ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) -- Michigan was solid early and late in its
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
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
The Wolverines went ahead 20-7 late in the third on Chad Henne's
14-yard pass to a leaping Tyler Ecker on a third down.
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
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
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.
Standout receiver Earl Bennett had six catches for 58 yards and
threw a 30-yard touchdown to Marlon White to make it 10-7 with
12:26 left in the first half.
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
The way the Wolverines started, it looked like it might be an
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
"Offensively, we did an excellent job in the first quarter,"
Carr said. "[Then], I don't pretend to know why we didn't