It looked like all hope was lost. On 3rd-and-22, backed up out of field goal range, Denard Robinson fired a deep ball into the end zone, where it bounced ineffectually away. There were just three minutes left in the game at that point, and Michigan was forced to punt, putting the Wolverines in serious danger of never seeing the ball again.
It would have been an ignominious end to Denard Robinson's last shot at a win over Michigan State for his career, especially considering the big plays he had been making down the stretch. A 44-yard rush set up the second-to-last drive, and he had a strong connection going with oft-ignored wideout Drew Dileo.
But the story doesn't end like that for Robinson and Michigan. We know that now. Michigan State went three-and-out on the ensuing drive (nearly fumbling the ball away in the process), and the Wolverines got one more shot with a hair under two minutes and one timeout left.
Who's going to win the Legends Division?
And so given another opportunity, Michigan made the most of it. Starting at their 38-yard line, the Wolverines pushed forward 21 yards against the stout Spartans defense (still the Big Ten leader in total defense), but that wasn't a position to win for Michigan—and time was running out.
So with 18 seconds on the clock and the ball on the Spartan 41, Robinson dropped back, found his old friend Dileo and hit the wideout for a 20-yard gain to put Michigan in field-goal range.
From there, it was all Brendan Gibbons with the clutch kick for the win. And for Michigan's seniors on down to the freshmen, it was their first opportunity to say hello to the Paul Bunyan Trophy.
That throw by Robinson won't show up in many of his retrospective montages, but it was one of the most important of his career. Michigan State had victimized Michigan for four years straight, and Michigan had never lost five in a row to the Spartans. Never, never, not ever.
Say what you will about the good things Denard Robinson has accomplished, but if he had ended his career winless against Michigan State, his legacy would have a major blight on it.
But past the realm of the ephemeral and subjective (legacies and whatnot), Robinson's critical completion and Gibbons' field goal kept Michigan in at least a share of the Legends Division lead, pending what happens with Penn State-Iowa on Saturday night. And for as hotly contested as the Legends Division is this year, being able to pick up a close win like that could very well be the difference between a trip to the Big Ten Championship and something underwhelming like the Outback Bowl.
There's still a long way to go. Michigan's 3-0, but it could easily end up 3-5, because the closest thing to an automatic win left on the schedule is a home game against a still-feisty Northwestern squad. But 3-0 is a hell of a start all the same, and if the Wolverines pick up a win against Nebraska, that puts them firmly in the driver's seat for a trip to Indianapolis—and possibly Pasadena.
All because Denard Robinson threw a great pass when it mattered.