With its conference schedule set to begin, Michigan knows it
will need to improve. Against three-touchdown underdogs San Diego
State, the Wolverines completed just half of their passes, turned
the ball over four times, missed a pair of field goals and
struggled initially to defend the Aztecs’ passing
offense.

But No. 18 Michigan (2-1) may have rediscovered its running game
and, for that, is happy with its 24-21 win.

Held to just 171 rushing yards in its first two games, the
Wolverines ran for 148 yards on Saturday. It pales in comparison to
the 176 rushing yards they averaged last year, but still is a
significant improvement.

“It’s embarrassing when you don’t run the ball
like Michigan is supposed to,” offensive lineman David Baas
said. “We just got it in our heads — the running backs,
the offensive line, everybody — that we need to run the
ball.”

True freshman Mike Hart ran for 121 of those yards, and may have
claimed the starting role in the process.

Of Hart’s 25 carries, his final one was the most
important. On third-and-nine from Michigan’s 11-yard line
with less than two minutes left in the game, Hart ran to his right
for 11 yards. Had he not run for the first down, the Aztecs would
have had good field position and one last chance to tie or win the
game.

“I just knew we needed it,” Hart said. “The
team knew we needed it. I knew I was going to get the ball and had
to do something about it.

“The hole was right there. The line did a great job
opening it up and (fullback Kevin) Dudley picked up the
safety.”

Though Hart wouldn’t allow it, Michigan was content to put
the game in the defense’s hands, as Michigan coach Lloyd Carr
called a run on third down. The defense’s play in the second
half was some of the best so far this season.

After giving up 28 points in the second half in last
week’s loss to Notre Dame and 21 in the first half Saturday,
the Wolverines rose to the challenge, forcing San Diego State into
three punts and two missed field goals.

The Aztecs’ best chance to put up points in the second
half came midway through the fourth quarter. On third-and-five from
Michigan’s 25-yard line, defensive end Pat Massey caught San
Diego State quarterback Matt Dlugolecki and pulled him to the
ground for a six-yard loss. On the next play, the Aztecs missed a
49-yard field goal.

Even though Michigan allowed three touchdowns in the first half,
coach Lloyd Carr was happy with the defense’s play in the
entire game. Two of the Aztecs’ scoring drives came off of
Michigan turnovers, and on the third they relied on a pair of trick
plays, a 61-yard shovel pass and a 12-yard halfback pass.

“I liked the way we played the entire game,” Carr
said of the unit. “Our offense put them in bad field position
and this week they responded.”

In a game where each point was needed, Michigan’s defense
was also able to put up seven points in the first quarter. On third
down at the Aztecs’ nine-yard line, linebacker Roy Manning
stripped Dlugolecki. Linebacker Lawrence Reid scooped it up off the
turf at the five-yard line and eased into the endzone for a
touchdown.

“Our coaches teach us that if we get blocked, just keep
going and keep fighting,” Manning said. “Those guys in
the back must have been covering great because when I got to him,
he still had the ball. I just tried to go in there and throw my
body into him.”

While the running game made progress, the Wolverines’ air
attack had another up-and-down day. On Michigan’s first
offensive play of the game, Braylon Edwards caught a 54-yard
touchdown pass from Chad Henne. With Michigan trailing 21-17 at
halftime, the duo went to work again on the second half’s
first drive with a 45-yard pass and a seven-yard touchdown.

But Henne struggled at times with the blitzes the Aztecs sent at
him, getting sacked five times and throwing three interceptions. As
was planned before the game, sophomore quarterback Clayton Richard
played two series, completing three-of-four passes.

In a conference known for hard-nosed, defensive-oriented
football, Michigan could be entering the Big Ten season with true
freshmen starting at quarterback and running back. The Wolverines
are aware of the risk the scenario involves.

“Our offensive line needs to play like a Michigan
offensive line,” Baas said. “If we do that, it
won’t matter who’s back there. They may make mistakes,
but if we open holes and give the quarterback time to throw the
ball, we’ll be fine.”

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