By Mark Snyder, Detroit Free Press –
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Most of the Michigan football team was glad to see Air Force fly away Saturday night.
The only exception: Denard Robinson.
Saturday’s Michigan Stadium home opener looked familiar to the Wolverines who remember 2010, with one notable difference: They hung on.
Led by Robinson’s brilliance on the ground and strength through the air, No. 19 Michigan’s offense was flashy enough to overcome a rocky defensive showing, surviving for a 31-25 victory and their first win this season.
“It was great to win the football game,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. “Sometimes they’re not very pretty — this would be one — but you’ve got to give Air Force a lot of credit.”
Just enough, as the Michigan defense will be glad to face any new opponent after the past two weeks.
The transition from uber-talented Alabama athletes to Air Force’s high-pressure triple-option wasn’t easy — the Michigan defenders said they completely changed their defense the past week then again in the fourth quarter Saturday — and it showed.
They allowed 417 yards of offense to the Falcons (1-1), allowed 14 of 26 third- and fourth-down conversions and were on the field 11 minutes more than the Air Force defense.
All of that was painful and not the standard they set with 2011’s magical improvement.
But the change from 2010 and the three previous years came in the fourth quarter with Michigan leading by less than a touchdown.
Leaning on younger players and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison’s midgame rebuild, the Wolverines came through on two fourth downs — halting the Falcons’ only fourth-quarter drives — securing the win.
“The stops at the end by the defense were timely and huge and needed to be there,” Hoke said.
That was their payback to Robinson, who carried the Wolverines for the first three quarters.
The star senior quarterback finished with incredible numbers, accounting for nearly 100 percent of Michigan’s total yardage — 208 passing yards and two touchdowns, 218 rushing yards and two touchdowns — but had no running help and leaned on heavily inexperienced receivers.
The third 200-200 game of his career, the first NCAA Division I player to do so, was just a blip in his world.
With his feet, especially, he was that historic talent, the one who posts a 79-yard run on his second carry of the first half and a 58-yarder on his first carry of the second half . Carrying the ball in every important situation in between (tailback Fitz Toussaint offered nothing, eight carries for 7 yards ), he was still able to keep defenses honest in the passing game with the “Devins” package.
Robinson completed 14 of 25 passes and nine of them went to junior converted receiver Devin Gardner and freshman tight end Devin Funchess, each new to Robinson but potent enough to combine for 169 yards and two touchdowns .
When he needed a safety, he went somewhere else. When he needed playmakers, he found the tall, athletic Devins.
A week after barely running and inconsistent throwing against Alabama, Robinson put up an all-time performance for someone else and another memorable one in his scrapbook.
“I calmed down a little more,” Robinson said.
Aside from Robinson’s performance, this won’t be a film Michigan will frame for posterity.
The offensive line was disappointed, the defense was holey and Air Force had moments where it seemed unstoppable.
But after Alabama’s whipping in Arlington, Texas, in last week, winning the game with a defensive stand in the final minutes will linger.
“We knew we needed to get this done,” said linebacker Jake Ryan, who led Michigan with 11 tackles, while wearing his new No. 47 Legends jersey for Bennie Oosterbaan. “We all came together and it’s a defensive effort the whole time. We needed to stop them and go from there.”
With a win in their pocket, they actually can.