Denard Robinson dazzles and dominates
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Michigan trailed Notre Dame 24-21 and faced fourth-and-inches at the Fighting Irish 35 with about 1½ minutes to play Saturday.
Everyone in the crowd of 80,795 at Notre Dame Stadium had to know which Michigan player was going to carry the ball with the game on the line.
The Michigan coaching staff certainly knew which Wolverine was getting his number called -- again.
"It was a matter of choosing which way and how we were going to do it," Michigan quarterbacks coach Rod Smith said.
Quarterback Denard Robinson, who has quickly become college football's most electrifying and Michigan's most dependable player, did what he has done so many times in the first two games of the season.
Robinson took the snap and ran right for a critical first down. Four plays later, Robinson fired a 15-yard pass to redshirt sophomore Roy Roundtree to the Notre Dame 2, and then Robinson ran for the winning touchdown with 27 seconds to play in the Wolverines' 28-24 victory over the Irish.
"I'm speechless right now," Robinson said. "I really don't know what to say. That was amazing."
Since wrestling Michigan's starting job away from incumbent Tate Forcier before the season opener, Robinson has been nothing short of amazing in his first two starts. After rushing for 197 yards in last week's 30-10 victory over Connecticut, Robinson was even better at Notre Dame.
The sophomore from Deerfield Beach, Fla., ran for 258 yards with two touchdowns, while completing 24 of 40 passes for 244 yards with one score. His rushing total set a single-game record for Big Ten quarterbacks and his 87-yard touchdown run in the second quarter was the longest by any player in Notre Dame Stadium history.
"I was blocking and trying to get in the guy's way," Michigan offensive tackle Perry Dorrestein said of Robinson's 87-yard burst down the right sideline. "All of the sudden, I heard all the Notre Dame fans go quiet. I knew something happened again."
Robinson did it time after time against Notre Dame. On Michigan's game-winning 12-play drive, Robinson threw six passes and ran six times. He accounted for all but 30 of the Wolverines' 532 yards of offense.
After running the ball 29 times against Connecticut, Robinson ran it 28 times against the Fighting Irish.
"I told ya'll last week, we can't be running him 29 times again," Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez joked. "We ran him 28. Had he not scored on the last play, he may have had 29. That was a lot more; we're just trying to win the game."
All joking aside, Robinson's workload in the first two games begs the question: How long will he last?
"I think he's a tough kid," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. "When you run a quarterback 25 times, you've got to have toughness. I'll let Coach [Rodriguez] figure out whether that's the case for 10 games. Coach Rodriguez knows better than I do. But we hit him pretty hard today."
Somehow, the Wolverines are going to have to find Robinson some help over the next few weeks. Their running backs rushed 13 times for 30 yards, their special teams were dreadful (averaging 37.5 yards on punts and missing two field goal attempts) and their leaky defense gave up 535 yards.
"I'm glad we didn't have to try a field goal at the end," Rodriguez said.
Eventually, the Wolverines are going to have to be more than a one-man show on offense. After hosting FCS foe Massachusetts next Saturday and Bowling Green on Sept. 25, Michigan opens Big Ten play at Indiana on Oct. 2.
Then the Wolverines play three consecutive games against more difficult Big Ten competition -- Michigan State (home), Iowa (home) and Penn State (road). Their schedule also includes games against Wisconsin (home) and Ohio State (road) to close the season.
A year ago, the Wolverines opened the season with a 4-0 record before losing seven of their last eight games. Keeping Robinson healthy and fresh will be necessary if there's going to be a difference this season.
"I've had some terrific quarterbacks, but I don't know if I've had that many yards rushing and passing combined," Rodriguez said. "He'll get a few bags of ice on him today and sleep on the way back, maybe on the bus, and rest up for the next one."
Michigan's players have grown accustomed to Robinson bailing them out this season. After Michigan fell behind 7-0 in the first quarter, Robinson threw a 31-yard touchdown pass to Roundtree to tie the score.
When Notre Dame's offense went back on the field, starting quarterback Dayne Crist wasn't there. Crist was shaken up while diving into the end zone for a touchdown during an earlier possession, and he was replaced by freshman Tommy Rees, who threw an interception on his first pass attempt to put Michigan in postition for the tying score.
Rees was so shaky that former walk-on Nate Montana -- son of you-know-who -- came off the bench and played the next seven possessions.
"It was more of [Crist's] head hitting the ground on a run," Kelly said. "He had some blurry vision. He was fairly lucid. We didn't consider it to be a concussion at all or we wouldn't have brought back in the game."
Michigan had a 21-7 lead at the half, but it felt like the Wolverines should have been ahead by so much more.
Crist shook off the cobwebs and came back after halftime, throwing for a 53-yard touchdown to TJ Jones on his second pass attempt of the second half.
After Notre Dame added a field goal midway through the third quarter, Michigan inexplicably allowed Crist to throw a 95-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph. With the Irish rushing three down linemen, Rudolph got behind safety Cameron Gordon and caught Crist's pass in stride.
But Michigan had more than 3½ minutes left when Robinson took the field for the final time.
"I told my team, 'It's time to put it in, time to put the game away,'" Robinson said. "We let them stick around too long. It was time for us to put the game away."
And that's what Robinson did.
Mark Schlabach covers college sports for ESPN.com. He co-authored Bobby Bowden's memoir, "Called To Coach," which was published by Simon & Schuster. The book is available in stores and can be ordered here. You can contact him at email@example.com.
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