Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson cemented himself in the program's storied history the moment he crossed the goal line with 27 seconds left yesterday, lifting his Wolverines to a 28-24 victory over Notre Dame.
Robinson dashed and sped his way through the Fighting Irish defense all day long, racking up a Michigan-record 502 yards, including a Big Ten-record 258 on on the ground. Robinson started the day as a Heisman long-shot; he ended the day as the front runner.
For the second straight year, a Michigan quarterback led an improbable last-second comeback against one of their fiercest rivals.
Last year, freshman sensation Tate Forcier hit Greg Matthews with just 11 seconds left to give Michigan a thrilling 38-34 victory over the Irish. Forcier quickly became the big man on campus, leading the Wolverines to two more victories to start the season 4-0. For the first time in the Rich Rodriguez era, Michigan was ranked in the top 25.
But then it all came crumbling down.
The downturn started in the fifth game of the year against in state rival Michigan State. After leading another last second touchdown drive to send the game to overtime, Forcier was picked off in the end zone on Michigan's first possession in the extra session. MSU scored on Larry Caper's 23-yard scamper just three plays later to win the game.
Forcier was never the same. Forcier's slender frame had trouble handling the punishment of the Big Ten schedule, and Michigan would win just one game the rest of the season.
With so-called cupcake games looming against Massachusetts and Bowling Green, Michigan looks primed for another 4-0 start before Big Ten play begins. Robinson is the toast of the town, just like Forcier was at this time a year ago. Michigan is back into the Top 25, just like a year ago.
I don't mean to rain on everyone's parade, but two games a season does not make. Michigan found that out the hard way a year ago.
Robinson has been the best player in college football hands-down these first two weeks. His electric speed has been unstoppable.
But like his counterpart Forcier, Robinson's not exactly Andre the Giant out there. He's stands 6 feet tall and weighs a generous 193 pounds. Forcier (6-foot-2, 197 pounds) wore down once Big Ten play started, injuring his shoulder and suffering a concussion that quickly derailed his impressive start.
Everybody takes punishment differently, but if the first two games are any indication, Robinson's going to be taking a lot of it. With no feature running back, Robinson has essentially become the workhorse, rushing 57 times through the first two games.
In both games, Robinson has had to leave temporarily after taking some hard hits. There's certainly a concern that he'll wear down as the season progresses with the heavy workload he's gotten through the first two games. With Forcier deep in Rich Rodriguez's doghouse, freshman Devin Gardner would take the reigns if Robinson goes down.
And then, of course, there's the defense.
Michigan stifled the Irish offense through most of the first half yesterday, allowing only a touchdown on Notre Dame's first possession.
But most of their work came when Irish starter Dayne Crist was on the sideline with an injury. Once Crist returned, the Irish got right back into the game, scoring 17 unanswered points to take a 24-21 lead with 3:41 to go. Six of those points came on a 95-yard touchdown to tight end Kyle Rudolph that gave the Irish their first lead since that opening drive.
In football, you should never let a tight end beat you for a 95-yard touchdown.
The defense is going to allow points. There's no way around it. But Michigan cannot afford to give up stoppable plays like the Rudolph touchdown, or the 51-yard score they gave up to T.J. Jones that got the Irish attack going in the third quarter. Against better teams, like say Ohio State, those types of plays are going to result in losses.
I must say though, things feel differently with Robinson at the helm. For the first time since Rodriguez took over, it feels like we finally have that Pat White-type dual threat quarterback that can beat you with his feet as well as his arm.
That's no knock on Forcier, who was more mobile that his predecessor Steven Threet. Robinson has world-class speed. Speed is something you can't teach.
And the concerns about Robinson's durability may turn out to be moot. White, who has a similar frame, never suffered a serious injury while starting 40 games at West Virginia.
This season may turn out to be the breakout year we've been waiting for. But don't get a big head over two wins. It's a long season, and the grind of the Big Ten hasn't even begun.