September 7, 2010 at 10:27 pm

Bob Wojnowski

Wolverines seem to be on right path

On Denard Robinson
On Denard Robinson: Head coach Rich Rodriguez., players Kevin Koger, Mike Shaw and Ryan Van Bergen talk about Denard Robinson's performance against Connecticut.

Ann Arbor

They opened holes and closed a few, too. They opened some eyes and closed a quarterback issue.

The Wolverines did a lot in their stomping of Connecticut. Now, the goal changes, and grows. Now, they have to show they're not just about one game and one guy.

Denard Robinson is getting all the attention, rightfully so. You can bet defenses, starting with Notre Dame's Saturday, will try to make it painfully so. Hey, if a sophomore quarterback rushes for 197 yards and tallies 383 total yards in a brilliant first career start, everything shifts.

For the Wolverines and Rich Rodriguez, that's finally a good thing. Their quarterback could be their best player, and also their best running back. It's an enormous load, and it caught the slow, sloppy Huskies by surprise.

Now, the surprise factor is gone. No, Rodriguez can't rely on 29 runs from his quarterback in Notre Dame Stadium, or really anywhere. But you can see Rodriguez's blueprint, maybe for the first time, and all of a sudden, it looks pretty darn interesting.

This is uncharted territory for the Wolverines, and it's hard to tell exactly where they're headed. But if Robinson is running, there's certainly a chance they'll get there quicker.

The kid handled everything in the opener, and now all he has to do is handle even more. A year ago, it was Tate Forcier who seemingly announced his arrival by leading a 38-34 comeback victory over Notre Dame, which sparked a 4-0 start. The distance between arrivals and exits is never far, although perspective doesn't seem to be an issue for the affable Robinson.

"I'll talk to him about staying humble and staying hungry, but I think that's in his nature anyway," Rodriguez said Monday. "I think he'll be able to handle all the pats on the back. I'll tell the same thing to the team -- you're just one bad day away from everybody saying what they were saying about you last week. It's like poison, as long as you don't swallow it."

Staying humble

Praise can poison poise (follow me here, please). Robinson has a fine example in Forcier, who apparently was dropped to third string behind freshman Devin Gardner, at least for the first game. TV cameras caught a disappointed Forcier sitting by himself late in the Wolverines' 30-10 victory. The sophomore had a rough offseason and admitted the acclaim affected him. His helmet wings were revoked in practice and transfer rumors have swirled.

If Forcier is even considering abandoning the competition now, he's missing the point. Rodriguez said he wasn't overly concerned about Forcier's demeanor and expected anyone that didn't play to be disappointed.

The Wolverines still will need all the arms and legs they can muster, as injuries plague their young defense, as Robinson continues to get hit. That's why it can't be all about Robinson, no matter how fast and tough he looked behind a good, veteran offensive line. One of the running backs -- Michael Shaw? Vincent Smith? -- will have to bust a few too.

"Twenty-nine times is more than we'd run a quarterback normally," Rodriguez said. "I didn't realize it was that many. Hopefully, if we do a better job blocking downfield, Denard won't get hit as much. The plan is not to run him 29 times every game, but we gotta do what we gotta do to win the game."

The Irish are 1-0 and breaking in a new quarterback too, Dayne Crist, in Brian Kelly's pass-oriented spread offense. They have two good backs, a great tight end in Kyle Rudolph and a hotshot coach with the requisite ruddy cheeks to get Notre Dame fans excited.

Crist will throw into the (chipped) teeth of Michigan's depleted secondary, and that's why the Irish are four-point favorites. The Wolverines' defensive line and linebackers might be stronger than billed, but we don't know for sure.

Comforting start

Robinson is the X, Y and Z factor, and now that he's been unveiled, teams will sneak more defenders to the line to stop him. Robinson will have to throw deep, which might hamper his percentage just a bit (19 for 22 versus Connecticut).

"As of Sept. 4, it was the Denard show, and I have no problem being part of the supporting cast," Shaw said, smiling. "We've seen his talent, his flashes in practice, and we know what he's capable of. But even more than Denard, one of the biggest pluses was the offensive line."

That line, anchored by guard Stephen Schilling and center David Molk, will determine plenty. I'm guessing Saturday's game will more closely resemble the shootouts we expected this season.

Rodriguez knows how well Robinson fits the offense, and amid all the uncertainty, this is the most relaxed the coach has been. There has to be a comfort in seeing those big holes, and seeing someone sprint through them. After two years of playing catch-up, the Wolverines apparently have found one swift way to gain ground.

U-M vs. Notre Dame

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind.

TV/radio: NBC/WOMC 104.3, WTKA 1050

Records: Both teams 1-0

Line: Notre Dame by 4">

Rich Rodriguez was surprised Denard Robinson finished with 29 carries in Saturday's victory, but he believes his quarterback can handle the load. / Robin Buckson/The Detroit News
Rich Rodriguez congratulates running back Vincent Smith after Smith scored ... (John T. Greilick/The Detroit News)
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