ANN ARBOR — The University of Michigan travels to Indiana University this Saturday in hopes that it can elevate its record to a lofty 5-0. Remember, the Wolverines started last season 4-0 before its monumental collapse.
The Indiana contest would go a long way in exorcising the sting and frustration of 2009 where the Wolverines went 1–6 over its last seven games, ending their season with a 5–7 record and failing to qualify for a bowl game for the second straight year, putting Wolverines’ Nation in an uproar.
Well, a very noticeable change in the 2010 version of Wolverines’ football started four weeks ago before 113,090 people, the largest crowd ever to witness a professional or college football contest, in Michigan’s football opener. Many of the questions concerning what kind of Wolverines team embattled coach, Rich Rodriguez, would field were answered.
The main question was answered when sophomore quarterback Denard “Shoelace” Robinson unseated sophomore Tate Forcier, who started as a freshman, and, his fending off All-American freshman recruit Devin Gardner.
Not only did Robinson unseat both of his challengers, he knocked the socks off college football. Following his first two games, Robinson was twice awarded the valued Walter Camp Football Foundation National Offensive Player of the Week and Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week.
“So far Denard has been making some excellent reads and his ability to option is getting better and better,” Rodriguez said. “Starting in spring he took another step and we could see that he was starting to get a handle on what we are trying to do offensively, and I think he will keep getting better and better.
“I think most of the team could see that he had asserted himself in camp and that he was ready to lead this team, plus he runs very fast. When he really starts to get a handle on our offensive concept, the game will continue to get slower and he will continue to improve his passing, option reads and team leadership.”
Robinson flat-out earned those accolades and Rodriguez’s trust in him by amassing an incredible 383 yards of total offense against Connecticut, and then coming back in South Bend against Notre Dame and scooting for an eye-popping 502 yards of total offense that set the national college football pundits ablaze.
“When Coach (Rodriguez) told me the day before the UConn game that I was going to start,” Robinson recalled, “it did not matter that much, because I was ready for whatever. The guys when they found out, especially the offensive linemen, told me they had my back.”
Robinson said he has stepped his game up because he has worked all summer to learn the complex Rodriguez play book.
“I’ve learned the offense a lot better since last year,” he explained. “Plus I’ve put in the work in the off season. People questioned if I could throw the ball, but I always had confidence in my ability to throw the ball. All I needed was to really learn the offense better, and, that’s what I dedicated the entire year after my freshman season to.”
Against Massachusetts, Robinson had 345 yards of total offense, 241 passing yards and 104 rushing yards, the 10th best total in Michigan history. However, it was his first two games that made Shoelace a national figure.
The UConn 383 yards of total offense, 186 passing yards and 197 rushing were the most ever by a Michigan player.
In his second start, a 28–24 comeback win over Notre Dame, he amassed 502 of Michigan’s 532 yards of total offense (258 rushing yards and 244 passing yards), breaking the Michigan record he set in his first start and scoring the winning touchdown with 27 seconds remaining.
The Florida and Wolverine track star became the ninth quarterback in NCAA history (and the first since Pat White in 2006) to rush and pass for more than 200 yards in a single game.
“Yeah, people always mention Pat to me,” Robinson noted, “and Coach and I have talked about me learning to run the offense like Pat did for him in West Virginia. I do not mind the comparison, because he was a great college quarterback who understood this offense and turned that into winning season after winning season. My goal is to become as good as Pat one day.”
As the Big Ten campaign gets into full swing, some worry if Robinson can hold up carrying the ball so often. He said: “I think I’m a tough player and carrying the ball 29 times or more is not a problem. I’ve gotten stronger and I’m in great shape. I’m ready.”
Robinson may indeed be the real thing, but the bigger question is whether the Michigan’s porous defense will improve enough to make the Wolverines a serious contender for the Big Ten title.
Leland Stein can be reached at email@example.com.