As the Wolverines surge into the second week of the season, riding a wave of positive energy like they have not experienced in likely a year's time, they are not without issues. Michigan is better, possibly much better than the 5-7 team of 2009, but there might be trouble brewing.
Head coach Rich Rodriguez ended the long and possibly orchestrated quarterback competition on the eve of the season opener when he christened sophomore Denard Robinson as his starter. Robinson performed spectacularly, rushing for a quarterback record 197 yards and passing for 186 more in the convincing win.
When Robinson got nicked up in the second half and had to leave the game for a few plays, it was true freshman Devin Gardner who replaced him, and not sophomore Tate Forcier, who had started all 12 games for Michigan in 2009.
Michigan moves on to face Notre Dame this week, knowing that Robinson's frequent carries expose him to a high probability of injury. What happens then? That's a question Michigan hopes it does not have to answer.
--Sophomore QB Denard Robinson is nicknamed "Shoelace" since he plays with his shoes not tied. He has done so since his high school days in Florida, where Robinson was also a track star -- with untied shoes.
--Freshman P Will Hagerup, one of the top recruits in the nation at his position last year, nailed a 51-yarder against UConn on his first collegiate attempt.
--Brock Mealer, the brother of OL Elliott Mealer, led the Wolverines onto the field against UConn. Brock was paralyzed from the waist down in a Christmas Eve crash in 2007 that killed the Mealer's father and took the life of Elliott's girlfriend. The Mealers got a seven-minute standing ovation from the crowd of 113,000-plus.
SERIES HISTORY: Michigan leads 21-15-1 (last meeting, 2009, 38-34 Michigan).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Michigan put the ball in the hands of sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson in the season opener against Uconn, and things went well from there. Robinson rushed for 197 yards, passed for 186, and led Michigan scoring drives of 96, 77, 74 and 89 yards. Notre Dame will have a week to digest the film, and attempt to snare the fleet Robinson, so expect the going to get tougher.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Michigan came into the season worried about the inexperience in its secondary, and despite the solid showing against UConn, those concerns persist. Connecticut was expected to offer more challenges to the Wolverines, and test the deep ball against Michigan, but it did little of either. Notre Dame showed in its opener against Purdue that it has a diversity of weapons and will use them all. Michigan certainly gained confidence in the win over the Huskies, but the ante is upped considerably with the visit to South Bend.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's a totally different team because of the quarterback. It's a totally different team. This is what Rich (Michigan coach Rodriguez) did when we played him at West Virginia with Pat White. I'm not saying that Denard Robinson is Pat White, because Pat was pretty good, but with time I think that this young man will have a chance to become a very good quarterback." -- UConn head coach Randy Edsall on the play of Michigan quaterback Denard Robinson.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Michigan at Notre Dame, Sept. 11 --The Wolverines (1-0 overall, 0-0 Big Ten) answer a lot of questions in week two as they take on a Fighting Irish team with a nearly identical agenda. Both programs are traditional national powers that have experienced a dip recently, and are trying to work their way back into prominence.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Michigan should not expect quarterback Denard Robinson to run free as often as he did against Connecticut in the opener. The Wolverines will need more balance when they face Notre Dame, with running backs Vincent Smith and Michael Shaw taking more of the load. The key is to keep the pressure off Robinson and not force him to make a lot of decisions under duress. On defense, the tender Michigan secondary will have to avoid surrendering big plays, and make the Irish take the yardage in small pieces.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
DB Cam Gordon -- The sophomore made the move from receiver to the defensive backfield in the spring and performed well in the opener, breaking up a pass and blocking a field goal. Notre Dame will test his ability to play on his instincts in pass coverage.
TE Kevin Kroger -- This athletic junior should provide quarterback Denard Robinson with a lifeline when the Notre Dame rush closes in. Koger can make the tough catch, and do something once he has the ball.
LB Obi Ezeh -- The senior is the solid, experienced anchor in the middle that a young and relatively inexperienced defense needs. Ezeh will play a critical role against Notre Dame, as he will be charged with containing plays near the line of scrimmage and keeping the Wolverines from surrendering the big play.
--DB Carvin Johnson started at the hybrid linebacker-safety position in the opener against Uconn, but was knocked out of the game in the first quarter with a knee injury. It has been diagnosed as a sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his left knee, but Michigan does not expect Johnson to need surgery.
--WR Roy Roundtree suffered some internal bleeding following the UConn game and is not expected to play against Notre Dame.
--QB Denard Robinson, the sophomore speedster who started against the Huskies, was injured late in the third quarter against Connecticut and missed the final series of the period. Robinson, who said after the game it was a minor hip injury, returned for the start of the fourth quarter.
--RB Vincent Smith missed spring ball while rehabbing after knee surgery, but appeared to have his speed and strength back in the opener against Connecticut.
--C David Molk missed the contact work in the spring while rehabbing from injuries he sustained last season, but was back in the starting lineup when Michigan opened 2010 with a big win over UConn.
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