Denard Robinson will be spending the remaining moments of his birthday wondering "what might have been." The senior Michigan quarterback saw one scoring opportunity after another end in disappointment, as the No. 18 Wolverines lost a 13-6 decision to No. 11 Notre Dame.
Michigan marched into the Irish red zone five times, but came away with a measly pair of field goals from the foot of Brendan Gibbons.
Robinson tossed four interceptions and lost a fumble in a game that spoiled Michigan's best defensive performance of the season. The Wolverine defenders picked off a pair of quarterback Everett Golson's passes in the early going, forcing Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly to replace the sophomore quarterback with last year's starter, Tommy Rees.
Rees kept the Irish offense turnover free the remainder of the evening, while scoring the game's only touchdown on a two-yard run just before halftime.
Still smarting after being manhandled by both Alabama (a 41-14 loss) and Air Force (a fortunate 31-25 win), Michigan (2-2) kept Notre Dame (4-0) off balance most of night. Notre Dame was able to manage just 239 total yards: 94 rushing and 145 passing. The Irish converting just three of nine third down situations was perhaps the most glaring statistic.
Just as it did in 2011, it's taken a few games for Michigan's defense to jell. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has been forced to rebuild the defensive line, while searching for a replacement for the team's top cornerback.
Blake Countess, who joined the starting lineup midway through last season, was lost for the remainder of this one early in the Alabama opener.
Frank Clark, Will Campbell and Quinton Washington are new to Michigan's starting front four. They helped containing Notre Dame's running back duo of Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood. Riddick managed just 52 yards on 17 carries while Wood had 38 yards on seven attempts. Wood's 15-yard carry was surprisingly Notre Dame's longest of the night.
Linebacker Jake Ryan and safety Jordan Kovacs led the Wolverines with five solo tackles apiece. For Notre Dame, middle linebacker Manti Te'o showed why he might be the nation's top defensive player. Te'o was all over the field, blitzing Robinson, and handling run support, while also picking off a pair of Robinson's errant aerials.
While Robinson should take most of the blame for his awful passing performance, Teo's buddies should get some praise too. Sheldon Day, Prince Shembo and Stephon Tuitt all sacked the usually elusive Michigan quarterback. They also helped contain Michigan running back Fitz Toussaint for much of the game, holding him to 58 rushing yards.
“The key to stopping a dynamic player like Denard is everybody has to get to him,” Te’o told the New York Times. “He’s gotten me the past two years and Michigan’s gotten me the past three years, so I’m just glad in my last hurrah I have something to celebrate.”
While it was a tough night for Robinson to swallow, one thing happened which might help Denard's birthday cake taste a bit better. He surpassed Chad Henne as Michigan's all-time career yardage leader. Robinson now has 9,438 yards while Henne totalled 9,400 from 2004 to 2007.
The Wolverines take next Saturday off before opening the Big Ten season Oct. 6 at Purdue. Notre Dame, who's also off next week, will try to win its fifth straight in Chicago Oct. 6 against the Miami Hurricanes.