Gator Bowl defeat casts doubt on futures of Rich Rodriguez, Denard Robinson at Michigan
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Asked if he thought the implications of a disastrous Gator Bowl performance would influence a decision on his future, Rich Rodriguez declined to answer the question.
“You’re asking the wrong person,” he said.
Asked if he thought he’d be coaching the Michigan football team again next season, Rodriguez repeated his response.
“You’re asked the wrong person,” he said, before adding, almost as an afterthought, “I do.”
But when it came time to explain what transpired on the field Saturday during a 52-14 loss to Mississippi State in the team’s first bowl game in three years, no one else could better explain.
“We did not execute,” Rodriguez said. “It sounds simplistic, but it’s very disappointing because the guys have a great attitude. But they made plays and we didn’t.
“They tackled better than us. They caught better than us. They ran better than us, and that’s unfortunate.”
That about summed it up.
In their worst bowl loss in school history, the Wolverines appeared as caricatures of themselves, exaggerating every strength and shortcoming exhibited throughout the 2010 season.
As they have throughout their 7-6 season, the Wolverines struggled in the second quarter. It’s the only quarter they’ve been outscored in this year, and Mississippi State outscored them, 21-0.
On offense, the Wolverines flashed signs. Denard Robinson looked indestructible early on, completing seven of seven passes and throwing for two touchdowns while ripping off runs of 24 and 22 yards, all in the first quarter.
On defense, the Wolverines allowed 485 yards Saturday. It was, incredibly, the ninth time this season the beleaguered unit allowed 400 or more yards.
Worst of all may have been special teams.
Two Bulldogs nearly plowed into punter Will Hagerup when Marvin Bure blocked his first-quarter punt. The Bulldogs capitalized with a go-ahead field goal that made the score 10-7.
Kicker Brendan Gibbons put the exclamation point on a dismal season, missing a 35-yard field-goal attempt in the third quarter, Michigan’s last gasp at establishing some momentum.
He finished the season 1-for-5 on field-goal attempts. Overall, Michigan kickers went 4-for-14 on the season.
One departure from the season's protocol - athletic director Dave Brandon, the right person to ask, was absent from his usual perch at the rear of Rodriguez's postgame press conference for the first time this season.
There were a few positive special-teams plays. Martavious Odoms returned from a six-game absence and sparked the Wolverines’ return game, enjoying two kickoff returns or 40 or more yards, and Junior Hemingway sprinted ahead for a 53-yard punt return.
But none of it mattered.
“We went out ready to play, and I don’t know what happened,” Odoms said. “We were playing hard, and they made plays. We didn’t answer the plays they made. I think that’s what happened.” Mississippi State converted all five of its fourth-down attempts. Michigan was 0-of-5 on fourth-down attempts. Mississippi State converted eight of 11 third-down attempts in the first half.
Michigan went 2-for-10 in the entire game.
“We didn’t come to play football,” said Robinson, who sounded as disgusted as ever.
Robinson rushed for 51 of his 59 total rushing yards in the first quarter. It was his lowest output in an otherwise breakthrough season.
Rodriguez’s future wasn’t the only one in doubt Saturday. Robinson, who is closely tied to one of the few college coaches who believed he could play quarterback, wouldn’t say whether he’d be back at Michigan should Rodriguez be fired.
“No response,” Robinson said, asked if he would return.
Defensive tackle Mike Martin said after the game that he had given “no thought” to whether he’d consider entering the NFL Draft as a junior. But no matter what happens with Rodriguez, he was clearly pumped about returning to Michigan.
“I’m excited about it,” Martin said. “This is my last year coming up, and I’m going to be that guy running out of the tunnel first. That’s surreal, and I’m excited about it and I’m ready to get working.”
Several of the other Wolverines said they were eager to get started on their off-season workouts. But their thoughts traveled back to Rodriguez, and the uncertainty around his job.
“That’s something that Coach Rod and the administration at Michigan have got to worry about,” Odoms said. “I mean, to lose like that is bad. All we can do is keep moving forward and trying to get better.”