By Stephen J. Nesbitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published September 1, 2012
ARLINGTON, Texas — It resonated around the glass, brick and mortar of the pristine football palace.
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It was the Michigan football team’s welcome from defending-champion Alabama, a hit that left sophomore tailback Thomas Rawls sprawled on the turf with Alabama linebacker C.J. Moseley standing over him.
Every replay on the 80-yard video board hovering above the field drew the chorus from the crimson-clad crowd, buffeting the silence inside Cowboys Stadium. The Crimson Tide, pride of the Southeastern Conference, had introduced Michigan to the song of the South.
BOOM. BOOM. BOOM.
In a season-opening Cowboys Classic spectacular here, No. 2 Alabama bashed, rumbled and rolled past No. 8 Michigan, 41-14.
“We didn’t play Michigan football,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said after the game.
That was the short answer. The longer involved Michigan being outmatched, outmuscled and undermanned. The Wolverines never sniffed the lead. They fell behind early and plummeted fast from there.
Michigan’s defense — a major question mark entering the game — came out of the gate strong, forcing a three-and-out on Alabama’s first offensive possession. That stand, however, was just a flash in the pan.
Before the end of the first quarter, Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron and the Crimson Tide had a three-touchdown lead, 21-0, after a pair of passing scores and a nine-yard touchdown run by Eddie Lacy.
Alabama trotted a quartet of horses from its stable of running backs and didn’t hesitate out of the gate. The Crimson Tide returned again and again to the ground game, churning out 232 yards and two touchdowns on 42 total carries.
“They did exactly what we thought they’d do,” said fifth-year senior safety Jordan Kovacs. “They tried to run it down our throats and that’s what happened. There wasn’t anything pretty about what they did today. They just played some smash-mouth football and beat us.”
Just nine months since ending Michigan coach Brady Hoke’s 11-2 honeymoon season, the Wolverines were trounced by the same pro-style system it is being molded to be. It got beat at its own game.
“Right, and that’s tough,” Kovacs said. “I think that’s why this game stings so much, because we take pride in stopping the run — that’s what Michigan football is all about. But they had us today.”
It wasn’t until a field goal and a 20-yard interception return for a touchdown that Michigan finally cut into the 31-0 deficit. Robinson put Michigan on the board with a six-yard touchdown run with 2:20 remaining in the first half — on just his second rush of the day.
At halftime, Michigan had just four first downs and 119 total yards to Alabama’s 12 first downs and 280 total yards.
Michigan finally gashed the Crimson Tide defense — which allowed an average of 8.2 points per game last season — in the third quarter, exactly doubling its first-half offensive output in that quarter alone (119 yards of total offense, seven points scored).
After a 51-yard Alabama field goal pushed the lead to 34-7, Robinson found junior wide receiver Devin Gardner — a converted quarterback — open in the left flat for a 44-yard touchdown, the first score of Gardner’s career.
Then, on an evening that went as poorly as expected for Michigan, it got even worse.
The air left the building for a few minutes late in the third quarter, when Robinson lay writhing on the ground with an apparent back or hip injury after diving just short of a first down. He was taken to the tunnel but returned for the next series.
It was an uncharacteristic game for Robinson. After rushing just twice for three yards in the first half, Robinson ended up scampering 10 times in the game for 27 yards, while going 11-for-26 passing with 200 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.
Alabama closed the scoring midway through the fourth quarter with a two-yard touchdown run by running back T.J. Yeldon, pushing a blowout even further out of reach.
The damage was done swiftly and efficiently. It was evident as Michigan’s ‘Team 133’ left the field. Trudging well behind their teammates were sophomore cornerback Blake Countess, in a track suit and crutches after leaving the game in the second quarter, and redshirt junior offensive tackle Taylor Lewan, leaning on a coach’s shoulder for support.
A reeling Michigan team has seven days until its home opener against Air Force. Kovacs sees only two options: dwell on a loss to a top-caliber program or admit defeat and move on, realizing that the team’s stated goal of a Big Ten championship is still at hand.
“You can’t let Alabama beat you twice,” Kovacs said.
Once stung enough. With a minute remaining on the clock, Michigan had a full-cast of bench players in on defense after the Crimson Tide picked off redshirt freshman quarterback Russell Bellomy’s first career pass.
Then it began again, that song of the South. This time it wasn’t just a boom. It was a chant that started in the northeast corner of the stadium and worked through half of the crowd.
S-E-C, S-E-C, S-E-C, S-E-C.
Updated at 2 a.m.