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In the waning moments of Michigan's season-opening win over Connecticut, with most of the Wolverines bunched on the sideline and whooping it up, third-string quarterback Tate Forcier sat alone on the bench, a towel over his face. Approached on the field after the game by an annarbor.com reporter, Forcier said, "All you need to know is I'm out."
Sorry to hear it, Tate. Good luck in the Division formerly known as I-AA, or wherever you end up transferring. As the towel was lifted, so to speak, on a brand-new college football season last Saturday, it was more interesting to focus on which players were in. With such long-standing, headline-bogarting icons as Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford departing for the NFL, which fresh faces would fill the void? Who would emerge as the nation's new heroes, and who would stumble?
Fourth-ranked Florida pretty much cornered the market on stumbling. For most of its first post-Tebow outing, an unsightly 34--12 home win over Miami (Ohio), the offense appeared to be experimenting with blindfolds. But don't blame quarterback John Brantley. Tebow's successor spent much of his afternoon tracking down errant shotgun snaps from center Mike Pouncey, who suffered a sudden onset of whatever ailed Rick Ankiel. Meanwhile, in what amounted to his second chance to make a first impression, McCoy's heir, Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert, was good but not great. Alabama running back Trent Richardson was great ... while he played. Stepping in for his Heisman Trophy--winning teammate, Mark Ingram, who had minor knee surgery last week, Richardson gashed hapless San Jose State for 66 yards and two scores on 10 carries, at which point coach Nick Saban got his stud sophomore out of the game, keeping him fresh for Penn State on Saturday.
Kenjon Barner was on ice by halftime as well. That didn't keep the Oregon sophomore running back from putting up ridiculous numbers in a 72--nil beat-down of New Mexico. No matter how bad the Lobos are, and they are dreadful, it was a stunning statement by the No. 11 Ducks—a statement that can be boiled down to two words: Jeremiah who?
The freshest of the weekend's fresh faces was the smiling, dreadlock-framed mug of Denard Robinson, the 19-year-old sophomore who beat out Forcier in the off-season. With just 81 seconds to play in the new-and-improved Big House, the new-and-improved Robinson threw just his third incomplete pass (in 22 attempts), allowing UConn to take over on downs. As Robinson approached Rich Rodriguez on the sideline, the Wolverines' coach made a show of being angry with him ... for roughly two seconds, at which point RichRod grinned broadly, then dispensed an affectionate slap to Robinson's helmet.
Small wonder Rodriguez was smiling. In leading Michigan to a 30--10 win over the talented and well-coached Huskies, Robinson brought an end to Rodriguez's two-year search for a quarterback suited to run his up-tempo, zone-read spread offense. It took all of two possessions—during which Robinson rushed for 105 yards, including a 32-yard score, and passed for 44 while staking his team to a 14--0 lead—to snuff out any remaining talk of a QB controversy in Ann Arbor.
Yes, the Wolverines' defense is stronger than the one that gave up 35.4 points per game in its last five outings of 2009, all losses. (The team finished 5--7.) And yes, the offensive line is bigger, yet playing much faster, in Year 3 under RichRod. But the difference in this game was the quicksilver quarterback known as Shoelace, so nicknamed because he insists on playing with his cleats untied. Robinson finished with 197 rushing yards—a school best for a QB—on 29 carries while throwing for 186 yards and one touchdown.
But you expect Robinson, a speedster from Deerfield Beach (Fla.) High, to get yards on the ground. He's run a 4.32 in the 40. On his first carry as a collegian, a year ago, he zoomed up the middle for a 43-yard touchdown against Western Michigan. What no one expected was for the kid to come out in his first start under center zipping the ball with Brady-esque accuracy. Last season Robinson connected on 14 of his 31 passes—18 of 31 if you include his four interceptions (compared with two touchdown passes). "You could just see in spring practice," said Rodriguez, "he was starting to get a knowledge of not only what we do but how we want to attack defenses. He's gonna keep getting better."
"It's a totally different team because of the quarterback," declared a deeply impressed Huskies coach Randy Edsall. Indeed, Robinson stands to single-handedly alter the trajectory of the Wolverines who, like Penn State (page 44), were widely regarded as Big Ten pretenders due largely to quarterback concerns. Of course, there's plenty of time for this upbeat story to implode (see Michigan, Wolverines, 2009). In the meantime, says Rodriguez, his team would "feel good for a few hours and then get back to work."
One popular postgame question: Will Shoelace start tying his shoelaces? In the pile after a whistle, Robinson reported, frustrated Huskies would periodically shout, "Take his shoe! Take his shoe!" When he ran for one of Michigan's 28 first downs, one actually did.