lions even if he isn't able to practice this week.

The Lions are well aware of Mallett's potential after watching the 6-foot-7 rookie help dismember the Irish in Michigan's 38-0 thrashing in Ann Arbor. But they are even more wary of the veteran Henne.

“He's got a lot more experience,” Lee said. “He's a senior quarterback who has played for four years. He's a very good quarterback. Mallett is talented, but playing against Chad Henne is a little bit different.”

The other storyline leading up to this game has to do with Michigan's continual success against the Lions. The Wolverines have not lost to Penn State in 11 years and have won four in a row at Michigan Stadium.

Those numbers are sure to be much discussed by fans and media, but Lee said the Lions aren't dwelling on them as they prepare for the game.

“We're just taking this as a new game, a new year,” he said. “We have a better record than they do this year, but it doesn't matter because they beat us in years past. We don't really have much room to talk, because last year and the year before, they beat us. They're a typical Michigan team, and we need to be ready for them.”

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