Spreading the wealth
Mike Hart entered the Northwestern game leading the nation in carries with 214 (for 1,057 yards). Against the Wildcats, Michigan went four players deep on the tailback depth chart giving backups Kevin Grady (7 att./23 yds.), Brandon Minor (5 att./9 yds.), and Jerome Jackson (9 att./59 yds.) signficant playing time. Hart was limited to 20 carries but he still managed to run for 95 yards and a touchdown. Limiting Hart to twenty carries may not have been so much a matter of design as it was a result of the fact that he suffered a back injury in the second quarter when he fell on a sideline marker after he was knocked out of bounds.
In the Iowa game, Hart had 31 rushes and was the only Michigan tailback to carry the ball. After that performance, Coach Carr was asked at the Northwestern Week Monday press conference, "Since Mike Hart has carried the ball a lot the last few weeks is part of the plan in the coming weeks, to try to get Kevin and Brandon some more work?" Coach Carr's response was, "The plan is to win." When Hart went down unexpectedly in the second quarter against the Wildcats the plan suddenly became to secure the win with whatever tailback could hold onto the football. That became more of a challenge than one might have expected.
Kevin Grady (#2 on the depth chart) was the first backup to get pulled because of issues of securing the football. In the third quarter, Grady- who has battled "fumble-itis" his entire career- lost the ball after he was tackled. Although the referees ruled Grady was down and the ball was not fumbled, Grady was yanked from the game and not seen again for the rest of the afternoon. (Interesting sidenote, while the referees were sorting out whether the loose ball popped out after Grady was tackled, Hart ran back onto the field to replace Grady; it appeared that Hart put himself back into the game and that he did not wait for the coaches to re-insert him into the lineup.) On the next offensive series, Hart carried the ball all six plays on a six play/ thirty-six yard touchdown drive that put Michigan up 17-3. That was then the end of Hart's afternoon.
Brandon Minor (#3 on the depth chart) became the go-to tailback with Hart out and Grady sitting. Minor had been in the game earlier but now all the pressure was resting on his young shoulders. He made a freshman mistake when he chose a wrong running lane and a defender pushed one of Minor's own teammates into him causing Minor to fumble the ball. At the Monday press conference, Coach Carr explained Minor's fumble thusly:
"We had a guy, one of our guys in front of him, and he carried the ball on that play. He took the wrong course on that running play. He wasn't wide enough. Had he been on the course that he should have been on, he's going to run for very, very good yards. The play was blocked wonderfully, but because he was on the wrong track, and that's something a young player, you talk about a quarterback, you talk about anybody. The next time he runs that play he'll be on the right course because as a result of not being on the right course, one of his own men got pushed back into him. I think he probably felt secure because there was no white jersey over there that he could see. And when his own man got knocked into him, the ball came loose because he did not secure the football. So there's always a lesson out there."
When Minor was removed from the game, the Michigan coaches inserted senior Jerome Jackson into the lineup. Jackson, a former starter, came through like a senior leader as he ran hard and held onto the ball. Jackson even ripped off a 33-yard run at the end of the game. His play was very impressive and earned high praise from Coach Carr.
The odd man out of all the tailback rushing workload was freshman Carlos Brown. He did not see any game action in the backfield although he did play on special teams. When asked at the Monday press conference about playing Carlos Brown at running back, Coach Carr gave this response:
"I think Carlos has done a great job in practice, and I think if you noticed one thing, I think it's he's going to play a very important role in our punt return team. He got some opportunities on Saturday to go out and man up on their wide receivers, the guys who go down and cover the punts, and he did a very good job. I'm disappointed that we haven't had an opportunity to get him some playing time. I'm disappointed in that, and hopefully that will come because he is a guy with a lot of ability. Sometimes the season just doesn't work out like you want it to."
With Ball State as this week's opponent, Coach Carr should try and limit Hart's workload to a maximum of 20 carries. This would serve the dual purpose of allowing Hart to get a little bit of a break (which is well deserved) and would allow the reserves another chance to get in the game and demonstrate their talents. Go Blue!
*Note: Photo of Mike Hart (20) by John T. Greilick/The Detroit News