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Posted on Sun, Oct 9, 2011 : 12:20 a.m.

Michigan football team answers assortment of questions with resounding answers against Northwestern

By Kyle Meinke


Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson and the Wolverines pulled away from Northwestern with a 28-point second half.

Melanie Maxwell |

EVANSTON, Ill. — You wanted a test?

You got a test. A few of them, really. Maybe even a mid-term exam.

And Michigan aced it.

The No. 12 Wolverines reached the halfway point of their season with a thrilling 42-24 comeback win against Northwestern on Saturday, and it was no walk in the park — even if the park, Ryan Field, was at least 50-50 behind them.

Michigan (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten) faced adversity like it hasn't seen, except for that fourth quarter against Notre Dame. This time, though, it felt different. The Wolverines were fortunate to beat the Irish. They deserved to beat the Wildcats, despite a sluggish first half and 10-point halftime deficit.

Beat them, they did — and in so doing, answered some of those questions that continue to swirl around the Wolverines' perfect start.

Can they win on the road?


Michigan sophomore wide receiver Jeremy Gallon and senior wide receiver Junior Hemingway celebrate Gallon's second-quarter touchdown.

Melanie Maxwell |

This probably was the biggest uncertainty about the Wolverines, but they answered it emphatically. It wasn't always pretty — it was downright ugly at points in the first half, especially when quarterback Denard Robinson threw three interceptions to help stake Northwestern to a 24-14 halftime lead.

But it was the response that was so telling.

"We knew we were going to have some adversity," safety Jordan Kovacs said. "Any time you go on the road, it’s tough, and a night game in Evanston? It’s really tough."

By digging themselves in a hole, Michigan faced a 10-point road deficit with its offense sputtering and defense struggling to slow Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa.

How will they respond to a road deficit?

Against Northwestern, just as it so often won at home: Make in-game adjustments, roll like crazy. The Wolverines had three third-quarter drives, each of which resulted in a touchdown. Their defense, meantime, forced a three-and-out and a Brandon Hawthorne interception.

Michigan held the ball for 12 minutes, 28 seconds of the quarter.

"If you would have asked me (how we performed on the road) at halftime, I would have said not very well," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. "But, I think our guys did a nice job of staying focused during the trip, and not letting anything distract them coming into a new stadium and all those things."

Will last year's top receiver, Roy Roundtree, ever be a factor?

He had two of the game's biggest catches against the Wildcats.

Michigan's first second-half possession started with consecutive negative-yardage plays. On third-and-12, Robinson dropped back, then found Roundtree for a 17-yard catch. It can be argued that, without that first down, Michigan might not have been able to reel off 28 unanswered second-half points.

But he did — and followed with another, this time a 57-yard jump-ball reception that put the Wolverines on the goal line. Three plays later, Michigan scored a touchdown to close within 24-21 and jump start that second-half surge.

Can the Wolverines win without Robinson?

The electric junior quarterback left the game — not for more of that trickery with backup Devin Gardner, but because of a left hand injury. Michigan responded by scoring a touchdown on a bootleg scramble by Gardner.

It gave Michigan a 28-24 lead — its first since leading 7-0 after its first drive.

Robinson himself responded to adversity, coming back from those three first-half picks to lead Michigan to 28 unanswered second-half points.

"He’s a competitor," Hoke said. "Him and (offensive coordinator) Al Borges talked a little bit, and talked about what we wanted to do offensively. And again, you go back to making sure your fundamentals and techniques (are sound).

"I mean, that’s all we talked about was fundamentals and techniques."

That's a lot of questions, and all the answers were resounding.

It seems fitting it all came against the Wildcats, who faced a first-year Michigan coach the last time they played the Wolverines. They beat Rich Rodriguez and Michigan in that 2008 game, the Wolverines' eighth loss of the year. That set a program record.

This time, Hoke beat the Wildcats to win his sixth consecutive game and become bowl eligible.

The funny thing is, only once have the words "bowl eligible" been brought up to Hoke this season. That plateau seems so beneath this team. It's not even a goal, it's an assumption — and now a reality.

Rather, the goal is a Big Ten championship. And with each passed test, the Wolverines become a more legitimate contender to win the wide-open Legends Division.

After all, they've been 6-0 six times since 1976. Each time, they made the Rose Bowl.

Kyle Meinke covers Michigan football for He can be reached at 734-623-2588, by email at and followed on Twitter @kmeinke.



Sun, Oct 9, 2011 : 6:33 p.m.

Man, all you guys are so right about the officiating and announcers, annoying as all hell. I agree that that was a good non call on the helmet thing. Some guys don't strap on their helmet very good and the defensive player should get penalized for a great effort? I think not, it was the only time or 2 that the officials did anything right. The holding they weren't calling against the Cats, oye!


Sun, Oct 9, 2011 : 5:45 p.m.

Murrow's Ghost eloquently sums up what many of us saw and felt during and after this Michigan victory. At the end of the first half, I almost went off to do other things rather than see Hoke and Michigan "complete the meltdown" in the second half. What got me back in front of the TV was Hoke's seemingly infallible methods to date: I was thinking, "Hoke CAN'T be that wrong!" :-) On one hand, this kind of last minute save is typical and troubling because we think it will lead to a defeat or a series of them. OTH: This save came much earlier compared to the last second save against Notre Dame. Everyone sees No. 16's inconsistency and worries about it. But looking back, I think he's evolving and improving. Those occasional flashes of absolute brilliance are coming more often and stringing together more with every game. Considering that he's just halfway through his junior season, it looks increasingly like he's just maturing as any talented human being does. Michigan is now 6-0 with six games ahead. Who can now doubt Hoke and Michigan won't make the season tally at least 8-4?? What was hopeful thinking just 6 weeks ago looks like a dead certainty now. Go Blue! You can do this!


Mon, Oct 10, 2011 : 2:44 p.m.

So 8-4 is not better than 7-6 according to Mick52 math? How about we take a look at the FIRST year under RR and the first year under Hoke. We have 3-9 versus at WORST 6-7. (I would bet my house that won't be their record). I would also point out that NONE of the games this season were against Division 2 opponents (UMass). I would say 8-4 would be a BARE minimum they will be. I am going to say its more likely to be 10-3 or dare I say it 11-2. I think there are three games left that hold serious risk of loss, MSU, Nebraska and OSU. I'd love us to win all three, but I could live with winning one of them. This week will really allow a better analysis of is OSU that bad, is MSU defense that good. Nebraska not even competing against Wisconsin makes me doubt them.


Sun, Oct 9, 2011 : 7:01 p.m.

Mick, 8-4 is improvement over last season and would probably require at least one upset along the way. The only team we may be favored against the rest of the way is Purdue...maybe OSU depending on how they're playing at the time with Miller at QB. Further, the competitive nature of this team vs. the last three is quite an evident improvement already. This team comes back when they are down and pounds overmatched teams into the dirt. Sure, after our start, 8-4 might be a bit of a disappointing finish, but heading into the season, most people had Notre Dame and Northwestern pencilled in as losses, and some even had SDSU as a loss. So, while 8-4 may not be a MAJOR improvement record-wise, I think it would still be a HUGE improvement in terms of the direction the program is headed moving forward, especially with all of the top-notch recruits coming in.


Sun, Oct 9, 2011 : 6:43 p.m.

Hey Mick52, what are you talking about my man? Look at the roster, look at the depth chart and the Freshman playing/not playing this year, the incoming stud class, a SR. Denard and a JR. Devin and an additional year of phenomenal coaching, we'll be just fine thank you.


Sun, Oct 9, 2011 : 6:04 p.m.

8-4 is just one win better than last year. I think this team should be 9-3. I would consider 8-4 as no improvement overall. To show improvement I expect at least one upset. Also, I am not sure next year will be promising either since we are losing some key players.


Sun, Oct 9, 2011 : 2:27 p.m.

That was a a good test. Adversity sums it up, a great second half comeback. There will be some folks waiting for one more test, next game against Sparty. For me, this team just passed a very good test, a win by 18 points against a scary Northwestern team at Ryan Field. A second half shut out by our defense against this high powered scoring offense was very impressive. The real test against Sparty will our offense versus their defense. I feel that our defense will handle their offense. It will be fun reading about the match up that will be discussed in the days leading up to this show-down. I am sold on this Michigan team's success this season to date. An impressive road win...GO BLUE!!!


Sun, Oct 9, 2011 : 2 p.m.

Last night was a very good test for us. We did a great job of responding to adversity on both sides of the ball. The O corrected the mistakes and took care of business in the 2nd half, and ended up scoring 28 points. The D came out and shut down a good offensive team, and made it possible for us to come back. Great job by Coach Hoke and staff to make the necessary adjustments, and to keep the team focused and motivated to win the game in the 2nd half. Denard received some good coaching to come out in the 2nd half and to step into his throws ... that made a huge difference. Go Blue !


Sun, Oct 9, 2011 : 12:57 p.m.

I'm clad Denard came out passing the second half. With all the interceptions the first half he could have lost confidence and just stuck with the running game making Michigan's offense one dimensional.


Mon, Oct 10, 2011 : 1:35 a.m.

True Mick--the interceptions happened when someone was in his face ( he was off balance and his feet where not planted). He needs to learn when to take the loss and not force the ball.


Sun, Oct 9, 2011 : 5:51 p.m.

It looked like he was more careful, no risky passes only to open receivers within an easy pass.

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Sun, Oct 9, 2011 : 12:34 p.m.

The tale of two halves of football. The first half resembled the last three years: an offense that moved the ball but that turned it over frequently and a defense that resembled soft butter trying to stop a hot knife. I was having PTSD flashbacks. The second half was an entirely different story. The offense made no mistakes and looked incredibly sharp, and the defense stepped up and forced two turnovers (and they were forced--they did not just happen), put much more pressure on Persa (Fitzgerald was correct--Kovacs should have been flagged), and held a very good offensive team scoreless. End of flashbacks. Great observation, heartbreak, about DR. Hard to argue with his passing yardage last night, but his awkward form (esp. throwing off the back foot) is just plain scary, and it cost us last night. I wonder if it has to do with his height--that he has a hard time seeing over offensive and oncoming defensive linemen? Or is it just a bad habit he picked up in HS that hasn't been coached out of him yet? Are we seeing the future when we see DR and DG in the backfield together? More of it last night, this time NOT in last week's diamond formation. I'm thinking that this might be the offensive set for next year. Can't wait for the MCC to give all of the credit for the 6-0 start to the incompetent who got fired in January. One last thought: Are there any worse referees in the FBS than those in the Big Ten, and are there any worse broadcasters than those on the Big Ten Network. I finally turned down the sound and turned on Beckman and Brandy. This IS Michigan!!! Good Night and Good Luck


Sun, Oct 9, 2011 : 7:31 p.m.

Edward: You are SOOOO right about the BTN announcers. They made so many errors it was laughable. This network has had the worst announcers and technical crew since the network first started. And that missed helmet penalty was not fair to NW. Fitzgerald should not have been flagged for being concerned about that call, but I guess it was like old Bo penalties when he made the refs angry. But it was so nice to see Michigan play so well after being outplayed in first half!! Go blue.


Sun, Oct 9, 2011 : 5:39 p.m.

The broadcasters and BTN were awful, one of the analysts in the morning said he thought the game would be close like it was last year... we didn't play NU since 2008....

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Sun, Oct 9, 2011 : 2:45 p.m.

Don't doubt that Fitz deserved the 15-yarder he got. And I agree that what happened happened because Persa ducked. And so here I admit an ignorance of the rules: it does not matter if one places ones hand on a face mask accidentally or on purpose. Is it not the same if one rips off the helmet from behind? Is the latter not a penalty? GN&GL


Sun, Oct 9, 2011 : 2:31 p.m.

Ghost Got to disagree with you on the Persa helmet thing. Kovaks tried to hit him in the shoulder pads and Persa ducked. That put his helmet in the crook of Kovaks arm. To me, on the endzone cam, it looks like Kovaks hand is, if in anything, in Persa's ear hole or maybe under the helmet. I thought both the non call and the call on Coach Fitz was right. Also, the MCC started last night on the chat saying "Hoke's winning with RichRod's team". It was pointed out that RichRod would be losing with this team, but I think that sailed right past them. And you are correct on both the Big 10 refs and the announcers. It got to the point where every carry by one of our backs I expected to come back via a hold while NW constantly mugged our D Line. It was shocking how badly officiated that game was. Hopefully, the league reviews every game and takes some action against that crew. Plus, that crew doing the game must have been wearing purple under their suits. I couldn't get over how biased it was. Totally awful. I'm optimistic we'll be good enough that from here on out we'll either be on ESPN or ABC.


Sun, Oct 9, 2011 : 12:14 p.m.

Ranking right up there with such inspirational messages as "Win one for the Gipper" is Brady "Bluto" Hoke's poignant halftime charge to the team: "Over? Did you say "over?" Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell, no!" Following the lead of our coaching staff, Bluto, Flounder and Otter, the men of Upsilon Mu proceeded to decide when it was over!!!


Sun, Oct 9, 2011 : 5:21 a.m.

BTW Kyle, our ninth loss in 2008 was to that school in ohio not Northwestern. Also, to the TSIO Fans, your team's not so good when you can't cheat, huh? 3-3 and 0-2 in the B1G, it doesn't break my heart. You know, I used to root for that program to do well till the played us, I don't care about that anymore, never will, you deserve to go through the pain and suffering for all that cheatin'.


Sun, Oct 9, 2011 : 6:44 p.m.

I've got to admit I wanted OSU to beat Nebraska for a couple of reasons. First, to help clear the way for UM to win the Legends division. Second, because I work with husker fans who have forever said Nebraska would run through the Big Ten, so I want to see them take a whoopin' every week by every Big Ten team they play...even if it is the cheatin' Bucks.


Sun, Oct 9, 2011 : 6:19 p.m.

No problem my man, keep up the good work buddy. I gotta razz you when I disagree with you however

Kyle Meinke

Sun, Oct 9, 2011 : 4:29 p.m.

Thanks, Mick. It was a typo. Michigan did set the record for losses against Northwestern in 2008, but it was the eighth loss, not ninth. Thanks for point it out!


Sun, Oct 9, 2011 : 3:12 p.m.



Sun, Oct 9, 2011 : 12:31 p.m.

I too used to wish O$U well until that last Saturday in November. But now...nothing could have capped off the already excellent evening better than a $uckeye loss!


Sun, Oct 9, 2011 : 5:03 a.m.

Can you imagine how good this program is gonna be going forward? If the team can look this good this quick, it bodes very well for the future.


Sun, Oct 9, 2011 : 4:37 a.m.

DR's physical form while passing is sometimes beautiful, and sometimes, well, less than beautiful. He still completed some passes off his back foot while floating the ball; he missed a wide open Roundtree for a sure long TD; he overthrew some players by a mile. It seems that he needs to continue to think about his form while he is setting up and get less air under his throws. If he does that instinctively, he'll be so much harder to defend. But on the flip side, he is still unpredictable, always smiling, and without a memory which is important. Very nice victory tonight. Glad to see Roundtree get some big catches.