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Defense helps Michigan win sloppy game vs. Northwestern

Oct 28, 2006 - 7:07 PM ANN ARBOR, Michigan (Ticker) -- Michigan coach Lloyd Carr's offense surprisingly struggled against Northwestern, but his defense was as stingy as ever.

LaMarr Woodley and the second-ranked Wolverines limited the Wildcats to minus-13 rushing yards en route to a 17-3 Big Ten Conference victory amid frequently heavy rain and wind.

Carr said that the weather conditions were a reason Michigan stayed on the ground for most of the game. The Wolverines ran the ball 46 times for 202 yards.

"I can think of only two other games where it was as bad as this," Carr said. "The Purdue game in 1995 that we won 5-0. That was on a grass field. And the year before that we played Minnesota here and it rained the whole game. There was nobody there at the end of that game. This was a pretty hardy crowd - except for the students that didn't show up."

Michigan quarterback Chad Henne said that the weather affected the passing game. He completed just 10-of-20 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown, but was the victim of several drops.

"The wind was unbelievable," Henne said. "I've never played in weather like this. If you tried to throw vertically, the wind would take the ball all over the place."

Mike Hart ran for 95 yards and a touchdown in limited action for Michigan (9-0, 6-0 Big Ten), which was beginning a relatively easy three-game stretch before a season-ending showdown at top-ranked Ohio State. The Wolverines' only remaining contests until the matchup in Columbus on November 18 are vs. Ball State and at Indiana.

Hart injured his back slightly when he landed on a down marker. Carr kept him out for most of the second half as a precaution.

"He said he wanted to go back in, but I could see he was hurting," Carr said.

Michigan held just a 10-3 advantage midway through the third quarter before cornerback Leon Hall intercepted C.J. Bacher and ran 10 yards to the Northwestern 36. Given the terrible conditions, the Wolverines elected to go for it on 4th-and-2 from the 28, and Hart produced a 23-yard run to the 5. Two plays later, he scored on a three-yard run for a two-score cushion with 4:05 to play in the period.

"We had a run-pass audible on," Henne said of the key fourth-down play. "I saw that they were going to pressure, so I called run and we attacked the pressure. Mike made a great run."

Wolverines freshman backup running back Brandon Minor lost a fumble at the Michigan 24 on the first play of the fourth quarter, but senior safety Willis Barringer intercepted Bacher in the end zone three plays later.

Bacher went 20-of-41 for 204 yards and two interceptions for the Wildcats (2-7, 0-5), who were coming off the biggest collapse in Division I-A history, having blown a 35-point lead in a 41-38 home setback to Michigan State.

Tyrell Sutton was limited to six yards on seven carries against the nation's top rushing defense, which had been yielding just 33.6 yards per game on the ground.

"I think we had time to throw the football, but give Michigan credit. They're one of the best teams in stopping the run," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "They're fast, they might be the best (defensive team) we have played this year. We were able to move the ball a bit, but we couldn't finish our drives."

Sutton, who rushed for 172 yards against Michigan State last week, also was impressed with the Michigan defense.

"Guys were moving all over the field, they were everywhere," he said. "The front four was flowing to the ball and when we tried to pass, they were right there."

Michigan's defense exudes a confidence that the team didn't have a year ago in a 7-5 campaign.

"We go into every game thinking we can dominate," said linebacker David Harris, who had one of the Wolverines' three interceptions. "We did a good job today against the run and it made them one-dimensional. It forced them to throw the ball, so it worked in our favor."

Northwestern had success moving the ball on its opening drive before Bacher was stripped by Woodley and the defensive end recovered the fumble at the Michigan 48. Six plays later, Henne lobbed a 14-yard touchdown pass to Adrian Arrington to give the Wolverines a 7-0 lead.

There was a question whether Arrington would play this week after being arraigned for misdemeanor domestic assault, but Carr had issued statements of support for the receiver. Arrington didn't start and played sparingly.

"When you use poor judgment, there's a price to pay, and he's paying the price," Carr said.

Michigan pushed its advantage to 10-0 on a 30-yard field goal by Garrett Rivas with 7:02 left in the second quarter, but it was all the Wolverines could muster before the break.

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