Michigan survives Ball State scare to keep perfect season alive

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) -- Michigan got caught peeking ahead and turned a tuneup against Ball State into quite a test.

Trailing by just eight, Cardinals quarterback Nate Davis threw incomplete on fourth-and-goal with 2:46 left and couldn't connect on a final-play desperation heave, allowing the second-ranked Wolverines to escape with a 34-26 win on Saturday.

Chad Henne acknowledged the hype about the much-anticipated matchup Nov. 18 at No. 1 Ohio State has been tough to ignore.

"I think that is a lot of the reason why we weren't focused," Michigan's quarterback said. "Coming into the game, people were reading too many press clippings."

With its guard down, Michigan (10-0) gave Ball State an early lead and let the five-touchdown underdogs make a late charge.

The Wolverines were clearly upset with themselves after the game. Even the usually talkative Mike Hart declined to be interviewed.

"I definitely believe that it was a wake-up call," defensive end LaMarr Woodley said. "You've got to remember who you were at the beginning of the season - we were ranked 14. Now, we're the team that's No. 2.

"Coming into this game, everybody was talking about the hype about Michigan and Ohio State, and it kind of overlooked a team like Ball State. If you disrespect a team, they're going to come out and give their all."

Hart ran for 154 yards and a TD and Brandon Minor rushed for 108 yards and another score to help the Wolverines avoid what would've been an upset for all-time. Henne was 17-of-25 for 155 yards with a TD and an interception that the Cardinals ran back for a score in the first quarter.

"Ball State did an outstanding job of staying in the fight and the game," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said. "When you run for 352 yards and hold your opponent to (47 yards rushing), the score should be different."

Carr insisted the Wolverines didn't take a step back, that four mistakes made the game close.

Hart's first fumble in two years and Henne's interception gave Ball State a 9-7 lead. Michigan's defense gave up a 54-yard TD and a 62-yard pass that led to the Cardinals pulling within eight points midway through the fourth quarter.

Ball State coach Brady Hoke, a former assistant at Michigan, was not interested in talking about a moral victory a day after his contract was extended by three years through 2010.

"We're going to play to win every game, so it's disappointing," Hoke said.

Davis was 18-of-34 for 250 yards with a TD and an interception. Dante Love had six receptions for 107 yards and a score.

Michigan trailed for just the second time this season - 9-7 in the first quarter - then seemed to pull away with 17 points on three straight drives in the second quarter.

The Cardinals of the Mid-American Conference showed they didn't plan to go away quietly by driving for a field goal late in the first half to make it 24-12.

Hart's 1-yard run midway through the third quarter put the Wolverines ahead by 19, but they managed to score just a field goal the rest of the way. And to think, receiver Mario Manningham's return was expected to be the big story for Michigan on this day.

Manningham played for the first time in three-plus games, but didn't have a reception after scoring nine TDs in six games before injuring his knee. Carr said the plan was to use Manningham sparingly, setting him up to start the next game at Indiana.

"He'll be ready to go," Carr said.

Against Michigan backups, Love caught a 54-yard pass and Larry Bostic had a 2-yard run with 8:45 left to make it 34-26.

Did Carr put reserves in the game too early?

"Had we lost the game, you all would've had a good time with that one," he joked.

The Cardinals drove deep again with a chance to score a TD and a 2-point conversion that would've tied it.

Davis' pass from Michigan's 7 on fourth down was wide of Love, giving the Wolverines the ball back with an opportunity to run the clock out.

They couldn't.

Ball State got the ball back at its 45 with 16 seconds left. After two incomplete passes, Davis' throw into the end zone was intercepted by Ryan Mundy.

The folks at The Big House could finally breathe easy.