Robinson’s heroics help Michigan stun Notre Dame

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Denard Robinson skipped down the field like a giddy grammar-school kid done with classes for the summer.

The Michigan quarterback had just led the Wolverines to one of the most improbable comebacks in college football history, stunning Notre Dame 35-31 in the first night game at Michigan Stadium.

It took the Maize-and-Blue 132 years to play under the lights. It was worth the wait.

“Every time you see this game, you’re going to know that both teams are going to fight to the end,” a beaming Robinson said of the Irish and Wolverines. “It’s never over until you see zeros on the clock.”

Denard Robinson engineered two comebacks to lead Michigan past Notre Dame.
(Getty Images)

Michigan trailed 24-7 at the close of the third quarter. But in quick-strike, breathtaking fashion, the youngster known as “Shoelace” left Notre Dame tied in knots.

He broke Irish hearts, not once, but twice, commanding his team to 28 fourth-quarter points and a pair of rallies.

The teams combined for three touchdowns over the final 72 seconds.

“Everybody was just playing as a team, just doing what we’re doing to win for Michigan,” Robinson said. “Coach said we have a whole bunch of football left and keep playing until the end, and that’s what we did.”

Undaunted to the finish, all the bounces seemed to go Michigan’s way.

Robinson stamped a four-play, 83-yard drive six seconds into the fourth quarter by scooping up a fumble and dashing in for a 1-yard TD that cut the deficit to 10 points.

He tossed a 14-yard touchdown to Jeremy Gallon at 10:47 to pull his team within three. His 21-yard screen pass to Vincent Smith with 1:12 left gave Michigan (2-0) its first lead of the game, 28-24, and brought unbridled joy to the Big House.

A 17-point comeback was hard to fathom.

But this drama wasn’t done. There were two acts to go.

[Photos: Michigan rallies past Notre Dame]

The Irish (0-2) promptly zipped down the field in four plays, with quarterback Tommy Rees hitting Theo Riddick for a 29-yard TD with 30 seconds left and a 31-28 ND edge.

Robinson played the protagonist one more time.

On second-and-10 from his own 20-yard line, he rolled out and found Gallon for a 64-yard gain. Just eight ticks remained on the clock, but Michigan, with two timeouts left, wasn’t thinking tying field goal. Robinson hooked up with Roy Roundtree in the right corner of the end zone with two seconds left – Roundtree’s only catch of the game – setting the final score and inciting the crowd into a celebration that reverberated all the way to Indiana.

“We play to win,” first-year coach Brady Hoke said stoically.

Denard Robinson has racked up 948 yards of offense in his two games against the Irish.

Robinson (2-of-9 passing for 48 yards with an interception in the first half) finished 11-of-24 for 338 yards and four touchdowns.

[Recap: Michigan 35, Notre Dame 31]

Such performances launch Heisman hopes as Robinson is well aware. He became the talk of the nation last September after tearing up the Irish for 502 yards. In two games against Notre Dame he has compiled 948 yards total offense.

The Irish will see Robinson in their nightmares and view this as another game that got away. Five turnovers were damning. Spotty special teams play hurt. Crummy tackling and blown coverages were crippling. And Rees (two interceptions and a lost fumble) did little to support the notion that he should supplant Dayne Crist as the starting quarterback. Rees finished 27-of-39 passing for 315 yards and three touchdowns. But he made bad decisions in the red zone, taking away potential points.

“As a quarterback you put a lot of responsibility on yourself,” Rees said. “I didn’t do enough tonight to help this team win the game.”

Notre Dame moved methodically down the field on its first two possessions, running out to a 14-0 lead. Rees capped the first drive with a pretty 7-yard toss to Riddick. He completed five passes on the second drive, a 10-play, 83-yard march that looked like it might make this one a laugher.

Then, in the second quarter, Rees took unnecessary chances, killing momentum. His first interception set the Wolverines up at the Irish 45 and Robinson converted, finding Junior Hemingway for a 43-yard TD. On the second pick, Rees blew up what seemed a sure scoring drive, J.T. Floyd stepping in front of a telegraphed throw at the 2-yard-line.

The Irish in general and Rees in particular showed they can’t completely handle prosperity. A combined 10 turnovers against South Florida and Michigan, five inside the opponent’s 10-yard-line, yield predictable results.

Losses. Defeats that came despite a pair of 500-plus-yard offensive outings.

“We’re not good enough,” coach Brian Kelly said. “There’s not one individual in that locker room, including the coaches, that are good enough right now. And consequently, we lost the football game. I mean across the board.”

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As Saturday night turned into Sunday morning, “Oh, What A Night,” by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons blared over the stadium P.A. Much of the NCAA record crowd of 114,804 lingered, unwilling to leave the bleachers for more than 30 minutes after the game was over.

They were part psyched, part in disbelief of what they had witnessed over the final 15 minutes.

Oh, what a night, indeed.

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Gerry Ahern is the Managing Editor/Colleges for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Gerry a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Sunday, Sep 11, 2011