Perhaps it wasn't in the full capacity we had hoped, but Denard still managed to give us some of that vintage Denard magic on Senior Day:
[For the rest of the Iowa game in gifs—yes, including more Denard—hit THE JUMP]
“It was a good game. A good football win. The seniors got to go up the tunnel singing The Victors for the last time in the stadium. We put a lot of emphasis on that because of the struggles and what they go through when you look at a guy who’s been here four or five years. So it was great for them and great for our team that the younger guys, younger classmen went out there and competed for them. That’s an expectation. The guys who are seniors who were playing in their last game at Michigan Stadium, I thought they did a nice job of going out there and playing 60 minutes of football.”
How bittersweet is it to see your seniors play at home for the last time?
“It’s always difficult because I’m a very emotional person, good or bad. So pick your poison. But we get very tight and close with the players because we are there to help them grow. From a personal life standpoint to an academic, to social, to everything else, they’re one of your sons, and that’s how we look at it.”
When did you make the decision for Denard to play, and when did you decide on his role?
“I didn’t make the decision for him to play. Once he got cleared, he felt good healthwise. We had talked about doing this for 18 months. You know, Al, when he got home last week after the Northwestern game, that night he had nine plays ready. And then we put six more in. I think Al does a tremendous job of taking your personnel and the playmakers that you have on your team and having the ability to get them the ball and let their god-given ability take over.”
How much do you know about Fitz’s situation?
“He’s in the hospital now and he’s had surgery. I think we’ll leave it at that for now and make sure -- his mother wasn’t here, he had two brothers here -- but we’ll leave it for that.”
How important was it to try out the Devin-Denard offense before the Ohio State game?
“You know, next week really never had anything to do with it. We had to beat Iowa. We’re still in a championship race. We wanted to win this game for our seniors and also because we’re still in a race for the championship.”
Was there any thought of using Denard as a passer or did you just decide to give him a limited role?
“Well, I think it would be unjust for us not to use him in the best way that we thought would let him be the most successful. He’s throwing the ball a little bit, not throwing it a lot, so we thought this was the best. This kid has put up with a lot of criticism at times and also he’s been praised at times --”
[Someone’s phone goes off, ring tone is “The Victors”]
“That’s a good song. He’s a competitive guy who loves the game and loves his teammates, and he showed great maturity the last three weeks and great leadership.”
Along those lines, did you have to do any convincing with Denard to tell him that he wouldn’t play quarterback?
“No … He wanted to play. Where could he help us best playing?”
Can he throw the ball?
“Yeah. But not as well as he’d like to.”
Can you talk about Denard and how hard it might be for a senior quarterback to not call plays in the huddle?
“Well, I think it tells you what kind of kid he is. What kind of a young man, I should say. And his development, his growth, his character, and the integrity -- this kid had some unbelievable moments here at Michigan and Michigan Stadium and have had some moments that weren’t so good, but he’s grown within this team, and this is his team. Him and Kovacs, all the seniors have a big piece of it, and I know that Devin said it the other day: he has been the face of Michigan football.”
Devin had six touchdowns…
“Say that again? I’m sorry.”
Devin had six touchdowns. They looked pretty easy for him. Can you tell us about his development?
“Um. He had six touchdowns?”
He had six touchdowns.
“Did he really. See, I don’t remember that stuff.”
He was pretty good.
“I -- well, I think you answered the question. He was pretty good.”
Did you hear the crowd chanting “Beat Ohio”?
“Yeah, and I said to someone next to me, ‘We need to beat Iowa.’ ”
You haven’t lost at home in two years. Is there something to that?
“I think there’s always, and you see it all kinds of sports, playing at home is something that’s treated us well. Familiarity with everything. I wish I could tell you. I just think there’s a comfort, I guess.”
Have your teams always been so much better at home?
“I have no clue. Again, it’s something that I don’t think about.”
Is this your offense moving forward, or could Denard move back to quarterback full time?
“Um … I don’t know. I guess he could. I don’t know. It’s an option.”
When was Denard cleared, and what did he have to do to get cleared? Can he grip the ball?
When was he cleared?
“What’s today? Saturday? Probably six days ago.”
Is he cleared for good now, or do you have to go through another process? Is he day to day?
“He might be day to day.”
You talked about being an emotional person. You’ve just beaten Iowa, but what does the Ohio State game mean to you?
“It’s fun. Because it’s a great rivalry and there’s a lot of respect on both sides for those programs. For both programs. It’s fun. You asked? It’s fun. It’s going to be fun.”
You had a lot of success in vertical passing. How come?
“I think some play action set it up. And then I think Gallon made a terrific catch with concentration. The ball was where it needed to be, and it was defended pretty decently. I think one of the best throws and catches was an out on the sideline to Roy. I thought Roy did a nice job with his hands. That’s one thing I said this last week, but I thought Roy is catching the ball more with his hands and not with his body as he had earlier.”
When did you see that change for him?
“Eh, shoot. I don’t know. Some time. Probably in practice.”
It looked like you threw out things for Ohio State to think about. Is that something you planned to do?
“If I was that smart to do that, I would have done that. But no, we were trying to beat Iowa. We were trying to put our players -- because it would be selfish of us as coaches for us not to give these kids the best chance to win a football game. And whatever we do offensively or defensively or prepare, if we don’t do that then we’re short-selling this program and these seniors and these kids, and we’re not going to do that.”
You said you’ve been planning this offense since 18 months ago. What prevented you from using it earlier?
“How would I answer this …”
“Um. I would say, in doing it, it would have been done kind of like we did last year a little bit more when we had both of them on the field. And we just added to it. And we just added to it. And there’s a maturity level for everybody to be able to handle those things.”
So do you mean Denard at quarterback and Devin at receiver?
“Maybe. Sort of.”
Synergy between Gardner and the receivers?
“Yeah, and I think there’s a lot of truth to all of that. But I think our front’s blocking better. Part of it is the play-action game. Part of it is the play-action out of the I-back. I think that’s helped.”
How tough is it for the defense to prepare for your new formations?
Well, you have to spend some time on it. So sometimes that’s the biggest thing. You’re spending time maybe on a formation that was run maybe three times and thinking, okay, what can you do out of it, what can they do out of it? So as a coach, you’re spending your time, and then you’re taking practice time. So it’s time. And there’s one thing none of us have, is a lot of time.”
How confident are you that your team can quickly move on to Ohio State?
“Well they’re going to have to. I’m pretty confident in how our seniors have led and how we’ve gone to work every Sunday, win and lose.”
“Yeah. You know … we missed some sacks. We don’t tackle. They’re knocking us off the line of scrimmage earlier. It was awful.”
“We thought he’d be ready, but he’s not.”
Gary Moeller was honored today --
“Yeah, it was cool.”
What did that mean to you?
“Means a lot. Coach Mo as a person, as a coach, as a man. Means a lot. Means a lot to Michigan.”
In a way, it was fitting.
Denard Robinson's Michigan Stadium career did not begin according to script. It started with a fumbled snap, then became something magnificent.
It ended with him unable to throw a football, but still very able to take the Big House's collective breath away.
Robinson trotted out onto the field with the starters not as a quarterback, but as a tailback, taking a handoff from understudy Devin Gardner for three yards. Over the course of the game, he'd accumulate 98 rushing yards on 13 carries and add two receptions—the first of his career—for an additional 24 yards, lining up everywhere from quarterback to wingback to receiver in a 42-17 victory. While it wasn't the ending anyone had hoped for, there was at least still a little of the Denard magic left, especially on a 40-yard run to end the first quarter that featured an ankle-breaking juke of Iowa safety Tanner Miller.
Once again, the star was Gardner, who accounted for six touchdowns—coming on Michigan's first six possessions—with three through the air and three on the ground. Iowa's soft zone defense looked helpless in its attempts to stop the Wolverine passing game; Gardner finished 18-of-23 for 314 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception, with all three scores meeting little Hawkeye resistance. Jeremy Gallon had a career-high 133 receiving yards on five receptions, while Roy Roundtree turned in a second consecutive stellar performance with five catches for 83 yards and a touchdown.
Al Borges used the threat of Gardner and Robinson to give Iowa's defense fits, perhaps giving a glimpse of what's to come in Columbus next week. A triple(!) reverse to Denard unfortunately was called back due to a hold. The threat of a Denard jet sweep opened up a cavernous hole for a Vincent Smith throwback screen, which the senior back took in for a fitting senior day touchdown. The most interesting wrinkle met a most unfortunate end when Fitzgerald Toussaint suffered a gruesome leg injury after taking an option pitch from Robinson.*
The defense gave up a score on Iowa's second drive before stiffening up, allowing just 221 yards in the final three quarters as an endless array of dumpoffs to tight ends and running backs couldn't sustain any real threat. Greg Davis was Greg Davis, Greg Mattison was Greg Mattison, and that went as expected. With Desmond Morgan out with an undisclosed injury, James Ross may have established himself as the weakside linebacker of the future, finishing with 12 tackles (9 solo) while showing advanced instincts and sideline-to-sideline speed.
Aside from the pregame festivities and quarterback-related dramatics, it was a mundane beating of a hapless Iowa squad. That much, at least, went according to plan. And while Denard Robinson's Big House finale may not have had a fairytale ending, there are worse ways to go out than with a few more virtuoso runs and a resounding victory.
Of course, Robinson's story isn't over yet. In Columbus, the stage is set for one final twist.
*There's no official word on Toussaint's injury except that he's currently undergoing surgery (via Hoke), but the ESPN replays and this photo from Eric—WARNING: GRAPHIC—tell an ugly story. Best wishes for a speedy recovery, Fitz.
monumental; pay no attention to the dates plz
Something's been missing from Michigan gamedays since the free programs ceased being economically viable: scientific gameday predictions that are not at all preordained by the strictures of a column in which one writer takes a positive tack and the other a negative one… something like Punt-Counterpunt.
By Ken “Sky” Walker
As I sit at my desk, I have to admit “Punt” is one tired puppy. Week after week of nonstop work is grinding me down. I don’t take time off—arranging coverage is more trouble than it’s worth. I’m not earning any vacation time because I’ve maxed out on what I’m allowed to accrue. This is a problem that needs a solution. It’s time to train an apprentice.
Making the pitch to my boss went well. He gives me the green light and the proverbial pat-on-the-back for all my efforts. I’m feeling good, looking forward to have someone that can step in for me when needed and not screw everything up. No more feeling guilty over taking a day off. No more dreading what awaits me upon my return. Having things done the way I want and need it to be. This is great! Then it hits me—did I just volunteer to train my eventual replacement?
While I contemplate the pros and cons of my decision, it seems the Michigan football team is facing a similar situation. We have a record setting quarterback who is observing what amounts to a medical leave. We’re missing him, his talent and hope for a speedy return, but a total recovery is first and foremost. Then there is the apprentice. There have been some instances where his lack of experience is evident, but there have also been several “Wow!” moments. He’s stepped up and done an admirable job.
All of this has to have many Michigan fans wondering “What if?” What if our late receiver had spent more practice time being an apprentice? What if the other “legends jersey” wearing receiver had rounded into his expected form a bit sooner? What if Denard’s injury improves enough for him to play? Give Robinson the nod early to try and shake off the rust? Or stick with Gardener and get him as much experience as possible prior to the show down in Columbus?
Something that doesn’t seem to be in question is the outcome of this Saturday’s game. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz brings another ho hum Hawkeye team to the Big House. This seems to be the new normal for the Big Ten’s second highest paid coach. I guess Coach Ferentz feels he owes the Wolverines one – their interest in him a few years ago has paid off handsomely. How no current Michigan senior has had a victory over Iowa is beyond belief.
Now don’t hold it against Counterpunt when he picks Iowa to surprise us. He’s just mistaken the Hawkeyes for his beloved “Stillers”. You can take the boy out of Pittsburgh, but you can’t take the Pittsburgh out of the boy.
Michigan 35 - Iowa 17
By Nick RoUMel
My co-worker Alex Dieck is dating her high school sweetheart, Michigan cornerback Steve Wilson. Steve starred at QB at Lakeland High School (White Lake, Michigan), and has since switched to cornerback and special teams. He is also majoring in cellular and molecular biology. Brady Hoke told him he was going to cure cancer someday.
Last week in practice, Hoke let Steve mimic Northwestern QB Kain Colter. Steve performed it to perfection, enabling the Wolverine defense to increasingly contain Colter as the game progressed—and ultimately stuff him in overtime to seal the thrilling victory.
I will look for Steve (#20) on the opening kickoff. However, his special teams play has resulted in Alex's growing concern over Steve’s well being. Football is played by players growing bigger and faster every year. A recent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette analysis of All-State high school rosters over the last 70 years, found that the average offensive lineman grew from 178 lbs. in 1940 to 273 in 2008. On the defensive side of the ball, linemen grew almost as much.
Steve is 5’11”, 179 lbs. according to the official roster. He plays on kickoffs, deemed to be the most violent play in football. ESPN says, “Take two large, fast men and give them long running starts at each other, and their collisions won't be far from car wrecks. Kickoffs are particularly hard on brains. In college football, for instance, 1 in 5 injuries during kickoffs is a concussion; during other phases of play, it's 1 out of 14.”
Alex can’t get over the assortment of injuries that Steve and his football roommates have compiled over the course of the season’s first ten games. But football players love to hit. I remember a story about pro football Hall of Famer Jack Lambert, when he was a skinny but fierce linebacker for Kent State being scouted by the Steelers’ Tim Rooney. The fields were muddy, so the team practiced in the parking lot. Rooney watched in amazement as Lambert went flying after his teammates, tackling them on the gravel, oblivious to the damage to his own body.
Today’s opponent, Iowa, famously painted its visiting locker room pink during the Hayden Fry era. Fry believed pink would have a calming effect, and make opponents less violent on the field. It may have worked. Until Fry arrived in 1979, Michigan had won every game at Iowa since 1962; after the paint job, they won only 1 out of the next 4.
Michigan has had trouble with Iowa lately no matter where the game is played, dropping the last three. But today is different, because Steve Wilson didn’t play last year. With no heed to his injuries and worried girlfriend, Steve – along with the rest of our banged-up Wolverines – will dominate today’s game physically on both sides of the ball.
Just be sure to keep your helmet securely fastened, Steve. We still need a cure for cancer.
MICHIGAN 21, IOWA 17