ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Mike Hart and the Michigan defense brushed off the burden that has come with being No. 2 by bullying Iowa around the Big House.
Hart grinded out 126 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries to back up another punishing defensive performance by Shawn Crable and crew as the Wolverines defeated the Hawkeyes 20-6 Saturday.
With Northwestern, Ball State and Indiana coming up for Michigan, the Hawkeyes (5-3, 2-3 Big Ten) appeared to be the only serious stumbling block between the Wolverines (8-0, 5-0) and an undefeated record going into the Ohio State game on Nov. 18.
But No. 2 has been a sticky spot in the Top 25 this season. Four times already this season No. 2 has gone down, including the previous two weeks when Auburn and Florida fell.
Michigan's first game as the second-ranked team in the country - and second consecutive game without injured star receiver Mario Manningham - wasn't easy.
Iowa, coming off a stunning 31-28 loss at Indiana that knocked the Hawkeyes out of the rankings for the first time this season, muscled up on defense, especially against the run.
The Hawkeyes crowded the line to stop Hart, the Big Ten's second-leading rusher, and without Manningham, the Wolverines couldn't get deep.
Hart was held to 27 yards on eight carries in the first half, but the relentless 5-foot-9, 196 pounder appeared to get stronger as the game wore on - Michigan needed it.
Iowa's Mike Humpal intercepted a pass that Chad Henne forced into a crowd on the first possession of the second half at the Michigan 27, and it set up Kyle Schlicher's 34-yard field goal to tie it at 3.
Steve Breaston responded for Michigan, finding a seam in the middle and returning the ensuing kickoff 64 yards to the Iowa 35. The Wolverines took advantage of the short field, with Hart running through tacklers, his legs churning and knees chugging, on a 9-yard touchdown run that made it 10-3.
After Iowa got a 22-yard field goal from Schlicher to make it 10-6 with 2:11 left in the third quarter, Michigan went back to Hart.
He carried six times for 34 yards to help set up a 37-yard field goal by Garrett Rivas to make it 13-6 with 12:55 left in the fourth quarter.
For Michigan's defense, ranked seventh in the nation and first against the run, that was enough.
On consecutive plays, LaMarr Woodley and Crable sacked Drew Tate deep in Iowa territory. After Crable ran Tate out of bounds, fellow linebacker Prescott Burgess waved his arms and urged on the roaring crowd of more than 110,000 at the Big House before the third-down play.
Woodley blew through a blocker on the next play and nearly got to Tate again.
Hart put the capper on the game with a 9-yard TD run with 3:59 left through a big hole, one of the few he had all day. The junior went over 1,000 yards rushing for the second time in his career.
Tate finished 21-for-36 for 197 yards and Dominique Douglas, who has been nursing a knee injury, caught six passes for 63 yards. Iowa could muster only 41 yards on the ground.
Henne went 23-for-33 for 203 yards and Adrian Arrington caught eight passes for 79 yards.
Michigan's defense allowed Iowa to cross midfield just once in the first half and that drive ended with a turnover. Tate was sacked by Crable, who finished with three sacks, and the ball came loose.
Henne and the Wolverines pieced together one steady drive, but it stalled at the Iowa 3 and Rivas' 20-yard field goal in the second quarter was the only points of the first half.