Ann Arbor, Mich. 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.