It looked just like the week before – except it was a tad bit wetter.

Morgan Morel
Offensive lineman Alex Mitchell lifts running back Mike Hart in celebration following one of his three touchdowns against Central Michigan on Saturday. (TREVOR CAMPBELL/Daily)

Following the first weather delay in Michigan Stadium’s storied 79-year history, Michigan disposed of Central Michigan, 41-17, in a game that was never in doubt but also in a performance that was also far from perfect.

Now the Wolverines’ focus shifts toward getting through its nonconference schedule unblemished – a feat Michigan hasn’t accomplished since 1999.

“I think this is a chance for Michigan to come back and prove itself,” said senior defensive end LaMarr Woodley of next week’s matchup against Notre Dame. “Every guy on the team knows what this game means to us.”

But if the Wolverines plan on upsetting Notre Dame in South Bend next weekend, they will have to display much more offensive balance than they have in the season’s first two games.

On Saturday, No. 10 Michigan (2-0) hoped to fill in the holes from an opener against Vanderbilt where its offense showed a strong rushing attack and little developed in the passing game. Instead, the fans who stayed through the hour-long weather delay saw a mirror image of the Wolverines’ opener: Mike Hart and his backfield mates running at will while the passing game struggled to reach half as many yards as the ground game yielded.

Hart, who had a game-high 116 yards and three touchdowns, doesn’t necessarily see a problem with the unbalanced offensive numbers so far.

“If we can run the ball like that, why not keep running and work the clock and keep our defense off the field?” Hart said.

Junior quarterback Chad Henne, the target of much scrutiny after two games of a limited passing attack, isn’t worried either. He said the Michigan offense has been running fine this year without big numbers from the air.

“When you get the running game established, you just go full force with the running game,” Henne said.

Against the Chippewas (0-2), there was no need to pass the ball more. In three of Michigan’s first four possessions, the Wolverines controlled the ground and the clock. Touchdown runs of four and 10 yards by Hart and a three-yard scamper by sophomore Kevin Grady capped the drives off and gave Michigan a 21-0 lead.

For the game, Michigan totaled 252 yards on the ground, a week after gaining 246 against Vanderbilt. But the Wolverines’ second-straight impressive ground total was overshadowed by a disappointing 134 yards through the air, which followed up last week’s 135-yard passing performance.

Even though Michigan totaled 41 points for the game, none of them were a product of the passing game. Four ground scores combined with senior linebacker Max Pollock’s interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter accounted for Michigan’s five touchdowns. The Wolverines’ leading receivers were Mario Manningham and tight end Carson Butler, with a measly 27 and 26 yards receiving, respectively.

Michigan struggled with the pass on defense, too. Although the defense’s performance overall was strong for the second straight week, there were a few lapses against Central Michigan’s high-flying offense.

The Chippewas got their first score on a 38-yard touchdown connection from quarterback Dan LeFevour to Justin Gardner. A second touchdown came midway through the fourth quarter when LeFevour found Damien Linson on a three-yard pass. The score came two plays after Michigan was penalized for having too many men on the field when defensive coordinator Ron English ordered the first-team players to substitute in for the second-teamers in a goal-line situation.

“Out of nowhere, Coach E called the first team up, and (there was) a lot of confusion and a lot of miscommunication,” senior linebacker David Harris said. “A lot of us thought we were done because he took us out earlier. A lot of guys were relaxing on the sideline and not paying attention.”

But as a whole, the defense was impressive once again. Woodley fueled the attack once more, picking up another multi-sack game on the still-young season. The Saginaw native also forced and recovered a fumble to go along with his two sacks – the forced fumble ending Central Michigan’s opening drive in the red zone.

The Chippewas had just 16 yards rushing on 21 attempts for the day and committed three turnovers.

With another solid defensive performance and a consistent ground attack under their belts, the big question heading into next weekend’s clash with Notre Dame will be whether or not the passing game can surface when needed.

“For Notre Dame, we’re going to have to be a lot more balanced,” Henne said. “We’re going to have to throw the ball and keep running. They’re going to stop the run, so we’re going to have to pass the ball.”

Michigan: 41
Central Michigan: 17

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