EAST LANSING, Mich. - Welcome back, Mike Hart.
The unranked Michigan Wolverines - sounds strange, doesn't it? - missed you more than you can imagine.
So did quarterback Chad Henne and coach Lloyd Carr.
The Big Ten is glad to have you back, too.
You are one of the league's marquee running backs, and you proved it again yesterday.
It didn't matter that you had missed the previous 11 quarters with a gimpy left hamstring.
You shredded No. 11 Michigan's State defense for 218 yards on 36 carries in your first action since the first quarter of the Notre Dame game the second week of the season.
It was a super performance by a splendid player operating at less than full speed.
"Hart is the heart of our team," Carr said after the Wolverines escaped with a 34-31 overtime victory over the favored Spartans.
Time and time again, Hart was the hero.
The sophomore's 45-yard run on the first series of the game led to a Henne touchdown pass that gave Michigan a 7-0 lead.
And his 64-yard scamper early in the fourth helped set up his one-yard run that put the Wolverines up 31-24.
Hart's clutch eight yard-run on fourth down with 1:30 to play in regulation provided Michigan with a first down at the 18.
Three carries later, his five-yard gainer put the ball square in the middle of the field for Garrett Rivas' potential game-winning 27-yard field goal attempt.
Rivas pushed the ball right, forcing overtime.
Hart touched the ball just once in the extra session, but he didn't care after Rivas redeemed himself by nailing a 35-yarder for the winning points.
"It was a great win," Hart said. "I felt 100 percent, but I am not 100 percent, and on those couple of long runs I felt it. But I wasn't going to miss this game, no matter how bad I felt."
The 5-foot-8, 190-pound Hart was the best back in the Big Ten last year, when he rewrote the Michigan and Big Ten history books.
The jitterbug also punished defenses everywhere, delivering 1,455 yards.
This season started with great hope and great promise for Hart.
He had 117 yards in the opener against Northern Illinois, but then came up lame after just three carries against Notre Dame.
Hart's injury had a devastating effect on the Wolverines, who started the year No. 4 but quickly plummeted out of the rankings.
Hart didn't need much time to re-establish his hard-nosed running in his return yesterday.
After his first long run, he got into an animated discussion with a few of the Spartans in front of their bench.
"Everyone was doubting us, so I wanted to let them know that we came to play, that this was not last week or the week before" Hart said.
"When Michigan State is ranked and you're Michigan and you're not, that's pressure. We had no choice but to come here and win."
Without Hart, it wouldn't have been possible.
In two years, he has chewed up tons of real estate against Michigan State, gaining 442 yards on 69 carries in a pair of gigantic overtime victories.
"He's got great instinct and is a fighter," Carr said. "His teammates love him."
Welcome back, Mike Hart.
We missed you.
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