Tag Archives: Rich Rodriguez

Three and Out by John U. Bacon: Book Review

On the copyright page of John U. Bacon’s Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $28), there is a note that reads: “This book has not been approved, endorsed, or sponsored by any person or entity involved with the University of Michigan.”

No kidding.

Bacon’s inside look at the University of Michigan football program has reportedly angered many of the key characters—former coaches and players, athletic directors, the University president, Rodriguez—and Wolverine fans will revel in the details of how Rodriguez was hired and what eventually led to his demise. The greater value of this book, however, is the picture it paints of big-time college coaches and athletes on and off the field. And what a fascinating picture that is.

Through a friend of a friend, Bacon—a freelance journalist, author, and a teacher at the University of Michigan—was granted unrestricted access to the Michigan football program during Rich Rodriguez’s first season in Ann Arbor, in 2008. When that season ended with a 3-9 record, Bacon realized the story was far from over, and he and Rodriguez extended the deal for another two years.

I’m not sure whether any reporter has ever had Bacon’s level of access to a major college football program or if any will in the future. Bacon exploits this opportunity, reporting from the sidelines, the locker room, practices, meetings, and just about anywhere else Rodriguez or his players might go. The demands on the coaches and athletes are startling. Sure, there is a lot of glory that can come from being in the limelight that Michigan football offers, but I doubt too many college students would want to switch places with quarterback Denard Robinson or many wanna-be coaches would like to fill Rodriguez’s shoes after reading this book.

Rodriguez’s stresses went beyond that of a typical coach. Bacon traces the fracturing of the Michigan football family to the death of its “godfather,” legendary coach Bo Schembechler (with whom Bacon co-authored a book), in November 2006. The following year was the last for head coach Lloyd Carr, and Bacon depicts athletic director Bill Martin’s sloppy search for a replacement. Going down a list that seemed to change by the day (Kirk Ferentz, Tony Dungy, Greg Schiano, Les Miles), Michigan eventually hired West Virginia’s Rich Rodriguez, considered one of the top minds in his profession.

Rodriguez’s last three West Virginia teams posted 11-win seasons with two BCS bowl victories (though Rodriguez had been hired by Michigan and did not coach the last one), with Rodriguez’s innovative spread offense breaking all sorts of records along the way. With all the tradition and resources Michigan has to offer, it was reasonable to expect Rodriguez and the Wolverines would do great things.

Of course, it didn’t turn out that way, and Bacon was there to witness everything. He chronicles the missteps before Rodriguez had even coached a game in the Big House, such as the West Virginia buyout fiasco and fumbled introductory press conference. The Detroit Free Press report on Michigan’s practice violations receives a thorough examination as well.

Undoubtedly the biggest off-field problem during the Rodriguez tenure, however, was the powerful faction that wanted someone else leading the winningest program in college football history. Bacon explores this throughout, but was unable to get an interview with Lloyd Carr. Without getting Carr’s side, Bacon couldn’t reconcile why the same person who first recommended Rodriguez to Martin may have undermined Rodriguez behind the scenes.

Winning solves a lot of problems, though, and Rodriguez could have quieted most of his critics by avoiding a three-win debut season and second-half collapses in the next two. Bacon doesn’t try to sugarcoat the losses and doesn’t shy away from criticizing some of Rodriguez’s questionable off-field decisions—in addition to the press conference gaffes Michigan fans are familiar with, Rodriguez didn’t show his face enough in public, costing him the chance at gaining supporters he could have used when things went bad.

Three and Out readers will learn that despite the PR blunders and constant questions about whether he was a “Michigan Man,” Rodriguez came off as a seasoned orator when addressing his team, always direct and confident and regularly referencing the Michigan tradition that many former Wolverines thought he failed to grasp.

Throughout the 438 pages, Bacon contrasts how Michigan handled the transition from Carr to Rodriguez to how it dealt with the last time an “outsider” was hired to the position: when Schembechler took over after the 1968 season. The flaws of both Rodriguez and the athletic department are apparent, and by the end of the book it’s clear the latter has learned from some of its mistakes.

If they’re anything like me, Michigan fans will speed through this book and reach out to fellow fans to discuss it. They’ll also—and I didn’t think this was possible—appreciate Denard Robinson even more. College football fans in general will savor an unprecedented look inside a major program, which recounts the excitement on the field and the drama off of it.

I look forward to hearing from Three and Out readers in the coming months (it comes out tomorrow). As always, post your comments here and/or email me at andrew@thesportsjournalists.com.

Brady Hoke: Michigan Football New Coach

A lot of people have asked me how I feel about new Michigan football coach Brady Hoke. My answer has been: I don’t really know. I know how I would’ve felt had one of the other potential candidates been hired: I did not want Les Miles and while Jim Harbaugh has come across as a bit of a jerk over the last few years, there’s no denying his success. But with Hoke, who comes from San Diego State and was at Ball State before that, I’m not sure how I feel, and I think that sort of sums up the hire—it’s hard to get too excited about Hoke, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

One of the first questions when Hoke was hired—well, since Rich Rodriguez was fired, really—was whether Denard Robinson would stay at Michigan. Robinson has said he will, which is reassuring to Wolverine fans. It would have been impressive if Michigan could’ve somehow induced both Ryan Mallett (who had the fifth most passing yards in the country this past season for Arkansas) and Robinson, the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, to transfer within three years of each other.

Part of the reason Robinson is staying is because of Hoke’s willingness to adapt to the star quarterback’s skill set. At least that is the hope. Rodriguez said the same thing as Hoke in his introductory press conference—that he is going to implement his style but will adapt to his personnel—but it proved to be not entirely true. Granted, Rodriguez didn’t have much to work with in his first year (regardless of what he was willing to do offensively), but his stubbornness didn’t help.

We’ll see if Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges, who has never presided over a running quarterback, can make good on their initial promise. Reducing Robinson’s carries may not be such a bad thing anyway, but if he doesn’t get some freedom to run then the transition from Rodriguez to Hoke could be just as rough as it was from Lloyd Carr to Rodriguez.

Speaking of Carr, a certain group of Michigan fans is not exactly enthused that Hoke was an assistant under Carr and believes in a similar football philosophy. These people were understandably frustrated with the last few years of Carr’s tenure and were excited about a shift they had hoped would bring Michigan football into a new era. Rodriguez’s three years obviously didn’t work out, but the Hoke hire by no means suggests Michigan is “surrendering” and settling for mediocrity.

Brady Hoke at his introductory press conference (Credit: MGoBlue.com)

Look at what Carr did in his first six years as Michigan’s head coach (starting in 1995): a 55-18 (.784) overall record with a 5-1 mark against Ohio State and a 4-2 record in bowl games, including a national title in his third season. It was his final seven years that weren’t as strong, though still respectable: 64-24 (.727), 1-6 vs. OSU, 2-5 in bowls. Of course there are a lot of factors that make Carr’s beginning as Michigan head coach different from Hoke’s, but it’s foolish to pretend Michigan was not great (not very good, but great) during Carr’s first several seasons.

Another assistant under Carr, Greg Mattison, returns to Ann Arbor as the defensive coordinator. Mattison’s resume and the reviews from his peers suggest this was an excellent hire. Rodriguez’s demise was largely because of his choice of Greg Robinson as defensive coordinator, so in this very important regard Hoke made a great choice. Mattison leaves the same position with the Baltimore Ravens, and you’ve got to like anyone who was affiliated with the Ravens defense.

There is no doubt that Hoke really wants to be at Michigan—at his press conference he said he would have walked to Ann Arbor from San Diego to get the job—and that passion certainly can’t hurt his chances of succeeding. The pressure is certainly there. With each season the Wolverines are really bad, bad, or just average (as they have been the last three seasons), it will be harder for them to climb out of the hole and back to national prominenc

A Coaching Search in 2011

This was not your father’s coaching search. This wasn’t even your older brother’s coaching search. The Internet has changed the news landscape, so when Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon announced yesterday that Brady Hoke would replace Rich Rodriguez, for the first time in a week the Wolverine fan base could stop clicking the “refresh” button.

The Web resources below were in existence when Rodriguez replaced Lloyd Carr three years ago, but were not as popular. Regarding the Michigan coaching search and any future searches at other football-crazy schools, here are the game changers:

Twitter
Although 140 characters isn’t much, it’s enough to write, “Harbaugh to Michigan, sources say,” or “Miles is being interviewed by UM; likely to accept offer if one is made.” Sure, publishing to a blog is fast, but Twitter is the emblem of immediacy.

There’s still an attitude that “it’s just a tweet,” so take it with a grain of salt. Also, athletes are on Twitter, and even though they often have no idea what’s going on, they can influence people with even the vaguest of messages.

Flight Tracking
FlightAware.com allows visitors to track flights live, even private planes, and people did just this to determine the whereabouts of Brandon. This happened during Michigan’s last coaching search, but it was taken to a new level this time.

It was determined there were two planes involved in the search—one with the Michigan winged helmet on the nose of the plane and one owned by Domino’s Pizza, Brandon’s former company. Bloggers and message board posters could pinpoint exactly where the athletic director was travelling and could reasonably speculate which coaches he was meeting. It was even noted that on one trip from Baton Rouge to Ann Arbor, Brandon’s plane went slightly out of its way to avoid Ohio airspace.

Yeah, the flight tracking got a little creepy. Not only were Michigan fans following planes, but LSU fans were as well, wondering if they might lose their coach, Les Miles. Would it have become public knowledge that these meetings took place even without such a website? Most likely. But fans and media could track the AD in real time, as if they were flying around the country with him.

I wonder if the site traffic numbers for FlightAware increase in December and January, especially when high-profile schools are looking for a new football coach.

Is this Dave Brandon’s jet? No, but the coaching search is over, so who cares? (Credit: Adrian Pingstone)

Blogs and Message Boards
These have obviously been around for a while but there are more than ever. This is not scientific by any means, but blogs are bigger and better as well. I’m not a frequent message board visitor, but it was clear that during the coaching search the boards were pounded just as they would be after a game.

I know many Michigan fans (myself included, at times) who clicked refresh on their favorite blogs throughout the past few days. Not everyone has the time, energy, or know-how to access the relevant information on Twitter or flight tracking sites, but many bloggers did that work for you, culling the news and speculating on what it might mean.

The Michigan coaching situation was unique in that it occurred later than most (if a coach is fired, it usually takes place before the bowl games) and took longer than most (Rodriguez was fired last Wednesday). The resourcefulness of the media, bloggers, and fans, however, are things you are going to see in any future coaching search involving a big-time football program.

And there was plenty of false information flying around. It seemed like everyone was trying to be first as opposed to being right, a philosophy of sports journalism that has apparently carried over from 2010. Get used to it.

Michigan vs Penn State 2010 Preview

he question Michigan fans seem to be asking most heading into tomorrow’s showdown with Penn State: Is this a must-win for Rich Rodriguez?

The answer: I really hope not.

I say this not because I think Michigan will lose on Saturday, but because they definitely could lose (the Wolverines are only a three-point favorite) and I don’t want Rodriguez to lose his job if they do.

First of all, let’s go over two assumptions regarding Michigan’s four remaining opponents after Penn State:

Michigan will lose to Wisconsin and Ohio State. Even the most optimistic Michigan fans counted these two games as losses in the preseason. Not enough has changed since then to think otherwise.

Michigan will beat Purdue and Illinois. These two games get a W next to them, but we should write them in pencil, as opposed to the ink used for the L’s. If we’re considering these wins, perhaps we should consider Penn State a win, too, but I still think Penn State on the road is tougher than Illinois at home or Purdue on the road.

With a loss in Happy Valley, Michigan (5-2) gets to 7-5 at best and potentially finishes 6-6, which would mean the 2010 collapse was just as bad as last year. But I don’t think Rodriguez should be fired even if this does happen.

Football, especially college football, is not like the other major sports. A new coach, even a good one, often sets you back three or four years as he implements his system and gets the recruits he needs to make it work. Look at a once-proud program like Notre Dame. Michigan does not want to go down that road.

If Rich Rodriguez looks like this in tomorrow’s press conference, it could spell doom for the Michigan football program. (Credit: Greg Dooley/MVictors.com)

Rodriguez is in Year Three in Ann Arbor; you might argue that is enough time to show meaningful progress and another season without beating a quality opponent should mean he gets fired. I’d argue he has shown meaningful progress. Remember the Wolverine offense in 2008, Rich Rod’s first year? A walk on started games at quarterback and not just because of injuries. The offensive line resembled a group of oversized matadors. Two years later, Michigan has the second best offense in the country as far as yards per game. If that’s not progress, I don’t know what is.

The defense and special teams have regressed since Lloyd Carr left, but astute Michigan followers know this is not all Rodriguez’s fault. Carr’s defensive recruiting was extremely weak in his final year and there have been an unusually high number of transfers. I’m not making excuses for Rodriguez, and I still think he should be held accountable at the end of the day, but I have reason to believe the defense can be competent next year and more Michigan-esque in 2012 and beyond.

The good news? New athletic director Dave Brandon seems to understand this. He’s repeatedly said there’s not a win quota for Rodriguez to keep his job. I think it will take a truly epic collapse—winless from here on out—for Brandon to replace the head coach. On the other hand, there is pressure on Brandon to get the football program on the right track. Even if it goes against his gut he could feel obligated to axe Rodriguez; I view this is doubtful, however.

Regardless of who starts at quarterback for Penn State tomorrow (it is rumored to be a walk on sophomore; sound familiar?) or how many injuries the Nittany Lions have on defense, a victory in Happy Valley still means something—in this case, it also means a trip to a bowl game (and in my opinion a guaranteed seven wins and really good shot at eight, which would exceed all but the most optimistic preseason projections).

A loss would be bad, no doubt, but if it leads to Rodriguez’s firing it would probably be the program’s most devastating loss in 25 years.

Michigan Football 4-0: Deja Vu or Bowl Game Bound?

I am lucky in that the two teams I follow most closely—the New York Mets and Michigan football—have very strong blog communities. I reached out to seven prominent Michigan football bloggers to get their takes on the Wolverines now that, just like 2009, the team is 4-0. Below are lightly edited (and, in some cases, abridged) versions of many of the responses.

Before the season started, you predicted a X-X record. Given the 4-0 start, is it fair to adjust that expectation? (Blogger’s preseason prediction, if one was made, appears before their answer.)

Greg Dooley, MVictors: (6-6) It’s definitely fair to adjust preseason expectations after watching Denard through four games. I didn’t expect us to get through both UConn and Notre Dame unscathed. But I’m really not convinced that the defense will pull them them through the Big Ten schedule.

Brian Cook, MGoBlog: (7-5) Yes, for a couple of reasons. They won two games that were considered coin flips (or thereabouts) before the season, so that’s a game right there. And then Denard is probably worth another game even accounting for the goofy defense. I’m now on the 9-3/8-4 borderline.

Dave Nightingale, Maize n Brew: (7-5) Honestly, no. I fluctuated between and 8-4/7-5 record because of Michigan’s defense, not because of the performance on offense. Going into the game against Indiana, I’m petrified of the Hoosier’s offense and our ability to defend it. When you’re dead last in pass defense and eighth in rush defense (in the Big Ten) going into conference play, I’m not so sure it’s prudent to start dreaming big.

Bob Agno, Big House Blog: (7-5) Yes you can. Before the season we had two big question marks: How would the defense hold up and who would be Michigan’s QB? I still think there are a number of questions on defense, but the offense is much more explosive than I expected. I expect Michigan to go 8-4 with the high still 9-3. The big test will be to see how Michigan plays against a defense like Iowa’s on October 16.

Chris Gaerig, Burgeoning Wolverine Star: (8-4) I think Michigan has a chance to win nine games this year. Every game aside from Wisconsin and Ohio State at the end of the year looks winnable and in several of them, Michigan should be the favorite. The 2-0 start was critical and gives them a bit of leeway for the eventual defensive apocalypse that will cost them a game against a Big Ten bottom feeder.

Lance Callihan, UMGoBlog: Before the season, I said we could beat or lose to anyone, yet I didn’t have much hope against Wisconsin or Ohio State. Now, anything truly can happen.

Brad Muckenthaler, Maize and Blue Nation: I guess I sort of predicted seven or eight wins, but I never picked individual games. After four weeks, and four wins, I don’t feel any need to adjust that prediction. The Big Ten season is a whole different animal, and anything can happen.

How much does last year’s 4-0 start and subsequent collapse affect how you look at this year’s team?

Dooley: It’s a heavy weight for me. I think we’ll know after the Michigan State game whether this defense can hang.

Cook: Not much. The 2009 team was getting outgained (yardage-wise) and still winning; this team has a huge yardage advantage.

Nightingale: Remembering just how bad Michigan’s been on defense the last three years (this year included) is what keeps my expectations grounded. Last season, more than anything, taught me not to overlook obvious flaws in a team just because you root for them.

Who doesn’t like watching Denard Robinson play football?

Agno: I think the offense is more explosive than it was in 2009. Even with Michigan’s fast start last year you saw the offense sputter at times. This year, Michigan’s offense has been consistently been moving the ball. It’s hard to say that the Michigan defense is better in 2010 without Brandon Graham, Donovan Warren, and Troy Woolfolk, but this defense seems to be playing smarter through four games. The other positive is that Michigan already has a road win this year. With that said, the collapse in 2009 is still fresh in everyone’s minds. Fans will hold their collective breath until Michigan has qualified for a Bowl game.

Gaerig: It’s hard to shake the feeling of last year’s team especially with the defensive collapse against UMass. Whether or not Michigan can win against the more potent offenses of the Big Ten (Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana) is going to be the question.

Callihan: The differences between last year and this year are huge. This year the offense comes at you in waves, while last year there was no depth.

Muckenthaler: This team is its own team. I look at this team, especially the offense, as the beginning of what a Rich Rodriguez-led Michigan team should be. I think 2009 taught this team, and its fans, to take the season one week at a time. We got a little ahead of ourselves last year thinking we were better than we really were. Those lessons are still fresh in the mind of this year’s team. I don’t think early success this year has clouded our memories. This team seems to be as focused as ever.

Is there anything about this team that leads you to believe it will avoid the fate of the 2009 squad?

Dooley: The offense is better almost top to bottom. Kicking and punting are way down and will cost us at least one game. The defensive line is a push, the linebackers are maybe slightly improved, the secondary is worse but holding up. All told the team is at least slightly better, with the X-factor being Denard who’s obviously off the charts. If Denard is healthy Michigan is better and should win more games.

Cook: Yardage. Non-freshman quarterbacks. An offense that can do all kinds of stuff.

Nightingale: Offensive depth. Last season our offense was paper thin and injuries completely destroyed its production. Flash forward to 2010: Michigan has actual depth on the offensive line. I can’t name a deeper receiving corps than Michigan’s right now in the Big Ten. At tailback, Michigan has five guys capable of carrying the mail. Relying on an offense to outscore everyone is a dangerous proposition, but against the lower tier of the Big Ten it will garner some wins that were close losses last season. But without continued improvement from Michigan’s linebackers and a pass rush, their margin for error is pretty slim.

Agno: Yes, the defense seems to be better coached with another year under Greg Robinson. On the other side of the ball, it’s clear that as long as Denard stays healthy Michigan will have a chance to win every game they play. I also believe Tate Forcier will win at least one game for Michigan this year.

The bloggers aren’t as high on the defense, which has allowed too many of these (touchdowns).

Gaerig: Aside from Denard, no. The defense is still barren, the offense lacks true playmakers, and the schedule is arguably more difficult this year than it was last year. Michigan is going to be in a fight in a lot of these games, and winning them will depend largely on the turnover battle. Though I think 7-5 or 8-4 is more likely, I wouldn’t be at all surprised by a 5-7 or 6-6 result.

Callihan: Offensive depth. The offense needs to be the strength of this time and it will be. I’ve told people for the last two seasons to stop hoping for the defense to bail out this team. Having the defense lead the way goes against Rich Rodriguez’s philosophy.

Muckenthaler: We have a few things going for us this year that we didn’t have a year ago, like perhaps the most explosive and talented offensive player in the country. But I think the biggest thing is depth on offense. This offense thrives on lots of backs and lots of receivers. That style has created depth at those positions that Michigan has never had before. We’re going to be able to hang with anyone we play this year. That’s something that we didn’t know four weeks ago.

So what can we conclude? First of all, bloggers are smart. Nobody said, “4-0 BABY! BRING ON ALABAMA!! DENARD 4 HEISMAN!!1” In fact, the reactions were far less optimistic than I would have thought. Even for those who claim 2009 means relatively little, I have to imagine it’s fresh in their minds given their cautiousness.

A constant in nearly all responses was offensive depth. An injury to any starter—particularly on defense—would be terrible, but last year it was crippling and was a main factor in the collapse. This year it will take a lot more adversity to prevent Michigan from getting to seven wins.

Related Articles:

Denard Robinson, Michigan Beat Notre Dame 28-24

My seats were on the east side of the stadium, on the 10-yard line, behind the Michigan band, so when the sun made its first appearance of the day it blinded me. At the moment though, the action was at the other end of the field, so I didn’t have to look directly at the sun, at least not when Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist (who had vision problems of his own earlier in the day*) dropped back in his own endzone with just under four minutes left in the game.

When Crist heaved it downfield, however, I had to shade my eyes. The ball disappeared for a split second—perhaps the Michigan safety who was burned on the play experienced the same effect—before descending into Kyle Rudolph’s hands.

Everything about this play, from the drop back to the flight of the ball to the 55-yard run after the catch, seemed to be happening in slow motion. I heard other witnesses (fans of both teams) say this, too. I have since timed it and learned that from the snap to the pass was 4.65 seconds; the ball was in flight for just over two seconds; Rudolph’s run took 6.55 seconds and included him looking over his shoulder five times. In total, the second-longest pass play in Notre Dame history (95 yards) lasted a little more than 13 seconds.

The Irish crowd was so loud at this point that I couldn’t quite make out what the PA announcer was saying, but it was something along the lines of “That’s a 95-yard touchdown pass from Crist to Rudolph and there is a rainbow over the field!”

I was in complete shock, but given the time on the clock and Michigan’s three timeouts, I knew there was enough time for even a run-heavy drive to get Michigan in field goal range. Of course, everyone in the stadium knew a field goal attempt would likely not end well for Michigan and that a touchdown was probably needed. Denard Robinson, a trio of receivers, and a steady offensive line made sure that’s exactly what Michigan got, and the Wolverines left South Bend with a 28-24 victory and a 2-0 record. For the third straight year, and sixth time over the last seven, the underdog was victorious.

*Asked during Tuesday’s press conference about when the Notre Dame coaching staff knew Crist was hurt, Brian Kelly had this to say: “We had just got clearance from the TV tout to take the field. We were under a minute. That’s when he said, ‘Coach, I just don’t remember this play.’ You could look at him and you could tell that he wasn’t fully in charge. So that’s when we made the decision to make the change.”

Maybe Rich Rodriguez has sent a player to the playing field under similar circumstances—I have no idea—but I know for sure that Kelly did, as Crist returned for the second half. This is exactly the behavior that neuroscientists and the like are trying to combat. The NFL seems to be catching on and hopefully the NCAA will wise up as well.

It was a historical game. In addition to Notre Dame’s pass play going into the record books, Robinson broke off the longest run in Notre Dame Stadium history with an 87-yard touchdown to give Michigan a 21-7 lead in the first half. Robinson broke the school record he set last week by tallying 502 total yards (244 passing; 258 rushing). His 885 yards of total offense through two games this season is more than 87 of the 120 FBS teams, including nine ranked squads.

I wouldn’t say Robinson racked up his yards quietly against the Irish (sort of impossible when you have an 87-yard run), but the lack of a video board made it all the more impressive to discover his final stats. Apparently they were displayed at halftime, but I was too busy watching Michigan’s Lady Gaga routine. It’s a lot different when you’re watching on television and constantly being reminded of how many yards he has accumulated.

The action as I saw it right in front of me. (Credit: Andrew Kahn)

A lot of the talk after Robinson once again carried the ball nearly 30 times was that he will wear down as the season progresses or, worse yet, get injured.* Only time will tell, but Michigan’s schedule is certainly favorable in this regard. Yes, the Wolverines still have battles with Iowa, Penn State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State, but those games are in the second half of the season.

But Michigan’s upcoming games are against Massachusetts and Bowling Green (followed by Indiana and Michigan State). If the next two contests don’t provide Rich Rodriguez with the opportunity to not only limit Robinson’s carries but use other quarterbacks, it will mean Michigan has other, far more serious problems than Robinson’s workload.

*Kelly hinted at this in his postgame press conference and it sort of bothered me, especially given his decision to let Crist play after apparently suffering a concussion. “You run a quarterback 25 times, you have to have toughness,” Kelly said. “I’ll let Coach figure out if that’s the case for 10 games. Coach Rodriguez knows his team better than I do. We hit him pretty hard today, but he’s a good, tough kid.”

To me, it seems like Kelly is implying that Rodriguez is mortgaging his team’s (and Robinson’s) future in order to get some early season wins. To that I say what Rodriguez said in his Monday presser when asked about Robinson’s workload: “You coach your team; I’ll coach mine.” Rodriguez said this with a smile on his face, clearly a response to Kelly’s comments.

Of course, if Robinson were to slow down, Rodriguez can always turn to freshman running back Stephen Hopkins, who did the baseball equivalent of hitting a home run in his first at bat. His first collegiate run was a one-yard touchdown to give Michigan a 14-7 lead. He’s unstoppable.

Related Articles:

Denard Robinson Shines as Michigan Starter; Tate Forcier Demoted to Third String

After months of speculation, the Michigan quarterback depth chart was revealed yesterday as the Wolverines took on Connecticut to open the season and won 31-10. True sophomore Denard Robinson got the start and took all but two snaps—true freshman Devin Gardner filled in when Robinson was banged up late in the third quarter. True sophomore Tate Forcier, who started every game for the Wolverines last year, did not play.

It was only one game, but we learned a lot about the Michigan quarterback situation. Starting with, well, the starter and moving our way down the depth chart, here’s what we learned from Saturday.

Denard Robinson
The spring reports were confirmed on Michigan’s opening drive. Before Saturday, you could question Rich Rodriguez’s decision to start Robinson, but not anymore. Robinson’s numbers were off the charts: 19/22, 186 yards, 1 TD passing; 29 carries for 197 yards and 1 TD rushing. The rushing yards were a single-game Michigan record for a QB. The completions were five more than he had all of last season. The one-trick pony from a year ago is suddenly a legitimate dual-threat.

Robinson’s improved throwing motion was noticeable from his first pass. His accuracy, confidence, and decision-making have all improved greatly. The team clearly supports him. He’s an electrifying player, no doubt, and perhaps his biggest asset is that he makes the defense better, too—by keeping it off the field.

Uninformed critics of Rodriguez’s hiring were upset that Michigan was abandoning years of “power football” for the spread offense. But the spread comes in many forms, and yesterday Michigan ran the ball nearly three times more than it threw.

My guess is that number will shift closer to a 50/50 balance as teams realize they have to try and contain Robinson. Connecticut challenged Robinson to beat them with his arm a few times, and he responded by finding receivers down the field. Can he consistently do that?

Devin Gardner
It’s way too early to tell, but as of right now I disagree with Rodriguez’s decision to make Gardner the No. 2. I simply don’t get it. Robinson is the clear starter, fine. But if he were to get hurt, would you rather have a complete unknown or an experienced and competent player as your back-up?

Of course, Rodriguez and his staff have the advantage of watching Gardner (and Forcier) on a daily basis. I do not. But like Rodriguez I saw Forcier in Michigan’s 12 games last season and for the most part, he performed better than expected. I’d be surprised if Gardner could perform that well if forced into meaningful playing time, but maybe I’m wrong.

I do know that Rodriguez is taking a big gamble by making Gardner the second string quarterback. Not only is Gardner a true freshman, but now Forcier, the guy last year, is a non-factor.

(L to R) Gardner, Forcier, and Robinson warm up before Michigan’s Spring Game. (Credit: Pep Sucharikul)

Tate Forcier
Let the transfer rumors begin. It’s pretty incredible how the quarterback who started every game last season has fallen to third on the depth chart. At any point last season it would have been hard to imagine Forcier not starting this season, but the emergence of Robinson put an end to that thought.

I know it’s only one game, but at this point the lone advantage Forcier has on Robinson is experience. And it’s not like Robinson didn’t take any critical snaps last season. Forcier may have looked fast against a slow Notre Dame defense last season, but he does not have turn-the-corner speed. He can’t burst through holes like Robinson can (in all fairness, can anyone?) and turn five-yard runs into 15-yard gains.

Once defenses realized Forcier was far more effective outside of the pocket, they made it a priority to contain him, and that’s when we learned that Forcier is not much of a pocket passer. Last season, when it came to decision-making and accuracy, Forcier was light years ahead of his back-up. After watching Robinson fire missiles between his receivers’ numbers against UConn, I think he has surpassed Forcier as a passer.

Again, I completely understand Rodriguez’s decision to start Robinson (anyone who watched yesterday’s game should, too), but I am confused by Forcier’s fall to third string. Was it a statement move by the coach to spark a fire under the incumbent starter? I don’t think so, since burning Gardner’s redshirt is more than a minor casualty. I would think Forcier would have to be at least slightly better than the freshman version of himself, but even if he didn’t improve at all, my guess is he’s still better than the young Gardner. I hope we don’t have to find out.

It’s important to remember that, again, it was only one game. Last year, Forcier looked a star for the first five games before he started to look like a true freshman. The Wolverines started 4-0 (and got to 5-2) before collapsing down the stretch and failing to qualify for a bowl game. Defenses will tailor their schemes to Robinson, and how he and the rest of the Michigan offense respond will determine how good this offense really is.

At least for one game though, against a supposedly quality opponent, Michigan’s offense looked like a well-oiled machine.