Michigan football team opens 2009 season by thumping Western Michigan
What a difference a quarterback - or two - makes.
Michigan opened the 2009 season Saturday looking nothing like the motley bunch that finished 2008 with the most losses in school history.
Quarterback play was outstanding. The defense was even better. And the controversy that cloaked coach Rich Rodriguez earlier in the week didn’t mean a thing come game day.
Tate Forcier, the third true freshman to start a season opener at quarterback for Michigan since 1975, threw three first-half touchdown passes, and classmate Denard Robinson picked up a fumbled snap and scampered 43 yards for another score as Michigan walloped Western Michigan, 31-7.
“They’ve been hungry for nine months,” Rodriguez said. “They are tired of everybody saying, ‘We’re going to be better.’ We wanted to show them. And one week doesn’t make a season, but it certainly makes you feel better for a week.”
Forcier, who was named the starter Thursday after a camp-long battle with Robinson and Nick Sheridan, finished 13-of-20 passing for 179 yards. He played most of the game under center despite suggestions from Rodriguez earlier in the week that Michigan would rotate its signal callers.
Robinson, whose first snap came as a receiver, led the Wolverines with 74 yards rushing. He was 2-of-4 passing for 18 yards.
Sheridan played sparingly, throwing an interception in the end zone on Michigan’s opening second-half drive.
“Those guys were recruited for this system,” quarterbacks coach Rod Smith said. “And not that the other guys can’t do it, it’s just a matter of you got to know what your strengths and weaknesses are, and these guys are better suited, I think, than what we had as a unit last year.”
Last year, with Sheridan and the since-transferred Steven Threet under center, Michigan could barely get out of its way on offense.
That wasn’t the case Saturday as the Wolverines ran their first 12 plays according to script and scored all of their points in the first half.
Forcier led a seven-play, 53-yard drive on Michigan’s opening possession with the poise of a seasoned vet. He completed his first pass off a play-action fake to Junior Hemingway for 5 yards, then stepped past a blind-side rusher and directed Hemingway to the end zone for a 28-yard touchdown.
Most impressively on the play, Forcier avoided the temptation to run after leaving the pocket - something most young quarterbacks would have done.
Robinson’s touchdown came on a called reverse when he scooped up a botched snap and weaved through the Western defense, dodging one would-be tackler near the Michigan sideline and outrunning two more to the end zone.
“He dropped the snap, juked three people out, then took off for a touchdown,” Forcier said. “It’s something that, I was happy but it’s nothing I was impressed by. I’ve seen him do it so many times in practice, it’s typical for him to do that.
“I’m happy for him - I’m happy for both of us. We both got our first touchdowns, and I couldn’t have been happier.”
Michigan finished with 439 yards of total offense - more than it had in every game last year - and came a fourth-quarter Tim Hiller touchdown pass away from its first shutout since 2007.
Hiller, the Broncos’ four-year starter, threw for 259 yards, but struggled to diagnose new Michigan coordinator Greg Robinson’s high-pressure defense.
Boubacar Cissoko and Jonas Mouton had interceptions, Brandon Herron recovered a fumble, and the Broncos ran just three plays on six of their first seven drives. Their first play in Michigan territory came with less than three minutes remaining in the first half.
“I thought the first half was just - they were phenomenal,” Rodriguez said.
So, too, was the support for Rodriguez, whose beleaguered week included allegations of NCAA violations about excessive practice time and questions about his relationship with a rogue former Clemson booster.
Michigan fans lined the team’s Victor’s Walk to the stadium carrying signs of approval, and the maize-clad student section chanted Rodriguez’s name late in the first half and again after the game.
Rodriguez said it was good to see unwavering support for his players and team.
“This was a win for Michigan and a great win for Michigan,” he said.
But players and coaches said the day meant plenty to Rodriguez, too.
“It was emotional,” offensive coordinator Calvin Magee said. “The signs and all of that stuff for Rich, it was emotional. I’m glad I had on shades.”
Dave Birkett covers the University of Michigan football team for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org