Saturday, November 17, 2012

Michigan-Iowa: A tribute to Denard Robinson

A good screenwriter could not have scripted Senior Day at Michigan Stadium in a more dramatic and satisfying way. Before a sellout crowd for the 244th consecutive time, it was a chance for the Wolverine Nation to honor the 23 members of the Class of 2012.
But there was one special member upon whom all eyes were focused. So when longtime quarterback Denard Robinson trotted onto the field, lining up as a starting tailback for the first time since Nov. 14, 2009 (vs. Wisconsin), and people knowing it would be his final footsteps in the Big House, he received a well-deserved standing ovation.
It was the crowd’s way of saying “Thank you” for the young man’s accomplishments in a U-M uniform, and much, much more. For more than any individual, he is responsible for the resurgence of Michigan football over the past four years – for bringing the university off its own “cliff.”
When Robinson arrived as Rich Rodriguez’s star recruit (having convinced Robinson to switch his commitment from Urban Meyer’s Florida), the program was sinking into blandness and possible mediocrity. It was a sub-.500 squad with no identity (other than confused all-too-often with a porous defense and complicated offense).
In stepped the young man with the dreadlocks, who took the starting job as a sophomore, and overnight, brought the national spotlight to Ann Arbor with his blazing speed, last-second victories and stunning upbeat personality. Within weeks, fans across America knew who “Shoelace” was and why.
He became the face of the football program, and was the face of the entire athletic department. He was seen everywhere – in Crisler Arena in full-throated support of the hoopsters (who also seemed to suddenly improve coinciding with Robinson’s arrival). And since the economic engine is driven by football revenue, people buying no. 16 jerseys by the boatload were making things hum like a perfectly-tuned barbershop quartet.
His statistics will be the new yardsticks by which future Wolverines are measured; others across the country, who carry similar abilities, will be judged by what Robinson did in his time here. In 20 years, I’d hope his uniform becomes a “legacy number” to honor all his accomplishments.
No, he never won a national championship, but he did win a BCS game, the Sugar Bowl. He didn’t win a Heisman Trophy, but he was nominated as a sophomore. He didn’t win every game he started, but he never ever quit on any teammate!
There might be many Denard “haters” across the land and I feel sorry for them; they will not truly appreciate what they’ve had to watch for the past three years until he is no longer residing or playing in Ann Arbor.
So this is a chance, one last time, to toast a young man who has performed (on and off the field) as a true MICHIGAN MAN!
As was clearly shown last Saturday, in the easy 45-17 Wolverine win over Iowa, junior Devin Gardner is in control of the offense as its quarterback. His three short rushing touchdowns and three additional scoring passes fully announced that 2013 will be the Noontime in the Gardner of Good and Great.
Until the fourth quarter, it was a perfect performance by Gardner, against a Hawkeye defense that did not show its normal grit and determination. In fact, it was the worst Iowa team in a decade, knotting the fifth straight loss.
Gardner completed 18 of 23 passes (just one interception) for 314 yards while leading Michigan to touchdowns on its first six possessions of the game. Robinson, for his part, added 98 yards on 13 carries while catching two of Gardner’s aerials for 24 yards.
After allowing 10 first-half points, the defense, led by two freshmen, James Ross III and Joe Bolden (with 14 solo tackles between them), performed at its usual high standard. It is such a shocking thing to believe that a unit, rated next-to-last four years ago, is now one of the country’s best.
But there is one regular season encounter remaining with the Buckeyes in Columbus. With only three starts under his belt, and not yet a viable running threat (37 yards on nine carries, but no sacks or runs for loss against Iowa), Gardner’s arm alone probably cannot carry the day against an Ohio State team using this coming game as its “post-season” bowl affair.
Add Robinson to the backfield rotation and it’s a new ballgame for the offense, and a new headache for opposing defensive coordinators to scheme. His presence is now more important than ever due to the loss of Fitzgerald Toussaint, with a serious leg injury. While Toussaint wasn’t terribly effective all season long, it reduces the number of power backs at Michigan’s disposal.
Lord knows what trickery Al Borges will find in his playbook and no one knows exactly how Gardner and Robinson will be used, deployed … or what … against OSU. But a two-headed monster is better than one; and Michigan fans might see the magic of the past (Shoelace in all his untied glory), and promise of the future (The Rifleman), combine to win in Columbus for the first time since 2000.

No comments: