Though the Michigan vs. Notre Dame contest was in danger of becoming subordinate to other big matchups this year and falling into neglect. It actually became the most exciting game of the day, but its wild pyrotechnics and close score were just a few ways in which it shared symmetry with the 2009 meeting: defensive foibles, a game winning drive, and the anointing of a new quarterback all conspired to give fans a sense of deja vu.
Yet Michigan seems to be in a remarkably firmer position than it was a year ago. With Denard Robinson at the helm, Michigan is an eminently dangerous team, even in spite of its apparent failings.
The presence of Tate Forcier on the team has definitely seemed to push Robinson and accelerate his development, so much so that he has now surpassed Forcier, and two games into the season Robinson's grip on the starting position has only gotten stronger. He has now effectively become the bedrock of the team. Bill Brasky like stories are already being spun about him.
Robinson had a hand in 94 percent of the total yards and also accounted for 89 percent of the rushing yards for a total of 502 yards in the game. The complete consolidation of the offense around one player will most certainly lead to the highs and lows we saw on Saturday.
On the positive side, it is hard not to be shocked by the metamorphosis of his passing ability. Robinson continued to look poised and mature in the pocket. I would guess that some of those pump fakes were built in by design, but he has a way of manipulating pliable defenders into positions that are advantageous for the offense. In the first quarter he even used the pass to open up a stagnating run game.
However, his game was rife for improvement. Last week he was 14-for-14 on passes from the pocket. He had a lot more adversity against Notre Dame and was hurried often, which is understandable, but some of his passes lacked a little polish. One pass that should have been hoisted over the top of the secondary for a large gain was instead thrown as a line drive and harmlessly knocked to the ground by a leaping defender.
Robinson completed 60 percent of his passes, which is a healthy number and better than even Crist, though there were a lot of screens and hitches. Astonishingly, however, he nearly doubled his pass attempts from the UConn game, throwing 40 times. Through 62 pass attempts, he has yet to throw a single interception.
At the same rate from last year, he would have thrown eight interceptions by now. His decision-making has improved considerably. Only one throw on Saturday came close to an interception.
Robinson's quarterback rating may have come down a bit from 172 last week, but even the 119 against Notre Dame is impressive when you take into account his running ability. Buoyed by the 87-yard run near the end of the second quarter, his average stood at 9.2 yards per carry, but even without it he would still have a 6.3 average. I'm pretty sure that this what Robinson experiences every time he gets into space.
Robinson finished with 28 carries—one less than last week. There may be worry about conditioning, but Rich Rodriguez is not concerned. "Getting tackled by second and third level defenders is less dangerous than the big guys up front," he said in his postgame press conference. During the next two weeks Robinson will probably get some breaks, and we may still see a lot more Gardner and perhaps even Forcier.
The most despondent fact about the offense is that Michigan put up more yards than the score would suggest. The main culprit, besides a number of missed field goals, is stagnated drives. After Michigan went 14 for 19 on third downs last week, the team only went three for 16 against Notre Dame.
Four of these were the product of some drive-killing penalty, all of which can be blamed squarely upon blocking snafus. Apart from Omameh the offensive line looked nimble and quick last week. Against Notre Dame Omameh continued to struggle, and the line had some trouble holding back the floodgates. Six failed conversions were on 3rd-and-5 or shorter. Many of these could have easily been converted.
Only the final drive was long and sustained, which is an incredibly fortuitous yet moribund fact. No other scoring drive lasted longer than five plays, and during these drives Michigan faced only one third down: a 3rd-and-1 converted by Vincent Smith. Defensive penetration will need to be resolved in the future.
The prognosis has not changed much. Robinson continues to be the most dynamic player on the team. His ability is probably enough to guarantee that Michigan will avoid another late season swoon against teams such as Purdue and Illinois, but discipline or speedy defenses may have enough talent to slow this offense. Fortunately, Michigan did just enough on Saturday to beat Notre Dame.