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September 15, 2006
Game of the Week: Michigan at Notre Dame
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Get the inside scoop on your favorite team:
Mike Hart knows how Michigan fans define greatness.
"All great Michigan backs, they perform in this game," Hart told TheWolverine.com. "You can't be considered a great back until you perform against Notre Dame."
Hart hasn't performed much at all against Notre Dame thus far.
He carried the ball just five times for 17 yards at Notre Dame two years ago while working his way up the depth chart. Last season, Hart carried three times for four yards before a first-quarter hit from Irish linebacker Corey Mays knocked him out of the game.
It's probably no coincidence that Michigan went on to lose both games. The last two years have proved this much about the Wolverines' chances of beating Notre Dame: They've got to have Hart.
This weekend, they'll have him.
A healthy Hart has rushed for 262 yards in Michigan's first two games while breaking the 100-yard plateau each week. And that last stat is critical.
The Wolverines own an 11-1 record when Hart rushes for at least 100 yards. They're 7-7 in all other games since Hart's arrival.
His performance could determine whether the 13th-ranked Wolverines (2-0) win at No. 2 Notre Dame (2-0) for the first time since 1994. Although Hart hasn't played much against Notre Dame, his versatility certainly has caught the Irish's attention.
"Usually a running back is good at running either inside or outside except for the great ones, like (LaDainian) Tomlinson," Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said. "This guy can run inside and outside."
But it's another running back who has taken center stage in this series the last two years.
Notre Dame's Darius Walker staged his coming-out party against Michigan as a true freshman by rushing for 115 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns in a 28-20 Irish victory. He gained 104 yards last season in a 17-10 triumph at Michigan.
"Darius Walker is one of the most patient runners I've seen," Michigan defensive tackle Alan Branch said. "He'll wait for a block to open up a hole. He follows his blocks. He reads his linemen's backside really well, so he knows where to cut. He's probably the most patient runner that I've seen on film."
Walker already has proved himself in this rivalry.
Hart believes this weekend represents his chance to make a statement. And it also represents a great opportunity for his team as it attempts to bounce back from the disappointment of a 7-5 season last year.
The Wolverines opened the season with victories over Vanderbilt and Central Michigan, but Hart knows the national perception of the program won't change until it beats a top-level team such as Notre Dame.
"If we go beat Vanderbilt, we're a good team," Hart said. "But if we beat Notre Dame, then we can be a great team this year. That's what rides on this game, what other people think of you and your team."
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