The Wolverine

December 2012

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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WOLVERINE WATCH JOHN BORTON that launches Michigan fans into even bigger dreams, and an 8-4 thud back to a much grayer holiday season in Ann Arbor? Far less than one might think. Yes, 2012 will feel much differ- W hat's the difference between an 11-2, Sugar Bowl cham- pionship season, the kind ent, regardless of the outcome in whatever Sunshine State bowl the Wolverines appear. Months of anticipation following that confetti-saturated celebration on the floor of the Superdome somehow came back to earth on the Memorial Stadium FieldTurf in Lincoln. Denard Robinson sprawled there, in obvious pain. It looked bad, but it always looks bad when the senior quarter- back goes down. That's how it is when one member of the offense supplies 90 percent of the fireworks. But he'd get up. He always gets up, and pushes through. Only this time, he didn't. Fine Line Makes Big Difference the divisional tipping point, but it marked only one-quarter of the mis- ery. Here's the breakdown between 2011 and 2012, at second glance. 2011 Opener: Western Michigan: The Nebraska loss represented Here's a normal, ease-in start for 95 percent of the college football world. Break in the neophytes, walk away with the 34-10 win and, at 1-0, move on to bigger accomplishments. watched, helplessly, while the Wol- verines couldn't move, and the Corn- huskers moved into the divisional driver's seat. 2011 Ohio State: Robinson ran wild 2012 Nebraska: The senior again, at home. He threw for three touchdowns, rushed for two more and piled up 337 yards of total of- fense in Michigan's 40-34 win. 2012 Ohio State: Robinson repre- sented half of Michigan's quarterback combo in Co- lumbus. He couldn't throw the ball, and neither could half-experienced junior Devin Gardner, when it counted most. The Wolverines needed one second-half touchdown to save the day in a 26-21 loss, and couldn't manufacture it. Some might say the entire This season, Denard Robinson could not lead U-M to a win under And when he didn't, a shot at the Big Ten championship disappeared down the drain. Michigan would have won in Lin- coln, had Robinson stayed upright. From the moment he hit the deck, though, everything changed. The Wolverines suddenly couldn't move through cornstalks, much less Corn- huskers. A defense that stood tall for a half eventually cracked. And that — as it turned out — was that. Michigan wins that game, and the insufferable gut punch of losing in Columbus in front of those celebrat- ing the Cheating Champion would have been quickly swept away. The Wolverines would be headed for a Saturday night showdown with Wis- consin, for a chance to fight their way to Pasadena. It didn't happen that way, and looked like an "L" almost from the moment the contract was signed. Either Rich Rodriguez needed 1,000 more fingers to plug the gushing de- fensive dike, or the Wolverines were sure to be in rebuilding mode. It proved to be the latter, and 2012 Opener: Alabama: This one the lights versus Notre Dame the way he did in 2011. PHOTO BY LON HORWEDEL swing in seasons comes from scheduling — Alabama added, the other three played on the road. There's more, though. U-M's offensive line never inson and Fitzgerald Toussaint each ran for more than 1,000 yards. That affected a lot as the season wore on. "You'd better have a back, a couple did come together in the fash- ion it did in 2011, when Rob- Michigan essentially played its BCS bowl on Sept. 1, losing on the big stage and saying goodbye to starting cornerback Blake Countess all in one tough night. 2011 Notre Dame: Michigan played at home, under the lights, and Rob- inson & Friends worked some last- minute miracles. This one lit the fuse for a BCS season. 2012 Notre Dame: Michigan played some will insist the Wolverines might have lost in Lincoln, even with the untied wonder on the field. Says here he and Michigan's seniors would have seized the championship chance that lingered tantalizingly just be- yond reach for two years. 12 THE WOLVERINE DECEMBER 2012 backs, and better have guys up front who can move the line of scrim- mage," head coach Brady Hoke said, lamenting Michigan's inconsistent running game. "It's hard to evaluate to some degree for the simple fact that maybe if we had blocked a little better, it would have been better." Even so, what blocked a title try had everything to do with Robinson being unable to lace them up, so to speak, at the worst possible moment. "Well, we didn't win the champi- on the road, under the lights, and the toughest game of Robinson's career turned into a turnover fest, launching the Irish toward the national champi- onship game. 2011 Nebraska: Robinson simply dominated, throwing for 180 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 83 yards and two more scores in a 45-17 runaway at Michigan Stadium. onship," Hoke said. "That's the ex- pectation." It will remain so in the days to come, including during the 2013 slate. Through the bowl and beyond, the Wolverines will ruefully muse about what might have been. ❑ Editor John Borton has been with The Wolverine since 1991. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @JB_Wolverine.

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