WEST LAFAYETTE — These kids today, they just grow up so
fast.

Chris Burke

How else can you explain what happened in Ross-Ade Stadium on
Saturday? Trust me, when a team led by freshmen goes on the road in
late October to play a top-15 opponent led by a Heisman Trophy
candidate at quarterback, it is not supposed to win.

And that would have been a problem for Michigan — except
it didn’t appear that Michigan had any freshman on the
field.

Chad Henne’s certainly not a freshman — not at this
point. Freshman quarterbacks don’t lead last-minute drives
like that. They don’t keep their composure when the
opposition switches its entire defensive playbook to confuse them.
They don’t lead teams that are undefeated in the conference
this late in the year.

Mike Hart’s not a freshman either. No way. Freshman
running backs — especially if they are (maybe) 5-foot-9 and
look like they haven’t started shaving yet —
don’t run for over 200 yards in crucial Big Ten conference
games. They don’t bounce off tackle after tackle after tackle
for big gains. They don’t break two long runs in the waning
moments of a game to set up a victory.

So it appears the best thing about Michigan’s freshman
backfield duo is that they refuse to act their age.

“We have to come out here and play — Chad and I
do,” Hart said. “We don’t want people to say we
lost because me and Chad are freshmen.”

The irony is that much of the focus for this game was on a
senior. Purdue quarterback Kyle Orton — who had struggled in
a loss to Wisconsin last week — was desperate to redeem
himself and reclaim his Heisman-frontrunner status.

Except that Orton spent much of his day running for his life
from Michigan’s pass rush. He looked flustered in the face of
the Wolverines’ defensive efforts, and his 14-for-30 day
throwing the ball was the result.

Meanwhile, Henne kept his cool despite plenty of pressure from
the Boilermakers — even after throwing an interception and
several times being unable to get Michigan into the endzone and
into the lead. The result of that composure was not one, not two,
but three drives by the Wolverines deep into Purdue territory after
the Boilermakers took a 14-10 lead midway through the third
quarter.

“We’ve been through every situation,” said
Henne after the game — a bold statement for someone who had
just played his eighth college game. “When you feel
comfortable out there and prepare through the week, you can come
out during the week and show your talent.”

And man, what talent it is.

With his 206-yard performance against Purdue — which
included exactly zero carries for negative yardage — Hart now
has 936 yards on the season. That gives him more yards than any
true freshman running back has ever had at Michigan, passing Ricky
Powers’s total of 748 yards in 1990.

“I didn’t know I’d be coming (to Michigan)
doing this,” Hart said. “I knew I could come in here
and play, but I didn’t know I was going to do this
well.”

But, of course, no one could have known this was coming. In
college football, freshmen are supposed to ease their way in
— maybe redshirt or play a backup role.

Not at Michigan. Not this year.

Henne’s been solid, the third-best quarterback
statistics-wise in the Big Ten behind Orton and
Northwestern’s Brett Basanez, who run “Throw first, ask
questions later” offenses.

And Hart has been sensational — he had a run in the third
quarter that was as good as any you’ll ever see. On a
2nd-and-20 draw play, Hart was hit simultaneously by three (yeah,
three) guys, and simply ran through the tackles for 33 yards to set
up a Garrett Rivas field goal that cut the Purdue lead to
14-13.

“He has a freshman status,” said Michigan safety
Ernest Shazor of Hart, “but he’s playing in a senior
body.”

So if the rest of the Big Ten is waiting for Michigan’s
backfield duo to start making the proverbial “freshman
mistakes,” it might be time to move on.

Because I don’t see any freshmen.

 

Chris Burke can be reached at
“mailto:chrisbur@umich.edu”>chrisbur@umich.edu

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