At the end of Saturday’s game, the scoreboard at the Big House displayed a disturbingly close 34-26 Michigan victory.
But on the ground, it was a much different story.
The Wolverines’ running game completely dominated Ball State’s defense, racking up a season-high 352 yards on 46 carries.
“Whenever you can put 300-plus yards rushing on the ground, you smile as an offensive lineman,” fifth-year senior offensive lineman Rueben Riley said. “You just wish the scoreboard could be a little prettier.”
Michigan tailbacks Mike Hart, Jerome Jackson and Brandon Minor took advantage of massive holes punched by the offensive line and pumped out big gain after big gain against the Cardinals’ overmatched defensive front. Each back scored a touchdown.
“We go out there with the mindset that every week we’re gonna have to run the ball,” guard Adam Kraus said. “It’s good that we got to give Mike a little bit of a break. And the (other) guys came in and did an excellent job.”
In the nine games prior to the Ball State contest, the Wolverines had amassed just three rushing plays of more than 30 yards. Michigan surpassed that total on Saturday, rushing for 30-plus yards on four separate occasions against the Cardinals.
With the Nov. 18 matchup against No. 1 Ohio State looming, the coaching staff tried not to lean on Hart as much. But the game was tighter than expected, so Hart carried the ball 25 times and picked up 154 yards – his eighth 100-yard performance in 10 games.
Still, the other backs had opportunities to shine. Jackson, a senior, played a key role in his final game at the Big House. He picked up 68 yards on six carries – including scampers of 23 and 30 yards – all in the first half.
But Minor stole the show. The big freshman looked extremely comfortable in the most extensive action of his Michigan career. Hitting the holes with abandon, Minor finished with 108 yards on 12 carries, more than doubling his previous-best rushing total.
Minor’s most impressive moment came late in the second quarter, when he exploded outside of the right tackle, chugged down the sideline and leapt to the pylon for a 40-yard touchdown run.
“He’s got some speed, he’s a big guy, and I thought the touchdown run he showed a burst,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “I think that gives him confidence, that gives us confidence as we go to Indiana (next week).”
Out on top: Even though it wasn’t a blowout, Michigan’s victory was still a sweet send-off for this year’s senior class. The Wolverines finished their home schedule undefeated for the third time in the past four seasons. Over that stretch, Michigan has owned the Big House, amassing a 22-3 record in Michigan Stadium.
The seniors – along with their parents – were honored in an on-field ceremony prior to the game.
“(Senior Day is) a big deal,” fifth-year senior Darnell Hood said. “It’s emotional. You really want to win, more than anything. That’s one thing I’m really satisfied about. I haven’t lost this year, my last year in this stadium. It’s a wonderful place that I’m going to miss.”
The Devil’s Work?: Michigan’s running game was dominant, but there was one glaring mistake: Hart’s first-quarter fumble.
With the Wolverines pinned at their own two-yard line, Carr called Hart’s number. But Ball State’s Cortlan Booker punched the ball out of Hart’s hand and out of the side of the end zone for a safety.
Hart had gone 665 carries since his last lost fumble. His streak ended on what would have been his 666th consecutive fumble-less rush.
Move over A-Train: With a 23-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, senior kicker Garrett Rivas moved ahead of former Wolverine running back Anthony Thomas for first place on Michigan’s all-time career scoring list. Rivas now has scored 339 points in his Michigan career, compared to Thomas’s 336 points.
“It’s a great honor,” Rivas said. “I didn’t even know till a little bit ago, when somebody told me I had done it. I’m excited, but it’s really not one of the goals I wanted to achieve this year. The main thing I wanted to achieve this year was to end the season undefeated.”
Injury update: Tight ends Tyler Ecker and Mike Massey both dressed on Saturday, but didn’t play. Carr said they could have played, but he decided to give them an extra week of rest.
Senior linebacker Prescott Burgess went down early in the game with an ankle injury. He was seen on the sideline in street clothes during the second half. Carr indicated that the injury wasn’t serious.
Sophomore running back Kevin Grady sat out the game with a shoulder injury, but said he’d be ready to return next week against Indiana.
Redshirt junior offensive lineman Jake Long came out of the game momentarily after he was kicked in the head. He returned to action soon after.