Hart: No predictions for Nits

Posted: September 18, 2007

After he made good on his seemingly outrageous guarantee that his New York Jets would upset the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, Joe Namath never issued a similar public assurance for the remainder of his NFL career.

With Saturday's 38-0 crushing of winless Notre Dame, Mike Hart, Michigan's All-America senior tailback, is retiring from the prediction business tied with Namath at one signed, sealed and delivered guaranteed victory. He's not about to venture out on that limb again.

Asked if he might be willing to go for two locks in a row, with undefeated and No. 10 Penn State coming into Michigan Stadium this weekend, Hart demurred.

"It worked out, I guess," he said of his rally-the-troops pick against Notre Dame after the Wolverines also had stumbled out of the gate 0-2. "But I think I should quit while I'm ahead. Besides, this is a different week, a different team."

Which is one way of saying that, yes, Notre Dame really is as bad as it has appeared to be all season. And, no, Penn State isn't bad. In fact, the Nittany Lions could be the sternest test Michigan faces all season.

"I think Penn State is probably the best team in the Big Ten right now, hands down," Hart said. "They have a great defense, a good offense. If we can beat a team like that it would show that we're back and we can compete. This is a game for us to find out how good we really are."

Or, perhaps, aren't. Ranked fifth nationally in the preseason poll and considered a contender for the national championship, Michigan - whose defense from 2006 yielded four of the first 47 picks in last spring's NFL draft - was exposed in a season-opening, 34-32 loss to Appalachian State, which some have called the biggest upset in college football history. The Wolverines followed up that pratfall by losing badly, 39-7, to visiting Oregon.

Even though senior quarterback Chad Henne went down in the Oregon game with an injured knee, Hart decided it was his place to take a stand and announce, basically, that enough is enough. Coach Lloyd Carr also got in on the act in his own way, bringing in a friend, Academy Award-winning actor Russell Crowe, to speak to the team before the Notre Dame game.

On the field, against an Irish defense that put up very little resistance, Hart gave the Wolverines a Maximus effort, rushing 35 times for 187 yards and two touchdowns. Twenty-six of those carries, for 135 yards, came in the first half, to help make true freshman quarterback Ryan Mallett's first start relatively stress-free.

If he again fills in for Henne, Mallett - who completed only 7 of 15 passes for 90 yards in the Notre Dame game, but for three touchdowns - can expect another game plan heavy on handoffs to Hart. And that's all right with Hart, a 5-9, 202-pounder who ranks third on Michigan's career rushing list with 4,181 yards, behind only Jamie Morris (4,394) and Anthony Thomas (4,472).

"This is the best I've felt since the season started," said Hart, who finished the Oregon game limping with a thigh bruise. "Right now I'd say I'm 100 percent.

"I can carry the ball 50 times in a game. It comes down to, 'Am I getting hit on every play? How hard am I getting hit?' The most carries I've had in a game was 44, in my freshman year [actually 40, at Illinois]. I could definitely do that again. I had 35 on Saturday and didn't play in the fourth quarter."

But that was against a young Notre Dame team that apparently is attempting to master the technique of matador tackling. It won't be nearly so easy picking up big chunks of yardage against Penn State, which has knock-you-stiff linebackers Dan Connor and Sean Lee homing in on the ball-carrier like heat-seeking missiles.

"I'm definitely going to get tackled a lot," Hart said. "I'm not a guy who takes a lot of hits. When I'm tackled, I'm usually getting wrapped up and taken to the ground, but I'm not really getting banged. My body's not getting beat up.

"The last 2 years against Penn State have been tough. I ran for 100 yards (108 on 23 carries in 2005, 112 on 26 carries in 2006), but they were tough yards."

Henne update

Michigan senior quarterback Chad Henne, a 4-year starter, missed the Notre Dame game with a sprained left knee and he was not listed on the Wolverines' two-deep depth chart released yesterday. But that doesn't mean the native of Wyomissing, Pa., won't play against the Nittany Lions. Coach Lloyd Carr said Henne is "day-to-day."

"Chad has enough experience that he could play without practice," Carr said. "We have guys who play every week with [sprains]. It's really [a matter of] how effective you can be and how much discomfort you can endure."

Illinois time set

Penn State's game at Illinois on Sept. 29 has been scheduled for a noon kickoff and will be televised by the Big Ten Network. *

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