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Iconic Performance Week: Denard Robinson heads improbable comeback over Notre Dame

It was a day to remember for Michigan fans.

Notre Dame v Michigan Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images
Daniel Plocher Dan Plocher contributes to Maize n’ Brew in several areas including podcasts, game previews/recaps, and various YouTube videos.

Few players in Michigan football history were as electrifying and dynamic as Denard Robinson. With a flip of a switch, he could completely turn the outcome of games. This week is Iconic Performance Week here at Maize n Brew and it is fitting to kick it off with Shoelace, the biggest star at quarterback position in the 2010 decade.

Let’s look back to 2011 in the first year of the Brady Hoke era when the Wolverines hosted the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the renewal of their historic rivalry. This was the first time the Irish had come to Ann Arbor since the 2007 season, and it was the first-ever night game in one of college football’s most renowned stadiums; the Big House.

The game did not quite start as planned. Notre Dame jumped to a two-score lead and Michigan netted only 22 yards in the first quarter including an interception thrown by Robinson. It was the first of three picks on the day by the Michigan quarterback.

Notre Dame, led by Tommy Rees, kept taking advantage of sloppy Michigan play and took a 17-7 lead into halftime. After exchanging punts and turnovers to open the third quarter, the game looked all but sealed as Rees tossed his second touchdown of the game to T.J. Jones. Michigan now trailed 24-7 with time winding down in the third quarter.

At this point, the Michigan offense had only accumulated 143 total yards of offense and chances were looking bleak. But, you could never could the Wolverines out with Shoelace behind center.

With just two minutes remaining, Robinson made a game-changing play on the first play of the drive. He side-stepped a potential sack, and while being brought to the ground, he completed a laser pass to Junior Hemingway who nearly took it to the house:

That play ignited new energy into the Wolverines offense and was the perfect example of the resilience that came in the fourth quarter from the maize and blue.

In the first play of that now fabled fourth quarter, Robinson made a heads up play as fullback Stephen Hopkins fumbled the ball on the one yard-line.

The game could have been over right then and there, but instead, Robinson spotted the ball on the ground, snagged it, and walked untouched into the endzone for his first touchdown of the fourth quarter. It topped off what was their longest drive of the season to that point.

After a big third-and-short stop by the Michigan defense, Shoelace and the offense took the field again, now down just two scores. After a couple of nice plays on the drive, Michigan found themselves in the redzone and Robinson threw up a 50-50 ball that Jeremy Gallon came down with for a touchdown.

The Notre Dame lead was cut down to only three points. Now in a panic, the Irish offense returned to the field and put together a solid drive where they marched over 50 yards and took the ball all the way inside the Michigan 10-yard line.

Under pressure, the ball slipped out of Rees’ hands early in his throwing motion and the Wolverines picked it up off the turf:

On the very first play after the turnover, Robinson, under pressure, slung a beautiful ball to Hemingway deep down the middle in double coverage for a net 60-yard play after a roughing the passer penalty.

The next play, Robinson threw his third interception of the game, and Notre Dame had a solid chance of making a game-clinching drive. However, they were held short on another third-down run by the Michigan defense and were forced to punt after a three-and-out.

What ensued was potentially the most chaotic two minutes of play in Michigan Wolverines’ football history.

Robinson went head-on with Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o on a third-and-short QB draw play and snuck a first down by the tip of the football. The next two plays were passes of 20-plus yards from Robinson. The second of those two was this perfectly executed screen pass to Vincent Smith to give the Wolverines the lead:

The Fighting Irish had just over a minute to respond and wasted no time. Rees led the team on a 4-play, 60-yard drive ending in a 29-yard touchdown to pass to Theo Riddick. It looked all but over with the Michigan offense taking over with only 23 seconds remaining.

Somehow, the Notre Dame defense lost Jeremy Gallon in coverage, but Denard Robinson knew exactly where he was. After some maneuvering of the pocket, Robinson heaved the ball to a wide-open Gallon who took the ball 64 yards and into the endzone.

Down three here, a field goal was certainly an option for the Wolverines to send this one into extras, but Hoke opted to trust his red hot offense. It paid off and set the stage for one of the most magnificent comebacks in Michigan football history as Robinson found Roy Roundtree for six.

Michigan scored 28 of their 35 points in the fourth quarter and Robinson accounted for 226 yards and 4 touchdowns in the final 15 minutes of action. Despite three interceptions, Robinson had a career day with 446 total yards of offense and 5 touchdowns.

The win set the tone for the remainder of the season as the Wolverines also toppled the Ohio State Buckeyes after seven-straight losses to their arch-rivals. It was also the most recent win that Michigan has had against the team from down south. The team headed into bowl season with a 10-2 record.

With a Brandon Gibbons kick as time expired, the Wolverines won the 2012 Sugar Bowl over Virginia Tech as Michigan finished the year at 11-2, their best record in five seasons.