9/4/2010 – Michigan 30, UConn 10 – 1-0
First there were those two years of almost unrelenting misery. Then there was this offseason, the third consecutive in which seemingly every week saw another stomach-churning burst of negative publicity for things that don't matter very much individually but aggregate like nanorobots gone awry. Then there was all that sitting in the stadium as described on Saturday, envisioning different ways the future could play out, giving each a letter grade and having no grasp of which were likelier than others. Then there was Keith Jackson and a ribbon-cutting and a flyover and fireworks (Amurrica!). Then there was this:
There was a brief moment where I discreetly wiped my eyes and hoped no one was looking, and then there was another flyover.
By the coin toss I was bobbing up and down on an imaginary pogo stick, trying to do anything with the energy that threatened to shut my brain off. I was hyped up, yo. The only thing I can remember like it was Football Armageddon. It's probably for the best that I didn't have anything handy to headbutt.
I had no idea what was going to happen, but there were grades for all of it.
A+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++. Would watch again.
What was it like for Auburn fans the first time they saw Bo Jackson? For Georgia fans when they saw Herschel Walker? Was it like that?
I can't recall anything similar in the Michigan canon. Braylon had 80 yards against Washington, Hart 124 against San Diego State. Breaston touched the ball eight times. Manningham did once. I'm too young to remember Wheatley's debut. Defensive players are too infrequently involved, and their jobs too arcane, to have the same obvious impact. Receivers, too—even a stellar debut will see the guy touch the ball maybe ten times. It's an accomplishment for quarterbacks when their first starts don't end in flaming disaster.
It's only at running back that you can unearth some guy three standard deviations above the norm at various forms of moving, put him on the field, and give everyone the epiphany of awesome.
But even the debut of one of those Godzilla running backs doesn't compare because Denard Robinson had a Godzilla tailback debut and was one late fourth down conversion away from setting a Michigan Stadium record for completion percentage. Last year he was so clueless he couldn't run the offense, so transparently not a quarterback he went 14 of 31 with four interceptions on the season and played wide receiver against Ohio State.
So I think this might be literally true: Denard Robinson's performance against UConn was the greatest leap from one game to the next in Michigan history. Possibly college football history. He went from a guy who could not run the offense or throw the ball to one of the greatest statistical achievements* in the history of the program.
Nothing, not even the ludicrous fever dreams on message boards that rivals fans point at and laugh, could keep pace. Expectation was left in the dust by the end of the first quarter. The reasonable best case scenario fell away on the first drive of the second half when Robinson whipped a ball over the middle for sixteen yards on third and eleven. The possibility this was all a dream gave it up on Michigan's final drive when Robinson rolled out and lofted a touch pass to Kevin Koger. Not even fever dreams have that kind of audacity.
By the end, all that was left was reality, as unrecognizable as it is. Rival fans are reduced to stammering "buh-buh-but he'll get injured" in the hopes that will happen before Robinson gets a crack at their defense; 7-5 seems… eh… doable. After last year everyone's fighting to keep their hopes in check; this is proving very difficult indeed.
I kept biting myself in the second quarter, just to check about the fever dream bit. You build all this up in your mind before the season, think about the way things can go, say "Anything can happen, and the wait is over," and then find out you didn't really believe it. This was not part of the anything after all the months leading up to the pogo stick moment a minute before kickoff.
Because at some point around five minutes left, the energy drained out of the stadium. When Edsall called a timeout to get the ball back it was irritating and people booed. With a minute and a half left, I thought about the cold and what I should eat. I was bored, and thanks to that now I can't stand how far away next Saturday is.
*(313 against Ohio State still wins, I think, but it's hard to come up with anything else.)
PREBULLET SECTION OF REASSURANCE! Repeat after me: this was not last year's Notre Dame game.
- UConn is likely better than that Notre Dame team; they beat them last year and returned sixteen starters from that 8-5 team that was so close to a major breakthrough, which is why everyone was calling them a sleeper until the point they were no longer that.
- Michigan won that game with ten seconds left after Charlie Weis called a first-down bomb needing just one first down to kill the clock.
- They got a free, highly irreproducible touchdown from Darryl Stonum.
- They were outgained by 60 yards in that ND game; total yardage Saturday was 473-343, with 42 of UConn's yards on their pointless final drive.
A quick list of downers:
- The Gibbons/Dileo pairing had serious issues. The missed XP was definitely on Dileo and the missed FG seemed like a bad snap, too. Van Slyke's return may actually be more important than you might otherwise expect.
- Burned redshirts have driven me crazy forever and a couple the tossed ones this year boggle the mind: Ray Vinopal played on special teams and Dileo held, though that one may have been forced. I'm not going to throw a hissy about Gardner since when Mike Forcier is saying they "knew there would be disciplinary action" it sounds like Rodriguez was faced with an unpleasant choice between doing the logical thing for your program and enforcing squad discipline, but if Michigan goes into 2014 without a redshirt senior Gardner that will be a major missed opportunity.
- I was irritated they played Will Campbell on special teams because he could redshirt if he's not even second team at NT. This is bad for multiple reasons.
- UConn's quick snap on fourth and goal was a little grrr aarrgh.
- Zero sacks (though Roh should have been given one on a Frazer rollout). Michigan didn't get much pressure from the front three. They did manage to get there with some blitzes but I don't recall anyone beating a UConn lineman straight up. (Roh avoided a cut block from an RB.)
And now that we're done with that:
- One penalty! Three fumbles is more of a downer, but add it up and that was a clean performance.
- Offensive production was considerably understated (and defensive production overstated) by how short the game was in terms of possession. Michigan had eight real drives. I'm not sure what the overall NCAA number is but it must be pretty close to the 11.3 the Big 12 put up last year. If Michigan had 11.3 drives they'd be expected to put up 42 points, which is a lot of points. Yes.
- I hate time of possession. It is a unicorn stat. But people might talk about it a lot this year since Michigan had two drives in this game that ate up more than half a quarter. And given their situation that ability might prove useful: how awesome was it that Michigan got the ball back with nine minutes left and essentially ended the game? How much more awesome would it have been if they were up just seven points?
- Running back concern is overstated. Their YPC was hurt considerably by the final drive, during which they plowed into the line to run clock time and again. Also, Shaw in particular seemed like he had to cut behind a defensive lineman slanting right into the play every time he got a handoff. I thought managing to avoid this guy and get positive yardage consistently was an accomplishment. That say something in UConn's scheme or the play of the line has to be addressed, though.
- It was odd that Hopkins never got in but as the game wore on it became clear that UConn couldn't hold a QB lead draw under five yards, let alone one. I do hope he gets unearthed in the future since those carries are usually low upside and if we're going to spare Robinson some hits it shouldn't be on first and ten. Or, you know, third and fifteen.
- Speaking of, it was a really weird experience for Michigan to run a QB draw in that down and distance and not have that moment of hate during it. My immediate reaction was "yeah, that seems like a decent idea." This was early, though, and it had not yet been established that Denard was capable of going 9 of 22, let alone 19 of 22.
- I have never seen two guys running wide open in as much space as Stonum and Robinson did on the late Robinson-to-Robinson connection. There was one safety trying to figure out which guy to cover and literally no one else for twenty yards. RPS +3, baby. That's the kind of thing that happens in these offenses when the quarterback is such a threat on the ground. When Pat White threw deep, most of the time he was doing so to wide open guys. It's like when Debord ran a waggle for big yardage, except the base offense's run game picks up like six yards a play.
- Speaking of: welcome to Michigan, Terrance Robinson. May you dream shake someone in the near future. (Conversely: surprising lack of Grady, no?)
- After Roundtree went out, there were a few plays on which the skill position guys were Terrance Robinson, Odoms, Grady, Smith, and Stonum. It looked like the Lollipop Guild had run out there, featuring Stonum as Dorothy.
- Mouton's getting good reviews and certainly seemed to be playing well. He brought the lumber on a couple tackles. I wonder if UConn's burst of run competence was Carvin Johnson-injury related?
- The reports on band amplification have varied so wildly that the effectiveness of it must vary significantly based on your location. From section 44 it sounded pretty bad, with a clear delay between the actual band and the speakers; I couldn't hear anything except the drums on the amplification. At least Special K was prevented from doing anything except playing "Don't Stop Believin'" after the first quarter.
Unfortunately, I think that might be an artifact of the jam-packed dedication festivities. There's no time for that old time rock 'n' roll when you're running down the top five plays in Michigan Stadium history (which by the way: no Wangler to Carter? WTF, internet?), introducing a bunch of program icons and Greg Mathews, and so forth and so on. Unless they continue to fill those gaps with stuff, Lose Yourself threatens a return. They should just pick a top five list every week: top five catches. Top five runs. Interceptions, fumbles, comebacks, etc.
- Also: Slippery Rock scores return. I credit Brandon.
AnnArbor.com photo gallery. Ring of terror. Denard as QB EAGLES. The HSR takes a look at some stats. MVictors has some extra stadium details and bullet points on the goings-on, plus an outstanding SNL reference:
My Q&A session would have gone something like this:
Me: “Do you remember when…umm, Denard ran up and down the field a bunch of times?”
Rich Rod: “Yes.”
Me: “That was so cool.”
The B-25 Mitchell bomber that flew over Michigan Stadium Saturday as a part of the rededication ceremonies was a similar model to the one flown over Tokyo by the Doolittle Raiders. The Doolittle Raid was an audacious plan by an unconventional man who felt a strong sense that, in the wake of Pearl Harbor, America had to do something to strike at the heart of the Empire of Japan, so what better than to design a crazy, shouldn't work on paper, never been tested plan that would break the Japanese of their long-held belief of invincibility, and boost American morale...
If it worked.
Braves and Birds is thrilled he's not the only one anymore. Denard is apparently a P-38 Lightning.
Every offensive snap? Every offensive snap:
In UConn's only chance to showcase itself against a name-brand non-Big East opponent this year, the Huskies looked more like one of Michigan's typical September MAC cupcake opponents.
The good: UConn will never have to play against Denard Robinson again, and thank God for that. A few weeks ago I drew the ire of Michigan fans by saying I felt the Huskies had more talent than the Wolverines. Clearly, I was wrong. After yesterday, I'd say that on-balance, for every position but quarterback, the teams are pretty equal, maybe with Michigan grabbing a slight edge. But holy hell what a difference that quarterback makes. Video I had seen of Robinson didn't even come close to doing justice to the monster that he was yesterday. I don't care if UConn always struggles against mobile QBs, Robinson is something special.
The good: Michigan fans and Michigan Stadium. I can't say enough good things about the Michigan fans I met in Ann Arbor yesterday. They were a fantastic, friendly and knowledgeable bunch that created an incredibly welcoming and fun atmosphere. Inside the stadium I think the contingent of Husky fans acquitted themselves nicely, but they were completely overwhelmed by the size and passion of the Wolverine crowd. A fantastic experience all around.
"Obviously, I'm pleased with the victory." The stats were pleasant, though maybe not a surprise. The only penalty in the game came on the first drive, and there were no turnovers in the game. Third down conversions were pretty good at 14/19. "Our goal offensively was no turnovers and execute, and I think we did that for the most part."
At the last team meeting last night, Rodriguez could tell that the team was ready to get out there and play.
"We were halfway down the tunnel" for Brock's walk. It was a touching moment because they know the whole story.
"When they announced 113 thousand - I normally don't pay attention, but by that time the game was pretty much under control" Rodriguez thought it was amazing to have that many fans at the game.
RR didn't realize Denard ran the ball 29 times. He was really sharp passing, with only three incompletions. There are a few things that he can fix after watching film, but his decision-making was great for a guy in his first start. Denard and the rest of the backs did a great job running North and South instead of moving around laterally.
Denard showed a lot of toughness, and he'll only keep getting stronger as he grows. Michael Shaw and Vincent Smith showed toughness as well. "It's a good physical team we played, and UConn's gonna win a lot of games this year." Is there anything about Denard that reminds Rodriguez of Pat White? "Yeah, he runs fast." He also has a sense of feel for the game, and maturity. "If he can carry it 29 times for 200 yards, he'll carry it 29 times again." He probably won't be able to carry that many times so effectively in every game. Rodriguez would like him to carry it a little bit less.
Denard has been showing his potential since the Wolverines recruited him. "That's why we signed him." In the spring, he took another step forward. His experience last year helped, but spring practice helped him understand. "He'll hit some bumps in the road, and he's going to play against a lot of good people, and there's going to be mistakes made." The key is minimizing those mistakes.
"I knew, most of the guys knew, and I don't think it was probably a big secret" that Denard would be the starter. The goal in practice is to get all three guys better, and they've done that. In fall camp, Denard solidified himself as the guy who should take the first reps.
"Part of it is just going from a true freshman to second-year player, and understanding the offense." All the QBs can make all the throws they need.
Will Denard start against Notre Dame? "Stay tuned. I think you'll see him starting."
Devin came in after Denard's injury "Because that was a coaches' decision."
If the team doesn't turn over the ball, they'll have a chance to win. They haven't held onto it in the past, so the key is to take care of it this year.
The wind was a big factor in the game. "I think it was a factor somewhat, particularly in the kicking game."
"I felt, from the first series, on that long drive, that we had some fast guys in the space that they may have problems with."
"I will enjoy the next three hours and ten minutes. Try to get me five hours of sleep tonight, and my wife will probably get a chance to sleep a bit tonight." The program has been through a lot, but the focus has never wavered. They have tonight to enjoy the win, but after that, it's Notre Dame time.
After last year's disappointing finish, it was important to start the season on the right foot. "I want our guys to get some confidence." The key now is to maintain the level of intensity.
The defense played hard and tackled well. "We gave up a couple big plays, the one on the tipped pass that the guy made a good play on." The defense had to be ready, because UConn was playing at a fast tempo.
"I'd like to score more than 30, but I like the fact when you don't have to punt." It was good to get Will Hagerup some experience on his only punt of the day, though.
"Everybody likes a win. Everything is better. The food tastes better, you're in a better mood, everybody's happy." Michigan's 110,000 fans (RR estimates there were 3,000 cheering for UConn) deserved the win. The goal and expectation at Michigan is to win championships, but there's a process to get there.
Brendan Gibbons's missed extra point was a snap/hold issue. The missed field goal was due to a stiff wind knocking it short. Rodriguez was going to kick another field goal at the end, but though they'd have a chance to get the first down and run out the clock. "Seth Broekhuizen is still battling for the job."
"One of the goals as a coach when you coach college football is for your players to truly enjoy the experience of being a student-athlete." It's easier to do that with a win.
James Rogers was really poised, and made a couple nice plays. "We're probably going to kick ourselves watching the film defensively, because it looked like we had a couple opportunities to get some BIG big plays: interceptions and something like that, and we just missed out on the ball." The secondary was well-prepared.
Jeremy Gallon's fumbled punt was a tough one. "He's going to be a very good punt returner. Terrence Robinson will be fine too." Both guys will still play in the return game, though Rodriguez was not pleased with the overall play of the unit today.
Obi Ezeh's fumble recovery was a huge play.
The only real injury was Carvin Johnson "I don't know what his status is." (Afterwards, it was revealed he's day-to-day with a sprained MCL). Junior Hemingway's hamstring is injured, but "our hope is that he'll be able to go this week." Terry Talbott is still working through a clearinghouse eligibility issue.
"They practiced hard, and they've got a chip on their shoulder; they've got some things to prove. Hopefully today was the start of something good."
Winning the home opener is a big deal, but there's a lot more season to go. "They're just going to go back and work hard - and I know they will. We've got a big game next week; let's see how it goes. But I'll tell you what: I love the start, love the start."
On Denard Robinson: "I'll tell you what, he's the fastest guy on a football field that I've ever seen." His toughness in taking a bunch of hits against a big UConn team is underrated, as well. He can outrun guys even when they have the angle on him. His passing stats were as impressive as his running. "If you think too much about the run, he's gonna burn you."
There will always be critics, even with a big win. "We'll let [the plaers and coaches] enjoy this, because they deserve it."
The Stadium Rededication was designed to be special, which was the reason for the multiple flyovers, fireworks, etc. Brandon challenged the marketing team to come up with some special things.
"Brock is an inspiration to this team. He's got a share of this victory today, too." When he touched the banner, "I held it together pretty well until that moment, and I'll tell you why. I sat with him, we planned this whole thing. I told him how we needed to make this happen and he was great about it. I'm getting ready to leave, and he kinda called me over and said 'Mr. Brandon, would it be OK if I touched the banner?' That's what he wanted to do, and that's what he did."
The big victory felt good, because that's what the team has been working hard to achieve. "We just wanted to come out and just play."
The first touchdown run "felt a little bit weird because I was like on my injury, coming out and just catching the ball. I wasn't expecting to break that many tackles and just head upfield and score." The knee is 100%, and even Vincent was a little surprised by that.
With the team so focused, they're able to run the offense at a faster tempo. They knew which plays were going to be effective against the UConn defense. The team has been running that tempo in practice, so they were ready to play that fast.
On Denard: "I knew what he can do, and he just needed to be put in the right positions and come out and just play." The offensive line did a great job clearing the holes. Smith didn't think Denard would run that ball 29 times. Despite the heavy workload, "he always gets up. Very tough."
Denard's first start was pretty much everything he's dreamed about. "I've got my offensive line to thank, and my coaches for putting me in the right situation."
The quarterbacks found out last night that Denard would be the starter. Rodriguez also told the other guys to be ready. "I was just playing well, and I'm going to continue to play well. That's how it gonna be." Despite that, Denard's not guaranteed to start next week.
Setting the QB rushing record: "That's crazy. That's a dream come true, I guess."
Denard didn't know how many times he'd be carrying the ball, but he was ready to do whatever the coaches asked of him. "Coach told me to be ready, and I was ready."
Denard didn't have first-game jitters, because he saw the field a lot last year, even though this was his first start. "My team, my offensive linemen, all the seniors told me 'we got your back.'" He din't have to try to win the game by himself.
The biggest change from Denard 2009 to Denard 2010 is knowing the offense more, staying focused more, and "giving my all in the offseason."
UConn's players were trying to take Denard's shoes at the bottom of the pile. They got one of them on one play. "Trying to slow me down, I guess. Or slow down the offense, because the offensive line was just killin' 'em."
"I knew I always could throw the ball, that was never a question. It was just, getting the offense down at, that's basically what it was."
Denard wouldn't say what the design of the play was for Terrance Robinson's 43-yard reception. After leaving the podium, Denard (jokingly) told Rodriguez that the media was trying to steal the play.
Denard took a shot to the hip when he had to leave the game for a play. "I feel alright, pretty good, pretty good." He had confidence that he was going to be able to come back in.
The adrenaline takes over during games, so Denard doesn't really feel the nerves.
"It was a pretty good feeling" to have the offense rolling along in rhythm.
Are you going to wear shoelaces against Notre Dame? "(laughing) I'm not changing anything."
"It was definitely a tribute to our coaches and our preparation" to beat a good team like UConn. It was good to finally have a chance to show everyone what the team is capable of.
"James played a heck of a game, man. I'm proud of him, man." He's been waiting a long time to play, so it's good for him to get a chance.
On forcing UConn's only fumble of the day: "I just put my hat on the ball. When you're in position to make plays, the coaches put you in position to make plays, good things happen."
On Denard: "Aw man, he's a crazy animal to tame. He gives every defense problems." It's good to see him get a chance to show off some of what he can do.
this game is a step in the right direction. "We're at no point to stop working. We've still got a lot of things we've gotta do." A good game for the defense should be a mental boost for the young defense.
"You're blocking, and two seconds later you just see Denard 20 yards upfield. There's nothing better than seeing that."
"It's amazing how far he's progressed in such a short amount of time, and really without any true game experience, and now he's just building and building and building on what he can do." His patience and knowledge of the game are the biggest jumps.
The goal of the offense is to get first downs all up and down the field, and wearing down the defense. There was no specific key to converting third downs, everyone just did their job and worked well.
It was nice to see a lot of young guys get out and have a chance to perform.
29 carries won't wear Denard down. "He's just a tough kid. He's tougher than I am. He'll push through anything."
"We were hungry, we were so hungry." The team was hungry last year too, but the defense didn't pay as well.
When people talk about the defense not being any good "if they can give even, a little bit more of a morsel of motivation, then we're just gonna come out and do what we did today."
Getting stops and turnovers at critical times is huge. Getting the 3-and-out right at the beginning of the game really boosted the defense's confidence. "It's great. Confidence is obviously a big thing. The whole team is going in hungry, and nervous too. So, winning this gives us a huge confidence boost."
It was nice to see somebody else chase Denard. "I had to chase that guy all spring, and let me tell you, it's not easy catching that guy."
There were no real surprises from UConn. "I felt like what our coach told us was exactly what happened."
"I'd say in spring, we were molding into what we would become, and what you see today." That was more of a learning experience, and fall camp is when the intensity came in.
Craig's hybrid position is a perfect fit for a guy with a hybrid skill set like him. He can take pass drops, rush the quarterback, etc.
I hate breaking news, or debunking things (see Sam McGuffie transfer), so I don't know what's going to happen with Tate. I spoke to his Dad, and here's some quotes from our conversation. He was adamant that Tate is not transferring. These can all be found on my twitter page, too.
"As Tate's father, and someone who would advise him, a transfer isn't something I want to be a part of. Sometimes you think, man, do they want him there, but we don't think that's the situation. Rich Rodriguez has also been straight with us."
"Tate knows Michigan is the biggest and best stage out there. I know he has mixed emotions, but this is in his blood."
"He was feeling a little like a caged animal on the sidelines. He knew the cameras were on him, and that they were looking for an emotional reaction, so he was trying to hide his face with the towel. He was not pouting. The cameras kept prodding, and egging him on, so he got upset about it."
"This is a good growing experience. The way I see it, it's a long season. You saw today that they're going to need two quarterbacks. The Big Ten schedule is a tough schedule."
"We knew some disciplinary actions were coming down the pipe, so we kind of saw some things that others didn't. Not everyone knows and sees everything that goes on on the inside."
"This is like a boxing match, and the advice I give him is ride it out baby, ride it out. Those who stay will be champions."
"I talked to him after the game briefly, and I think we're ok. All I want to do is think positive of this. Tomorrow is a new day for him."
"I really think Rich Rodriguez is trying to make a true leader out of him on and off the field. Again, no one sees everything that goes on inside. Tate is a competitive, emotional kid that was having mixed emotions. He was happy as hell that they won, but upset he couldn't be in the game."
we're back. woo!
For most of the first half I felt like Emperor Palpatine in Return of the Jedi:
The thing does end up blowing up, sort of like Michigan's 2009 season, but if one of UConn's coaches didn't turn to another and scream "It's a trap!" I'll eat my hat.
AND NOW THE MUPPETS:
And you can't have one without the other…
IT'S A TRAP.