SOUTH BEND, Ind. — “Man, I f---ing hate that guy!” said the Notre Dame fan sitting in front of me as Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson reeled off a 20-yard run late in the first half against the Irish defense on Saturday night.
As a longtime Michigan fan and long-suffering fan of the man they call Shoelace, I knew exactly how he felt.
On the next play, Robinson threw an interception.
I’ve been terrified for the last three years that this Denard Robinson would show up in a big game. And this Denard Robinson looked simply horrendous as the No. 18 Wolverines bumbled their way to a 13-6 loss to the 11th-ranked Fighting Irish.
Robinson threw interceptions on four consecutive passes in the first half, fumbled at the Irish 8-yard line early in the third quarter and looked both tentative and timid as he finished the game 13-of-24 through the air for just 138 yards.
The loss at Notre Dame Stadium saw the Michigan senior regress to the ill-equipped, off-balance quarterback we’ve seen pop up semi-regularly during his prolific career. The one who forces passes and makes bad decisions. The one who’s eaten alive by well-prepared defenses like Alabama and Mississippi State.
Sure, there have been amazing performances from the bright, endearing 22-year-old. First and foremost are the two ridiculous wins over the Irish the last two seasons in which Robinson was responsible for 948 yards of total offense. But it’s now clear that those were mere con jobs that, in effect, deluded fans—myself included—into thinking we had a legitimate superstar quarterback on our hands.
This time, unlike the last two years, there were no final-minute heroics, no acrobatic Hail Marys, no scintillating comebacks to bring sweet release to nearly 60 minutes of hand-wringing, nail-biting and accelerated heartbeats.
"I want to say sorry to everybody who watched football, watched Michigan football and whoever follows Michigan football," Robinson told reporters after he jogged dejectedly off the field. "I want to say sorry and it won't happen no more. I am going to be accountable for the rest of the season. I'll tell you that much."
Taking responsibility is precisely what you’d expect from a leader of Denard’s ilk. There’s no denying he’s a standup guy and a wonderful presence in the locker room.
But taking responsibility only goes so far. As Michael Rothstein of WolverineNation wrote, “The leadership is still unquestioned. The rest is highly questionable.”
Robinson added 90 yards on the ground and helped the Wolverines move the ball well at times against the bend-but-don’t-break Irish defense. But Robinson’s offense was an absolute train wreck in the Red Zone—a stretch that began with a 1st-and-goal play on which backup halfback Vincent Smith took a pitch from Robinson and floated a weak pass into the end zone that was intercepted. In all, Michigan got just six points out of five trips to the red zone.
"Most disappointed I've been in I don't know how long," Robinson declared after the loss. "The 22 years I've been living, this is the most disappointed I've been in myself."
Get in line, Denard. Us paying customers were pretty disappointed in you, too.
Brady Hoke’s Wolverines fell to a disappointing 2-2 on the young season, but when reporters asked the second-year coach after the game if he’d considered yanking his senior signal-caller amid his struggles, he answered simply:
So what did you do, Coach, to try and get your quarterback into the game?
“We always try and go to the next play,” Hoke said afterwards. “I mean, you have to. The guy has done a pretty doggone good job being a quarterback at Michigan and made some good throws in the first half. … What are you going to do, sit there and talk about each one of [the bad decisions]? You've got to move forward.”
It makes sense. What good will it do to dwell on the fact that for three seasons, Robinson has been a playmaker in quarterback’s clothing? A player who can both leave mouths agape with his moves in the open field and leave them shaking their heads with another lame-duck interception. A quarterback who, frankly, has never been a good quarterback, at least in the traditional sense.
It won’t help at all. Hoke has picked his poison, and at this point, it would take a miracle to earn them a return trip to a BCS bowl game.
But there are still eight regular season games to play, and with the entire Big Ten season ahead of them, there’s still something to play for.
"This was the worst game of my career," he told reporters. "And I'm trying to move forward."
Robinson may have been further exposed as something less than a legitimate quarterback on Saturday night in Sound Bend. But moving on is the only positive thing he and Michigan can do.
For us fans, it won’t be that easy.