12:00 PM ET, September 2, 2006
Michigan Stadium, ANN ARBOR, MI
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) -- Michigan was solid early and late in its opener.
In the middle of the matchup against Vanderbilt, Mike Hart acknowledged the Wolverines were sluggish offensively.
The shifty running back ran for 146 yards to lead No. 14 Michigan to a 27-7 victory over the Commodores on Saturday.
"We made a lot of mistakes that were drive-killers," Hart said. "That's one thing we can't have in bigger games. Every time you win, you're going to be happy. But we need to improve a lot to be a championship contender."
Michigan has another tuneup, against Central Michigan, before visiting No. 2 Notre Dame.
"We have a lot of work to do," coach Lloyd Carr said. "That's for sure."
The Wolverines are coming off a 7-5 season, their worst since going .500 in 1984. They have their lowest preseason ranking since 1997, when they went on to win a national championship.
Michigan scored on an impressive opening drive and had a chance to build an early cushion, but Vanderbilt blocked a kick and scored on a trick play to pull within three points early in the second quarter.
Michigan sealed its eighth straight home opener by forcing quarterback Chris Nickson to fumble for a second time with 4:33 left near midfield, leading to Henne's 27-yard pass to Mario Manningham.
Henne finished 10-of-22 for 135 yards with two TDs.
"It definitely wasn't my best, but we'll see next week how much improvement I make," he said after throwing some poor passes and having a few dropped.
In his first start in place of Jay Cutler, who Denver drafted with 11th overall pick, Nickson was 11-of-25 for 99 yards and would've been sacked more than six times if he wasn't so mobile. Nickson ran for 64 yards, including a 22-yard gain, but was hit behind the line so often that he finished with 22 net yards.
"He needs to learn how to manage the game," Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said. "I remember Jay Cutler's first couple games. We went down to Auburn and he looked just about exactly the same.
"Young quarterbacks against a veteran defense, that's a tough lesson."
Nickson said he picked up a lot from the experience.
"I learned to keep my composure through some good things and some bad things," said Nickson, who threw just three passes as Cutler's backup last season. "The main thing is to persevere."
Cutler helped Vanderbilt win five games last season -- after the school had four straight two-win seasons.
Then, Michigan's aggressive defense shut the Commodores down.
"When you put pressure on a quarterback, he throws the ball a little quicker," said defensive end LaMarr Woodley, who had two sacks and tackled Nickson for another loss. "We were bringing the heat."
The way the Wolverines started, it looked like it might be an easy day.
Michigan drove 81 yards on the opening kickoff -- with a nice mix of the run and pass -- and scored on a 19-yard run when Kevin Grady went right and sliced across the defense with a cutback.
After forcing Nickson to fumble, the Wolverines had to settle for a 10-0 lead on their third drive after a pass for a first down at the 1 was overturned by review.
Vanderbilt started to make the Wolverines sweat by blocking a field goal and fooling them on a trick play early in the second quarter. Nickson tossed a lateral to Bennett, who found a wide-open White for a 30-yard TD.
Garrett Rivas' career-long 48-yard field goal on the ensuing possession put Michigan ahead 13-7. The Wolverines had a chance to create a bigger cushion on their next drive, but Grady fumbled at Vanderbilt's 19.
"Offensively, we did an excellent job in the first quarter," Carr said. "[Then], I don't pretend to know why we didn't execute."
Top 25 Overview
It was over when... Chad Henne connected with Tyler Ecker in the third to give the Wolverines some breathing room.
Gameball goes to... Mike Hart, who literally carried the team -- 31 carries, 146 yards for the day. A healthy Hart makes a big difference, huh?
Stat of the game... 42: The Wolverines held the 'Dores to 42 yards rushing. Not a bad effort for new defensive coordinator Ron English's bunch.
Team Stat Comparison
|3rd Down Conversions||4-15||10-18|
|4th Down Conversions||0-2||1-1|
|TD||10:12||KEVIN GRADY 19 YD RUN (GARRETT RIVAS KICK)|
Drive info: 10 plays, 81 yards.
|FG||2:25||GARRETT RIVAS 33 YD FG|
Drive info: 7 plays, 17 yards.
|TD||12:26||MARLON WHITE 30 YD PASS FROM EARL BENNETT (BRYANT HAHNFELDT KICK)|
Drive info: 5 plays, 59 yards.
|FG||7:37||GARRETT RIVAS 48 YD FG|
Drive info: 10 plays, 53 yards.
|TD||2:29||TYLER ECKER 14 YD PASS FROM CHAD HENNE (GARRETT RIVAS KICK)|
Drive info: 10 plays, 41 yards.
|TD||2:11||MARIO MANNINGHAM 27 YD PASS FROM CHAD HENNE (GARRETT RIVAS KICK)|
Drive info: 6 plays, 41 yards.