Kicking the habit

by | Oct 21, 2012 | Detroit Free Press, Sports | 0 comments

Denard Robinson is a force of nature, a joy to watch, but he is simply not an accurate passer. It’s not mean. It’s fact. Now and then he makes a terrific throw, but just as often he misses a simple pass to keep a drive going. I lost track of how many makeable third downs took the Wolverines off the field Saturday. Behind his receiver. Over his receiver. It’s one thing, as a quarterback, if you don’t have a cannon. But you have to have a reliable pistol.

Having said that…

What counts most is when it counts most. And with 18 seconds left, no time-outs, one real offensive play to go, Robinson stepped back, scrambled and delivered – what else? – a perfect strike to Drew Dileo for 20 yards.

And suddenly, a game that seemed agonizingly out of reach was just a kick away. Dileo, who had a huge day receiving, made his last grab, a snap from center, he put the ball down, and Brendan Gibbons kicked it home, a 38-yard field goal for the victory.

Back to Blue.

“It means a lot to us,” Robinson screamed to the BTN cameras after the 12-10 victory over Michigan State in the Big House as students celebrated behind him. “We ain’t beat them since we been here. I mean, this is what it’s supposed to be like.”

Pretty? It wasn’t pretty. Robinson completed less than half of his passes. U-M never scored a touchdown. There were too many penalties, too many broken plays, bad third-down execution and, let’s be honest, neither team is national championship material.

But when the national stuff is gone, the local matters more. And the fact MSU had won the previous four of these annual grudge matches was wasted on no one, at least no one wearing maize and blue.

MSU’s amazing play

“We knew it was going to be a dogfight,” U-M senior safety Jordan Kovacs said. “That’s what Michigan State is year in and year out.”

Those last-minute heroics erased some embarrassing moments for the 23rd-ranked Wolverines (5-2). Had they dropped this one, fans would forever be talking about an MSU fake punt that fooled every U-M player and coach. With less than 10 minutes to go, the ball on their 23, the Spartans executed a beautiful fake. Punter Mike Sadler took off like Carl Lewis, behind three blockers, and nobody touched him until he was 20-plus yards downfield.

“That was a very good play… for Michigan State,” U-M coach Brady Hoke said. And a gutsy call by Mark Dantonio. It fueled a drive that lasted 18 plays, chewed up nearly 8 minutes, finished with a field goal, and left the Wolverines trailing by a point, 10-9, and looking at the clock.

But somehow, particularly in college football, stories that look one way early seem to be written in different ink by the end. After a U-M drive stalled at the MSU 43 – another poorly thrown third-down pass by Robinson – the U-M defense, which didn’t have a great second half, shut down MSU on three straight plays.

“That’s what I was thinking as we took the field,” Kovacs said. “It’s our chance to redeem ourselves…. We got the ball back and let Denard take over.”

An unusual final drive

Michigan got the ball on its 38 with 2 minutes left and one time-out. Usually, this is where Robinson lets his feet do the talking. But the quarterback – who had 96 yards on the day, well below his average – gained only 2 yards rushing on the final series.

But with 18 seconds left, Robinson – who is nothing if not surprising – delivered that rocket pass to Dileo.

What counts most is when it counts most.

“The offensive line and the running backs did a great job blocking,” Robinson said, “and gave me time to throw the ball.”

Moments later, the U-M kids were storming the field, and the five years of waiting were over. It was the Wolverines’ 900th victory, the most in college football history. That means nothing to MSU, which now starts its own countdown to next year.

The Spartans, suffering a tough season at 4-4, had some nice defensive moments. And there were many plays in which their young quarterback, Andrew Maxwell, appeared less jittery and more accurate than Robinson.

But if you look at it objectively, it’s probably good that U-M won. Five straight for MSU might have negated the word “rivalry.” Not a single player on the U-M roster had known the feeling of beating MSU – while not a single Spartan had ever lost to U-M.

It seems like you should experience both before you graduate.

The Paul Bunyan Trophy changes hands. A close game, if not a pretty game, decided largely on a pass by a guy who had a bad day passing. Folks who break down game film might shake their heads at all the opportunities Robinson missed. But Michigan fans will only remember the beauty he delivered.

Back to Blue.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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