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And Here's to You, Mr. Robinson

Sep 11, 2010 – 10:00 PM
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John Walters

John Walters %BloggerTitle%

Denard RobinsonSOUTH BEND, IND. -- The nation's leading rusher is ... the quarterback at Michigan?

You got it.

Denard Robinson, making his first start in the Wolverines white road jersey, rushed for 258 yards and passed for another 244 as Michigan beat Notre Dame 28-24. That gives Robinson, a backup all last year to classmate Tate Forcier, a 227.5 rushing yards per game average after two weeks against a pair of respectable, albeit unranked, teams (Connecticut and Notre Dame).

Elvis Grbac. Chad Henne. Tom Brady. Denard Robinson, that's a whole different set of wheels.

The sophomore's performance may be too fresh in the memory to allow for proper perspective, but all Robinson did was break the single-game total offense record by a Fighting Irish opponent by nearly 20 percent. His 502 total yards were 94.4 percent of Michigan's offensive total (532 yards) and were 82 more than the previous greatest single effort versus the Fighting Irish, that being the 402 yards posted by quarterback Steve Walsh of Miami in the classic 1988 No. 1 vs. No. 2 meeting in South Bend.

Robinson has now rushed the ball 57 times and passed it 62 in this young season. He has yet to throw an interception or lose a fumble. And, of course, he has yet to lose a game. I think we know who had the 'monster Saturday', right, Bristol?

What We Learned

1. The Heisman favorite is indeed a dual threat quarterback from the Big Ten, but he comes from the other half of the most famous rivalry in college football. Not only did Robinson pile up those impressive stats -- while emerging from pile-ups intact if not unscathed -- but he led the Wolverines on a last-minute game-winning drive against the Irish. With upcoming home games versus Massachusetts and Bowling Green, the first-year starter should continue to lead the pack in the Heisman race. And, as he said regarding his 87-yard touchdown run: "Once I get in the open field, I don't wanna get caught from behind."

Robinson's biggest challenge, should Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez continue to use him this way, may be survival. He carried the ball 28 times on Saturday (one less carry than the previous week), but his counterpart, Dayne Crist, had to leave the game for nearly an entire half after taking a shot on his first carry of the game (which went for 19 yards).

"We tell him, 'Just run, baby, run,'" said Michigan quarterbacks coach Rod Smith.

"I'll let coach (Rodriguez) figure out whether (28 carries per game) that's the case for 10 games," said Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly. "Coach Rodriguez knows his team better than I do. But we hit him pretty hard today."

2. Kelly was able to use a fifth-string quarterback and still win at Cincinnati, but he is not yet able to do so in South Bend. After Crist had to leave the game with "blurry vision" (Kelly may be splitting hairs between blurred vision and a concussion, but we'll leave that to the MDs), freshman Tommy Rees and junior Nate Montana were unable to lead the Irish to any first-half points. Both threw interceptions, although Rees should be given a pass on his (only) pass since it's not exactly fair to make someone's first collegiate play a flea-flicker. "I did a poor job of preparing them," Kelly conceded afterward.

3. That, for the first time since 2006, linebackers are setting the pace for Notre Dame's defense. Inside backers Manti Te'o (13 tackles) and Carlo Calabrese (10) paced the Fighting Irish in tackles for the second consecutive game. The last time a linebacker led the Irish in tackles at season's end was four years ago when Maurice Crum had 100. Speaking of impressive defensive play, Michigan safety Jordan Kovacs, who walked on just last season, had 10 tackles and one interception.

4. That Crist's best friend on the team, tight end Kyle Rudolph, is also his favorite target. For the second consecutive game the 6-foot-6 junior led the Irish in receptions (eight on Saturday and five last week) and his 95-yard go-ahead TD reception with 3:41 to play was the second-longest reception (Blair Kiel to Joe Howard, 96 yards, in 1981) in school history. Meanwhile, Michael Floyd, a first-team preseason All-American by some publications, has yet to score a touchdown or have a significant impact on a game.

5. That Rodriguez appears to be off the seat of heat in Ann Arbor. The Wolverines are staring at a 5-0 start when Michigan State visits on Oct. 9 (pending Denard Robinson's survival) and save their two most difficult games, at Wisconsin and at Ohio State, for the final two weeks of the season. RichRod, go ahead and get the two-year gym membership.

He Said What?

"The hit (on Crist) I did not see. It was more of his head hit the ground on a run. And 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 him back in the game."
-- Brian Kelly, Notre Dame coach

Who Stepped Up

I believe you know the answer to that one.

Stat of the Game

502 total yards, Denard Robinson, Michigan. Stat of the season in college football thus far this season.

Bizarre Stat of the Game

Notre Dame's second-leading rusher? Nate Montana, 23 yards on four carries.

Turning Point

Robinson's 15-yard completion to slot receiver Ray Roundtree on third-and-five from the Irish 17 with 47 seconds remaining. "He (Roundtree) gave me a wink on that play before the snap," said Robinson.

It Was Over When ...

Dayne Crist's "Hail Us" passed sailed over Kyle Rudolph's arms in the end zone as the clock struck 0:00.

Did That Just Happen?

Notre Dame freshman wide receiver TJ Jones appeared to drop the ball one yard shy of the end zone on his 53-yard touchdown reception that closed the Irish to within 21-14 early in the third quarter. It was the second time in as many days (a Marshall wideout did the same thing on a 96-yard TD grab Friday night) that this unforced error appeared to occur without repercussions to the offense. You can bet that officials will make this a point of emphasis in the coming weeks.

Going Forward

The Fighting Irish almost always follow Michigan with Michigan State, and they always fail to meet the Spartans with the same intensity with which they encounter the Wolverines. Next week better be different, as Michigan State has yet another athletically gifted, physically bruising team ready for a prime-time showdown in East Lansing. The Irish are 4-9 in their last 13 meetings with Sparty ... As for Michigan, it's an big-name school followed by a MAC school in the Bigger House. Could the Maize and Blue be looking at a top 10 ranking by the end of September? It says here: Yes, they will.
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