COLUMBUS — Entering Saturday’s game, Mike Hart was averaging just under 160 yards per game in the eight games he had played as Michigan’s feature back (starting with a 121-yard effort in the Wolverines’ 24-21 win over San Diego State).
But, against the Buckeyes, Hart managed just 61 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.
“I think they did a very good job on (Hart),” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “When the game started, we hit some plays, but that’s a big, physical front. Their linebackers are very good — most of the time, they were bringing eight guys into the box until it was third and long and that’s what happens when you can’t run the football.”
As Carr hinted, the Wolverines enjoyed relative success on the ground in the first half. Hart carried the ball 10 times for 45 yards and his lone touchdown in the game’s first 30 minutes. After the break, though, Hart amassed just 16 yards on eight carries.
“They were just getting off blocks better,” Hart said. “They didn’t let me get in the open field. They were clogging up the holes real tight. They just did a great job defensively.”
The limited playing time of Michigan fullback Kevin Dudley could have played a big factor in Hart’s abnormally snug holes. By incorporating many schemes with three and four wide receivers throughout the game, Carr kept Dudley — one of the Big Ten’s best blocking fullbacks — on the sidelines for many of Hart’s runs.
The Buckeyes’ aggressive defensive attack disoriented Michigan’s offensive line.
“They’re a great defensive team,” center David Baas said. “They bring a lot of stunts and blitzes. We just made mental mistakes, didn’t get our assignments down and didn’t execute.”
Ohio State boasts one of the nation’s finest linebacking corps, and the unit didn’t disappoint with its performance against the Wolverines. Linebackers A.J. Hawk and Bobby Carpenter paced the Buckeyes with 11 and nine tackles, respectively.
“We were able to come in and stop the run,” Carpenter said. “Michigan’s offensive line has always been historically good. We just went out there and played as hard as we could to see who came out as the better team.”
Ginn does Blue in: Michigan was down just 20-14 when its punt unit trotted onto the field less than five minutes into the third quarter.
But as the football left senior Adam Finley’s foot, so did the Wolverines’ chances at a comeback.
Freshman Ted Ginn Jr. caught the ball at the Ohio State 18-yard line, broke away from Anton Campbell to his right and then easily evaded receiver Braylon Edwards, who rarely plays on special teams, to his left. With tacklers to his right, he changed course, beat Finley near midfield and easily sprinted into the endzone.
It was Ginn’s fourth punt-return touchdown of the season, tying the NCAA single-season record. Ginn also caught five passes for 87 yards.
“Our plan was to kick the ball high,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “I think we had him bottled up there. That return looked to me like it was designed to go the other way. We had him, and some way he got away.”
Michigan punted again on its next possession, this time pinning the Buckeyes back at their own three-yard line. But Ohio State put together a 10-play, 97-yard drive to give it an overwhelming 20-point lead.
“Ginn’s punt return changed the complexion of the game,” Carr said. “Now we’re throwing almost every down, and that, of course, is exactly where a defense wants to have an offense.”
Following the punt return, Michigan ran 38 plays, passing 31 times and running the ball just seven times.
Injury Notes: Linebacker Roy Manning, who started nine games this season, sat out Saturday’s game with a thigh bruise. The injury had kept him out of practice all week.
Backup safety Willis Barringer, who suffered a leg injury last week against Northwestern, also didn’t play against the Buckeyes.
Backup defensive lineman Jeremy Van Alstyne, who was expected to sit out the entire season with a knee injury but missed just five games, left Ohio Stadium with his left foot in a soft cast.
“We’ll have to see,” Van Alstyne said. “We’re going to get some X-rays done. I don’t think it’s anything major.”