Going into his season the consensus opinion about the Michigan Wolverines was that their offense would be electric and their defense would not be. Through two games this season, those predictions seem right on target. Somewhere lost in all the excitement of Michigan's win is a grand narrative that can eloquently sum up your feelings, my feelings, and the feelings of Michigan fans everywhere. It's a narative that tells us how the season will go, who will lead it and how it will all end. But I'll be damned if I can find the gumption to find it or write it just two games into the 2010 season.
It's just too early to make these grand proclamations. There's so little we know about the rest of our schedule. At this point it's conceivable that Michigan will enter the conference season with four wins, but after that, what next? Big Ten play opens with Indiana's potent offense. Then Michigan sees Michigan State, Iowa and travels to Happy Valley to take on Penn State. Anything can happen between now and the end of the season, so you'll forgive me if I'm a little more cautious about making proclamations about this team and this year.
Saturday's game was simply confirmation of everything we felt about this team heading into 2010. The offense is explosive. The defense is suspect. Games will be won and lost in the final minutes of this season's game more often than is healthy for anyone's cardiovacular health. There will be games where Michigan is forced to outscore a pinball machine for the Wolverines to walk away with a win. There will be games where few things make sense. But we knew this already. Saturday just confirmed it.
For the second straight week, the Michigan offense put up mind blowing numbers against a competent defense. Michigan put up 28 points (despite leaving at least 6 points on the field on missed field goals) and accumulated 532 yards of total offense. Everyone contributed. The offensive line was stellar. The running backs caught passes out of the backfield and picked up positve yars. The receivers got open, caugth critical passes, and blocked as though their lives depended on it. The offense was balanced. The effort was stellar. It was everything you could hope for.
And then some.
For the second straight week, Michigan's young quarterback dazzled the college football world. In only his second start as Michigan's unquestioned leader, Denard Robinson continues to defy expectations, as well as the laws of physics. On Saturday Robinson accounted 502 yards of total offense. To give this number some perspective, Robinson outgained every top 25 team in total offense on Saturday. He outgained second place Arkansas by 3 yards (499). At a certain point you start to run out of superlatives. The kid is awesome.
So is Michigan's offensive line. No matter how talented a running back or quarterback may be, without the aid of a great offensive line we'd never see them perform. The offensive line bulldozed the Irish, clearing the way for Robinson's record setting ground day. Again, there wasn't a pattern to which side Michigan ran to. On Robinsons 87 yard touchdown run, Michigan went right. For Robinson's game winning plunge, Michigan went left. The result was a 9.2 yard per carry average for Denard, and not to be lost in the fun, Stephen Hopkins first carry and first touchdown of his young Michigan career.
It should also be noted that the Offensive Line kept Robinson's jersey clean every time he dropped back to pass. As a result, the sophomore signal caller threw the ball an astounding 40 times in comparison to 28 rushes. Robinson had all day to find his receivers and finished the day with 24 completions for 244 yards, despite going ice cold in the second quarter when he missed on 6 straight pass attempts. But when it mattered most, they kept him clean.
Michigan's receivers, especially with the game on the line, were outstanding. You can't say enough abotu Roy Roundtree's 3rd and 5, first down catch on the Notre Dame 2 with under a minute to go. It was the very deinition of a clutch performance. Nor should anyone forget the receiving contributions of Michael Shaw and Darryl Stonum on that last drive. Six different players caught passes from Robinson on Saturday, and none of them failed to make their team proud. This is not to say there weren't issues (Roy Roundtree's dropped touchdown), but whatever mistakes they made with the ball in the air, they made up for in run blocking. Where Roundtree dropped a ball, he certainly picked up his quarterback with an outstanding block to finalize Robinson's 87 yard touchdown scamper. Martavious Odoms found running room and hauled in a 31 yarder to set up Stephen Hopkins Touchdown. The receviers were outstanding in just every facet of the game.
But it wasn't all roses. In the second half Michigan had four possessions of 4 plays or less. There were a slew of penalties, especially of the personal foul variety that cost them yards and downs. There were two missed field goals. There was a third quarter drive that started on the Notre Dame 25 and ended on the Notre Dame 34. While the outcome was rosy, the path to that final score was not.
Saturday was also confirmation that against competent teams, Michigan's offense will have to fire on all cylinders for the Wolverines to prevail. Just like we thought before the season, the margin of error is fairly slim.
Notre Dame amassed 535 yards on Saturday, 3 more than Michigan did. Sadly, 148 of Notre Dame's yards came on just two second half plays where Michigan could ill afford the breakdowns that occurred. The first occurred on Notre Dame's first possession of the second half, when Cameron Gordon broke poorly on a Crist pass, allowing T.J. Jones to walk into the endzone untouched for a 53 yard touchdown pass (though it's debatable whether the touchdown should've counted [By rule, no. In reality, it did]). The second, and least forgiveable, occurred on a 95 yard pass play to Kyle Rudolph where Rudolph (running a simple fly pattern) inexplicably got behind Cam Gordon as well. Gordon apparently saw something that brought him towards the line rather than staying in deep coverage, and the result was Michigan looking up at Notre Dame after leading the entire game. Despite failing to complete even 50% of its passing attempts Notre Dame put up 17 points in the second half, almost entirely through the air. Michigan's pass rush was almost non-existant in the second half and Notre Dame pushed Michigan to the brink.
Even on a difficult day, however, Michigan had its heroes on defense. Jonas Mouton played the best game of his Michigan career. Totalling 13 tackles, 1 TFL, and a pick. I think it's fair to say that Mouton was Michigan's best defender. Then there was Jordan Kovacs who tallied 10 tackles and a critical third quarter interception (set up by a Mouton tip). And finally, there was J.T. Floyd, who completely shut down Notre Dame's biggest star in Michael Floyd, limiting him to 66 yards on five catches, and picking off a pass to go with five tackles.
The outcome of this game is what many Wolverine fans expected. Perhaps we were a tad bit spoiled by Michigan's success shutting down UConn and expect too much from our young defense. In hindsight, that certainly appears to be the case. Even so, this team showed a toughness and a grittiness that was missing last season as they came from behind to break the Irish's hearts for the second straight year.
Grinning ear to ear, Michigan's quarterback led the type of final touchdown drive that legends are made of. As the sun perked out from the clouds on Saturday, it seemed as though there was a divine light shining down on the Irish. As it turned out, however, that light shone down on Robinson's final touchdown drive. Going 5-6 passing and rushing the ball 6 times, Robinson found a way to win.
Coming into this season, we thought we knew we had someone special at quarterback and something special in this team. Saturday was just confirmation of it.