What was supposed to be the afternoon’s only real drama took place about 11 minutes into Michigan’s 33-22 win over Eastern Michigan Saturday afternoon.
Senior running back Mike Hart, the 5-foot-9 Heisman Trophy candidate, shifted and cut his way through the defense for a 14-yard run. The carry put him ahead of Anthony Thomas and into the No. 1 spot atop Michigan’s career rushing yardage list.
But, aside from some congratulatory hugs and handshakes from teammates and coaches, the real celebration couldn’t begin for a couple more quarters.
Nearly 30 minutes after Hart’s record-breaking run, the Wolverines led Eastern Michigan by just two points.
During that span, the Eagles returned a kickoff 86 yards, blocked and returned a Michigan extra point for a two-point conversion, intercepted a Chad Henne pass and successfully recovered a surprise onside kick.
Was Michigan’s new all-time leading rusher a little nervous his record-breaking day might be tainted?
“I wasn’t really worried, because we were dominating the whole game offensively,” Hart said. “We were moving the ball . I wasn’t worried at all.”
The Wolverines (4-2) finally woke up, posted 17 unanswered points and pulled away for their fourth-straight win.
Despite the third-quarter scoring barrage, Michigan’s mistakes continued.
By game’s end, the Eagles (2-4) had recovered another onside kick, intercepted Henne once again and posed more questions for a Michigan team that has rarely played well for an entire game.
“We’re obviously not where we want to be,” linebacker Obi Ezeh said. “We want to be at a spot where we can come out and play a full 60 minutes.”
As the fourth quarter came around, Michigan’s offense turned it up and Hart had played his final snap. His 22-carry, 215-yard, three-touchdown performance was enough not only to put Michigan ahead by a comfortable margin, but also give him the record in style.
“I finally got the (record), and it’s time to keep adding to (it) now,” Hart said. “I don’t think someone can stop me.”
And they may not.
Along with all of the career records Hart shattered or added to Saturday – most yards (4655), most carries (929) and most 200-plus yard games (five) – he’s also on pace to break all of Michigan’s single-season rushing records.
Hart has 976 yards and 10 touchdowns just six games into the season. He’s the first Michigan back in history to begin a year with six consecutive 100-yard games.
“I can’t say that I would have predicted that he was going to break the record here at Michigan, because I wouldn’t have, I don’t think you make that kind of prediction about anybody,” Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. “But I did know that Mike Hart was a special guy. And he’s proven that here and he’s proven that time and time again.”
Said Henne: “He’s definitely the best back I’ve seen in my life. He plays hard and he’s a great person and a great teammate to be around.”
After Michigan’s early scare – it’s second in as many weeks – Hart finally had an opportunity to relish his accomplishments. But that’s not his No. 1 priority.
“It’s another day to me” Hart said. “You know, it’s a win. As long as I win, I’m happy. And I got the record.”
Hart by the numbers
4,655 – Mike Hart’s school record career rushing yard total after Saturday
976 – Mike Hart’s total rushing yards so far this season
1 – Number of lost fumbles by Mike Hart in his three-and-a-half seasons at Michigan
Michigan Career Rushing Leaders
1. Mike Hart – 4,655 yards
2. Anthony Thomas – 4,472 yards
3. Jamie Morris – 4,393 yards
4. Tyrone Wheatley – 4,178 yards
5. Butch Woolfolk – 3,861 yards