By Stephen J. Nesbitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published October 13, 2012
“He’s a magician.”
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Denard Robinson was bottled up, and everyone knew it. But instead of sliding for a negligible gain, Robinson cut right, then he cut left, leaving Illinois freshman linebacker Mason Monheim flailing at thin air.
Robinson shifted into high gear and blew past the Fighting Illini secondary for a 49-yard touchdown, his third score of the afternoon.
“He’s a magician,” Michigan radio analyst Jim Brandstatter repeated. “How does he do that in such tight spaces?
Robinson rolled, the defense held Illinois to 134 total yards and No. 25 Michigan breezed by the Fighting Illini, 45-0, on homecoming at Michigan Stadium.
“It was good to win on homecoming,” said Michigan coach Brady Hoke. “It’s good to win anytime. This was probably the most complete game we’ve played.”
The Wolverines got on the board early and often. Michigan’s first drive took just five plays to cover 85 yards and send the home team up 7-0. Robinson found junior wide receiver Jeremy Gallon on a screen pass to the left, and Gallon weaved his way to the end zone behind some impressive downfield blocking.
Fifth-year senior tight end Mike Kwiatkowski got a big hug from Michigan coach Brady Hoke after laying the definitive block to spring Gallon.
At the tail end of Michigan’s next drive, the air left the stadium.
A week after injuring his right wrist in a 44-13 victory over Purdue, Robinson got knocked out of action late in the first quarter of the Illinois matchup, tweaking what appeared to be his right-hand pinky on an eight-yard rush down to the Fighting Illini one-yard line.
That drive was capped by an 18-yard field goal from redshirt junior kicker Brendan Gibbons, but all eyes were on the sideline, where Robinson was being attended to by a trio of trainers.
“It was just a boo-boo,” Robinson joked after the game. “Everybody gets hurt.”
The injury put the pressure on the Michigan defense to protect a 10-point lead with untested and unproven sophomore backup quarterback Russell Bellomy taking the reins for Robinson.
“We want to win the game on our side of the football,” said fifth-year senior middle linebacker Kenny Demens. “Watching Denard go down like that, we knew that we had to step our game up. If they don’t score any more points, then we win the ballgame.”
And Illinois never did score a single point. From the moment Robinson stepped off the field on, the Michigan defense allowed just 97 yards and five first downs in the remaining 51 minutes of game time.
Robinson missed only one series, though, and got right back to work. He handed off three times, then finally ran, first for three yards and then again for 33 yards before stepping out of bounds and inadvertently toppling an alumni cheerleader.
His shoe came off mid-run. Shoelace was back, wet socks and all.
Three plays later, Robinson finished with a six-yard scamper into the end zone to put Michigan up 17-0.
Illinois, too, ran into quarterback troubles when junior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase was ridden down from behind by junior cornerback Courtney Avery and junior defensive end Jibreel Black. Scheelhaase stayed on the turf for a few minutes before exiting the game with an apparent head injury. He was replaced by freshman quarterback Reilly O’Toole for the remainder of the contest.
Michigan held a 17-0 lead at halftime, but Robinson extended that score early in the second half with his 49-yard touchdown run.
Everyone in the Michigan Stadium crowd — an announced attendance of 110,922 — knew Robinson would be on a short leash in the second half and likely wouldn’t finish the game at quarterback considering Michigan’s sizeable and ever-expanding lead. So he made the most of his last 15 minutes.
Robinson found freshman tight end Devin Funchess for an eight-yard touchdown pass with 10:10 left in the third quarter. Seven minutes later, two plays after freshman defensive end Mario Ojemudia recovered a fumble on the Illinois six-yard line, redshirt junior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint punched it in for his first touchdown and put Michigan up 38-0.
Bellomy returned to the field for the fourth quarter to end Robinson’s day. Robinson finished 7-for-11 passing for 159 yards and a touchdown, and 11 carries for 128 rushing yards and two rushing scores.
Sophomore running back Thomas Rawls capped the scoring with a 63-yard touchdown run with 6:01 remaining in the fourth quarter.
In the victory, Robinson became the eighth player in Big Ten history to surpass 10,000 yards of total offense, and he posted his 18th 100-yard rushing effort, putting him in a tie for fourth place in Michigan history.
“I just go out there to play football,” Robinson said. “I just go out there to have fun with the team and worry about winning.”
The statistics, though, mean nothing to Michigan’s senior captain. Robinson said the only statistic he pays attention to is turnovers. And that’s where this game stood out.
It was the first time since back-to-back Bowling Green and Indiana games in 2010 that Robinson has gone consecutive weeks without throwing an interception. And the first time since Michigan shut out Minnesota, 58-0, on Oct. 1, 2011 that Robinson hadn’t turned the ball over once.
On the other side of the field, the Michigan defense stood tall for the fourth-consecutive game, after impressive showings against Massachusetts, Notre Dame and Purdue. In the second half, Illinois gained just 13 total yards.
The linebacker corps shone especially bright. Senior middle linebacker Kenny Demens intercepted an O’Toole pass in the third quarter, redshirt sophomore strongside linebacker Jake Ryan wreaked havoc in the Illinois backfield all afternoon — registering two sacks and a fumble forced — and sophomore weakside linebacker Desmond Morgan was honored with the No. 48 Gerald Ford legacy jersey.
Michigan is back in action next Saturday at Michigan Stadium against Michigan State, who lost 19-16 to Iowa earlier on Saturday afternoon.