Robinson gets a break as Wolverines crush Gophers
The Wolverines had a long detailed agenda when they faced Minnesota to open the Big Ten season. It was the start of conference schedule, so that carried its own significance, but Michigan's concerns went well beyond that basic element of getting off to a good start in the league.
Michigan and first-year head coach Brady Hoke were well aware that the fact they arrived at the Big Ten opener unbeaten was not nearly as critical as how they arrived there. The Wolverines wanted to keep winning, but they realized the necessity to find other means to accomplish it.
The Wolverines had disposed of Western Michigan, Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan and San Diego State in efficient fashion, with only the Fighting Irish putting up a real fight. The scores and the results were positive, but the method was troubling.
Through those first four games, Michigan rode its energetic and dynamic junior quarterback Denard Robinson frequently. The announced plan from the start of spring ball had been for the offense to lessen Robinson's exposure to injury by not relying on him so heavily.
It sounded good in theory, but it was never really put into practice over the first month. Michigan was undefeated and ranked because it saddled up Robinson and rode him into the sunset, following a plan that looked awfully similar to the one used by former coach Rich Rodriguez.
Everyone knew that it was in the Big Ten portion of the schedule where Robinson got beat up last year, and he was never really as effective once the injuries started to take a toll. By the time he got to the crucial matchup with Ohio State and the bowl game, Robinson was damaged goods.
In its Big Ten opening win over Minnesota, a 58-0 rout, Michigan gave Robinson a break, and was still very successful. The speedy quarterback carried the ball just six times in the game, and was fourth on the team with 51 rushing yards.
Now it was just Minnesota, and that requires a considerable caveat, but this was a good opportunity to test the process. Things get tougher from this point on, but Michigan looks fit and confident at 5-0.
"We all believe and we have all bought into the new system and the things that coach Hoke is trying to implement," Michigan backup quarterback Devin Gardner said. "I feel like there is a big belief on the team, and maybe it's something that we haven't had in past years."
--How dominant were the Wolverines in the first half against Minnesota? At the break Michigan had 21 first downs and 384 total yards while Minnesota had four first downs and 69 total yards.
--While building a 31-0- halftime lead, the Wolverines scored on all six of their first half possessions against Minnesota.
--The Michigan defense, considered suspect for the past couple of seasons and still looked on as yet to be defined, might get some attention for the way to smothered Minnesota. The Gophers failed to convert a single third down, and had just 176 yards on the afternoon.
--In a rare display of scoring ability, Michigan RB Vincent Smith had touchdowns rushing, passing and receiving in the Wolverines' first four possessions of the Minnesota game.
KEEP AN EYE ON: RB Fitzgerald Toussaint -- With the Wolverines searching desperately for someone to take the rushing load off of QB Denard Robinson, Toussaint looked like the guy to assume that role. He rushed for a career-best 108 yards and a touchdown against Minnesota.
LOOKING GOOD: Michigan was looking for more diversity in its attack when it hosted the Golden Gophers, and it got that. RB Vincent Smith scored the Wolverines' first touchdown on a short run, then Smith executed a fake to perfection and caught Minnesota over-pursuing the play as he passed 17 yards to WR Drew Dileo for another score. Smith made it three scores on the day when he later caught a touchdown pass from QB Denard Robinson.
STILL NEEDS WORK: It was hard to find flaws in the 58-0 win over Minnesota, but Michigan coach Brady Hoke is not convinced his defense was really tested. "I don't know how good of a team Minnesota is going to end up being," Hoke said, looking ahead to Michigan's next game against Northwestern. "Northwestern puts a lot of points up, and did today, and we've got our work cut out for us."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We've got a long way to go, and I keep saying that and you get tired of it and I probably get tired of it, but it's never going to be good enough. We've got a tough schedule. We go on the road, and we've never been on the road. It will be a unique schedule how we like to travel. It will be all new for the kids." -- Michigan coach Brady Hoke as his team completes a five-game home-stand that started the season.
--TE Kevin Koger, one of the more athletic players in the Big Ten at his position, slipped open for an 18-yard touchdown against Minnesota.
--P Will Hagerup returned to the lineup after sitting out the first four games due to a suspension for violating team rules. His first punt against Minnesota went for 47 yards.
--CB Courtney Avery picked up a Minnesota fumble at the Wolverines' 17-yard line and raced 83 yards for a touchdown in the closing minutes of the rout of the Gophers.
--PK Brendan Gibbons kicked three field goals in the win over Minnesota. Gibbons, whose previous long kick was a 24-yarder last season against UConn, had field goals of 25, 32, and 38 yards against the Gophers.
--P Will Hagerup, who was suspended for the first four games of the season for an unspecified violation of team rules, won the starting job back and averaged 37.5 yards on two kicks against Minnesota.
--LB Brandon Herron missed the three previous games with a leg injury but was cleared to return to the playing rotation against Minnesota.
--RB Fitzgerald Toussaint missed the Notre Dame game with a shoulder injury but has been a solid contributor since his return. Toussaint led the Wolverines with 108 rushing yards against Minnesota.
--DB Troy Woolfolk, who missed last season with an ankle injury, has been battling a sprain most of this season and missed portions of several games. Woolfolk was back on the field in the win over Minnesota.
--LB Cam Gordon remains sidelined with a back injury
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