Michigan’s Wolverines ended a nasty lack of away from home wins in Notre Dame Stadium Saturday, when they produced an astounding and outstanding come from behind victory in their first competition with Brian Kelly’s Irish. This was a hard fought football game. Neither team quit, but finally the Wolverines prospered and the Irish didn’t.
Denard Robinson was even better Saturday than last week against Connecticut, and now totals a stunning 502-yards rushing in just two games. He will surpass Brandon Minor’s entire production for last year soon, and even though I have seldom, if ever, seen one player put the Wolverine’s fortunes on his own back like he has, he is not the only Wolverine that should be credited with this victory.
The defense hit, the OL line blocked reasonably well, and the receivers took some real punishment, but for the most part they were able to hang onto the ball. Roy Roundtree had 8 grabs for 82-yards, which included a 31-yard TD. Suffering internal bruising last week I was surprised to see him in action this week. Martavious Odoms had 91-receiving yards. Stephen Hopkins got his first collegiate carry on a two-yard TD run early in the game.
With the exception of a few notable penalties, and a big play at crunch time, they played with enough poise and precision on offense, and surprisingly on run defense, to prove they were the best team on the field. Three interceptions helped make that decision. Jonas Mouton got his second career interception, and finished the day with 13 tackles, and Jordan Kovacs had ten. The defense stumbled at times, and let out a late fourth quarter 95-yard pass play for a TD after the defense had the Irish pinned deep in their own territory.
It was a dispiriting and potentially back-breaking play at crunch time. Cameron Gordon let the receiver Kyle Rudolph get behind him, and the down three got inadequate pressure on ND QB Crist. Crist hit the receiver in stride, it was 24-21 and it appeared that it was Notre Dame?s day. But there were a few minutes left. There was enough time for some Robinson magic. ND?s pass offense was effective but the Wolverines suppressed the run reasonably effectively. The defense protected the lead at the end of the game, with Crist?s last desperation heave sailing harmlessly into the endzone.
Denard produced the 12-play, 72-yard drive to get the winning score, scampering in from 2-yards out for the Wolverines first and final score of the second half. It was just enough to produce the much needed 28/24 win. Two key plays were when he calmly picked up a crucial first down at the ND 35, and then on third and five from the seventeen, he hit Roy Roundtree who was downed at the two. Denard ran it in for the winning score.
It is simply impossible to ignore the tour de force provided by Robinson Saturday. In the spring, I kept thinking that Denard might be chewing up M?s defense because it was our own perhaps inadequate defense, and therefore things could change when the actual games and hitting started. I kept thinking, and wrote, that Tate Forcier might rise to the top because of his experience in starting 12 games last year, and that he would overcome his slow start.
It was a little startling to see that freshman Devin Gardner has truly surpassed Tate on the two deep. When Denard was a little shaken up, and out for a play, it was the talented Devin that that played the understudy again this game.
I am happy to admit I was dead wrong. I can sympathize with Tate, and we still may need him, and he could still contribute, but on the basis of just these two games, Denard has been nothing short of phenomenal. His domination of the playing field is exceptional. Also, any four-leaf clovers belonged to him and his Wolverines on this day and to not the Irish, as Shoelace was stripped of the ball on one sojourn into the ND secondary, and the Wolverines gobbled it up. Luck of the Irish? Not Saturday, but the Irish did get a favorable call. On TJ Jones TD, tape clearly shows he released possession of the football before he crossed the goal line. The ball never broke the plane. Should have been Michigan’s ball at the twenty.
DRob was responsible for 502-yards rushing and passing against ND in the unfriendly confines of ND Stadium. He has been credited with 885 yards running and passing in just two games. He is only the 9th QB in NCAA history to rush for 258-yards in a game, and pass for 244-yards in a game. The 258-yards rushing on 28 carries is 5th in Michigan single game history records. He was 24 of 40 passing. He broke an 87-yard run for a TD which is the longest in ND Stadium history, and second longest ever against ND. He set a single game Michigan record for rushing and passing by a QB for the second week in a row, and a B10 record. He had 152-yards rushing in the second quarter.
When you paste your name into the record books in a winning cause against ND, your accomplishments get recognized nationally. Denard will have to learn to live with and deal with football fame. He has hit the big time without question, and seems to be aiming the Wolverines in that direction.
Notre Dame opened the scoring on their first possession by producing a 71-yard TD drive aided by a favorable review, and a 15-yard personal foul by Michigan. ND QB Dayne Crist punched it in from a yard out. M 0- ND 7. All EPs in this game were good. Somewhere early in this quarter Crist took a blow to the head that that took him out of the game until the second half. Michigan?s defense abused his inexperienced replacements, including Nate Montana, Joe’s son.
Mouton intercepted ND QB Rees pass, and Denard turned it into points with a 31-yard TD pass to Rountree. M 7-ND 7.
Then it was a 65-yard, 5-play drive to pay dirt, based on Robinson to Odoms passes. Stephen Hopkins scored from the one. M 14-ND 7.
Then Denard was off on his 87-yard jaunt late in the second half. M 21-ND 7.
Crist came back as QB in the second half and heaved a 53-yard TD pass to TJ Jones. M 21-ND 14, and it was getting a little scary again, which was aggravated by an 8-play 66-yard drive culminating in a 24-yard FG. M 21-ND 17. Meanwhile the Wolverines are practicing punting and missing a FG that should have been hit. Fortunately Michigan picked off another pass off to stop a drive, and the miserable quarter ended, but some of the misery endured. The pass protection in the 4th was not much better at times, and another FG was missed. At the 4:15 mark Crist stunned the Blue with the 95-yard bomb described above to make it M 21-ND 24.
It looked like it was over, but no one told Denard Robinson. He engineered the 12-play, 72-yard winning drive that will become the stuff of legend, and linger a long while in the memories of ND and Michigan fans alike. Seth Broekhuizen kicked the EP.
Suddenly a little ray of optimism is breaking thought the shroud of pessimism, for the team and for Coach Rodriguez. Some fans may now think that maybe he can coach after all, and just maybe his teams will be able to compete, even away from Michigan Stadium.
This is nothing more than a good start to the most important football season in recent memory. Last year the Wolverines also beat the Irish and nailed some early opponents, only to lay an egg in the last half the season. With the poise, and confidence of this season?s team, and with Robinson rapidly gaining experience, that seems less likely to happen than last year.
It is a fact this was a very important game for the Wolverines against a rejuvenated Irish team that has the wily Brian Kelly as its new coach. He will load up with first class talent that matches his system, and he will know how to use it, so this was an excellent year to grab a victory there. This victory will build Michigan confidence, experience them in winning away from home, and raise expectations, as well as gaining the Wolverines some football notoriety of a welcome kind. It will bring smiles to the players, coaches and fans, with the drama not forgotten, but pushed to the background for a change.
This is not to imply that the Wolverines are a complete football team at this time. They need improvement. They are still a work in progress with dumb penalties, and with some critical mental lapses (the two long pass plays, for example). The kicking and punting aspects of special teams need to improve in a hurry. The two missed field goals are blisters, the KOs too short, and they often give opponents good field position. The punting has not been up to Mesko level as yet. I thought this might be costly in the ND game but it proved a non-factor this time but later it might catch up with us.
As predicted the pass defense is a work in progress, but bring on the Minutemen.
The only sad note of the day is that Ron Kramer is no longer with us. He passed away Saturday. He was a great athlete at Michigan in the mid-fifties, a nine-letter winner. He carried his team on his back, and had a great pro career with the Packers and Lions.
It was Ron who revived my interest in Wolverine Football in the fifties, and I shall never forget his accomplishments and his respect and appreciation of all things Michigan.