ANN ARBOR - In what was essentially a lost season for a player of his caliber, the oasis in the center of the desert for Michigan running back Mike Hart was the 2005 mid-season game against Michigan State.
Injuries nagged and hobbled Hart most of the year, cutting his carries and his production in half from a phenomenal freshman season that saw Hart rush for 1,455 yards. He managed just 662 yards a year ago, and a major chunk of that - 218 yards in 36 carries - came in Michigan's 34-31 overtime win against the Spartans.
With Michigan State coming to Michigan Stadium on Saturday, expect another Hart attack. Hart is healthy, leading the Big Ten and ranked sixth nationally in rushing with an average of 134.4 yards a game. In just five games, he has surpassed last season's rushing total with 672 yards - five per carry.
"Hart has heart. I've said that before, and I can't say much more than I've already said, and I've said that for three years now," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr commented. "He's a consummate player because he's smart, he's tough, and he's a great competitor. He wants to win.
"He's willing to do anything to help his team win. He's an emotional player and he brings a fire to practice, he brings a fire to the game, and he's the kind of guy you love having on your side because you know he's going to bring it."
Hart has rushed for 100 or more yards in 14 games during his career, and Michigan is 13-1 in those games.
Hart had a season high 195 yards rushing on 31 carries in the most recent win at Minnesota.
Offensive tackle Jake Long has an appreciation for Hart's ability to make people miss.
"Some of the moves he makes to get away from tackles are just amazing," Long said. "So many times in that Minnesota game he was tackled, and then just got away, made moves that embarrass people. One of the things he does so well is that he plays without the ball, too - pass blocking. He is such an all-around player and a great leader. He's got 'it' I guess - just a perfect player."
EXCHANGE RATE: Michigan has cashed in turnovers for points 11 times this season, taking home 51 points from those exchanges. Six of those takeaways were turned in to touchdowns. The Michigan defense took back one interception and one fumble for scores in a rout of Notre Dame two weeks ago, when 24 of the 47 Michigan points were set up by turnovers.
MANNINGHAM UPDATE: Ohio native and Michigan sophomore wide receiver Mario Manningham leads his team with 21 receptions for 452 yards (21.5 per catch) and seven touchdowns this season. Manningham leads the Big Ten in receiving yards and is 12th nationally (90.4 per game). Against the Spartans, Manningham is looking for his fourth straight 100-yard receiving game, which would equal the Michigan record held by Braylon Edwards.
RUSH LIMBO: Michigan is the toughest team in the nation to run against, allowing just 36.4 rushing yards per game. None of the first five opponents scored a rushing touchdown against the Wolverines, running the ball 115 times for a mere 182 yards, an average of just 1.6 yards per carry.
LAND RUSH: In the Michigan-Michigan State war, the ground game is the main game. The school that has won the rushing battle has won this game 35 of the last 38 meetings. Michigan out-rushed the Spartans 232 to 173 last year, and won the game in overtime.
PAUL BUNYAN: Michigan and Michigan State meet for the 54th time to decide who gets possession of the Paul Bunyan Trophy for the coming year. The award dates to 1953, when Michigan State entered the Big Ten Conference. It was donated by then-Michigan governor G. Mennen Williams. The nearly four foot tall trophy depicts the figure of legendary folk hero Paul Bunyan astride an ax, with his feet planted over the state of Michigan.
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