By Brian Hamilton, Chicago Tribune –
It’s possible the delirium of 114,804 fans, or most of them anyway, has lasted a year and a week. Michigan scores 28 points in the fourth quarter in its first-ever home night game, against loathed Notre Dame no less, and it is bound to have a little staying power.
What Michigan remembers is this: Before the spine-tingling came the stomach-churning.
“You know, the first three quarters of last year, we played awful,” Wolverines tackle Taylor Lewan said Monday. “We can’t come out like that. I’m really focused on this game right now. I’m hoping to make some memories in this game.”
It is moderate, practical thinking befitting a team far removed from last year and, by its own estimation, far away from knowing exactly what it has this year.
No. 18 Michigan has been turned to sawdust by No. 1 Alabama, which is no particular shame. It recovered with two straight wins. And it enters another night game against No. 11 Notre Dame taking the first steps of what apparently is a journey of self-discovery.
“I think we’ll know more about us as a football team in the next two weeks,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said.
Not shockingly, Denard Robinson and his line will determine if this becomes an identity crisis. In his last two games against Notre Dame, Robinson has 948 yards of total offense and eight total touchdowns, essentially blowtorching the Irish.
But it was only on Sept. 1 that Robinson was exposed by Alabama (and some might argue Michigan’s game plan) in an 11-of-26 passing night that featured just 27 rushing yards. He can negate a strong front seven with his scrambling and thus stress a young secondary … or he can be corralled, much like he was for three quarters last season.
“He’s prepared the same way for every game,” receiver Devin Gardner said. “As it should be, when it’s a big rivalry like that, he just performs his best.”
Robinson’s ability to freelance — as opposed to running for his life — follows how well the Michigan offensive line continues to jell.
“We have to get better,” Lewan said. “Technique will get you to the spot you need to go to. You have to play angry. A little nasty. Our offensive line needs to do that a little more.”
Michigan won’t play another game at the Big House until Oct. 13. It is a long way from home, and a long way from a fevered ending to a night game last September. It remains to be seen if another under-the-lights clash with the Irish is just as illuminating, and if that’s a good or bad thing.
“This is one of the oldest, most ferocious rivalries in college football and you don’t treat this game like just another game,” defensive end Craig Roh said. “It is Notre Dame. This is the peak of college football right here.”