All Hart (Michigan 31, Indiana 10)

I started this blog in 2007 – Mike Hart's senior year at Michigan. For a program that didn't experience a lot of coaching turnover prior to Rich Rod in 2008...eras of Michigan football were more clearly defined by standout players. The Henne-Hart-Long era defined the mid-2000's for all of us.

Mike Hart was the voice, the soul and yes, the heart of that era.

Still the reigning rushing leader at Michigan with 5,040 career yards, Mike Hart returned to Michigan in 2021 as the running backs coach after brief stints at the same position at Indiana, Syracuse, Eastern & Western Michigan. Instantly, Michigan's total rushing offensive ranking when from 95th in 2020 to 15th in 2021, with largely the same personnel. 

Coach Hart, returning to his alma mater like Harbaugh did, made an indelible impression almost immediately...quickly transforming Michigan's rushing attack into the offense's primary weapon. It was clear from the start, guys like Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum immediately began to evolve their skill sets and transform their abilities thanks to Hart's stewardship. Through the first 4 games of the season, Michigan was averaging an insane 290.75 yards per game on the ground. Clearly, Harbaugh had finally found his running game coordinator. And who could possibly forget the 297-yard, 6 touchdown performance Michigan's ground game showcased in their 42-27 win versus Ohio State...a game in-which the #2 Buckeyes were favored to win by 6.5 points.

It is not clear yet as to what exactly happened to Mike Hart yesterday during a commercial break late in the 1st quarter. An initial tweet by photographer Isaiah Hole indicated that a coach was experiencing a seizure on the sideline, but wasn't clear who it was. After FOX returned from break, it was revealed that it was 36-year old Mike Hart. He was attended to by team doctors, and then carted off the field where he gave a thumbs up to fans. Later, he was taken to a local hospital and kept overnight for evaluation.

And that's what we really know.

Photo: Patrick Barron

Players were visibly shaken during and after the event...most notably running backs Donovan Edwards and Blake Corum. We were all shaken, I think.

Events like this can immediately alter mindsets and as a player, can take you completely out of the game. No one is ever prepared to witness someone go through something like that, especially someone you're so close to and in the setting like a perfect autumn day on a football sideline. Seizures are scary as hell. It's a helpless feeling and tough to handle for anyone, especially young people who aren't used to seeing things like that.

Yet, with 4:54 left to go in the 1st quarter and tied at 7, there was still most of a football game left to play.

On the ensuing drive, Michigan drove 49 yards on 8 plays and settled for a 44-yard Jake Moody field goal. That would be the only points Michigan would get for the rest of what can be best described as a forgettable first half.

A tale of two halves.

I tweeted out yesterday that I don't think Michigan ever needed a halftime more than they did in Bloomington. Everything after Hart went down just felt like a struggle. This team needed to settle down and regroup. Maybe it was scheme (I mean our run game coordinator was no longer there), maybe it was lackluster effort that can often accompany a trap game like this...but it was clear that Michigan wasn't playing to their ability, and credit to Indiana, they were clearly playing well above theirs.

Now, it should be noted that there were many, let's just say...questionable penalties early in this game that clearly helped Indiana's offense at pivotal moments. I don't know what to say...obviously the Big Ten needs to eventually address these issues. Referee Jerry McGinn's crew was all over the place with bad calls, missed calls, obvious make-up calls, and just downright poor game management throughout the afternoon. I've said for a long time that college football needs to make the head referee available to the media following games. There has to be at the bare minimum some public accountability for what in some cases turns out to be a huge factor in the outcome of games. 

Players and coaches answer questions...why not officials? The Big Ten could and should lead the charge on this.

In the second half, things got back to normal – especially on defense. The pass rush, which is becoming more and more of a problem for opposing offenses each week, was the star of the show. Seven Michigan defenders tallied sacks yesterday...Barrett, Colson, Okie, Harrell, Morris, Derrick Moore and McGregor. Mazi Smith, Rod Moore and Kris Jenkins were highly disruptful as well.

Indiana was held scoreless in the second half. They only moved the sticks 5 times, tallied -11 rushing yards and 40 through the air for a total average of 1 yard per play.

While the second half saw a marked improvement on defense, the offense continued to struggle at times. I would like to see Michigan adapt to the style of offense that can pivot to the strengths of JJ McCarthy when the running game isn't getting 7 yards per pop. The play-calling just seemed very vanilla to me...and maybe that's by design? I remember feeling this way about this time a year ago in close wins versus Rutgers and Nebraska when Michigan was still trying to adapt to life with Cade McNamara at QB.

I think if Michigan is really trying to keep the playsheet hidden from teams like Penn State and Ohio State, then...well, okay then. But at some point you need to go all-in with McCarthy's ability to lead this offense and be the weapon that he is – the weapon that earned him the starting QB role. JJ is a gamer...a playmaker. that.

Yes, Blake Corum is a potential Heisman-caliber running back thanks to his ability and a dominant offensive line. But he'll never get to New York if this offense continues to be so one-dimensional. I'm not going to overreact yet...but next week is when the rubber meets the road for this offense.

Win your clunkers – I'm sure I read that somewhere. It ended strong, but this game was a clunker. I guess Iowa sort of was as well, although Kinnick presents more challenges than Bloomington's quaint Memorial Stadium...which saw plenty of maize & blue in the stands yesterday. 

Either way, Michigan is bowl eligible and 6-0 in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1976-77. A much bigger test awaits as #10 Penn State comes to town for another Big Noon Saturday. 

Kind of feels like the real season is just getting started.

Get better soon, Mike.

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