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Stephen J. Nesbitt: Lightning strikes twice in Hoke’s wacky debut

Marissa McClain/Daily
RS junior WR Roy Roundtree celebrates during game against Western Michigan University in Michigan stadium on Saturday September 3, 2011. Michigan won 34-10, though the game was cut short due to poor weather conditions. Buy this photo

By Stephen J. Nesbitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published September 3, 2011

It began the way no one expected. And it ended in a way hardly anyone knew possible. In a word, Brady Hoke’s debut as Michigan’s head football coach was, well, hokey.

“That was kind of wild,” Hoke said after Michigan’s rain-soaked 34-10 victory. “Wet and wild.”

The game was much like a Denard Robinson quote.

Robinson, a man of few words, has a way with the media. He greets each question with a smile, breezes through the midway point of his response and often manages to trail off somewhere a few words short of a complete sentence.

Regardless of the finish, the quote still counts.

With 1:27 left in the third quarter, the attendance at Michigan Stadium was zero. Knock the play clock back one second and the stands were packed with a capacity crowd of 110,506.

The Big House had its foundation shaken — literally — with every clap of thunder. Bursts of lightning lit up the turf better than any of Dave Brandon’s stadium lighting, twice suspending the game.

Everything was eerie, from the sweltering heat at kickoff to the first rain-shortened victory in Michigan Stadium history.

Reports were that the field-level temperature had skyrocketed near 130 degrees by kickoff.

The pregame show saw the 250-member Western Michigan Marching Band performing in white T-shirts and black shorts — rather unfitting attire — after a piccolo passed out in the tunnel due to the heat and humidity.

Strap on some shoulder pads and the heat surely played a factor. But three hours later the pads weren't drenched in sweat but rain.

Hoke's opener with Michigan's 132nd team was never traditional.

If it had been, then Robinson would have stepped under center to take the first snap, turned and handed the ball to halfback Fitzgerald Toussaint busting up the middle on a power run. Instead, Robinson, in the shotgun, veered left and scampered for an 11-yard gain.

Offensive coordinator Al Borges dialing up a spread offense-like quarterback run on the first play was supposed to be the biggest surprise of the day.

But two drives later, linebacker Brandon Herron intercepted a tipped pass from Western Michigan quarterback Alex Carder and rumbled all the way downfield for a 94-yard score. It was the longest interception return in Michigan football’s modern era and the Wolverines’ first interception return for a touchdown since Donovan Warren picked a Ricky Stanzi pass against Iowa in 2009.

In the Broncos’ first drive of the second half, Herron plucked a loose ball off the turf and ran for a 29-yard score. He hadn’t scored a touchdown since he was a running back in eighth grade — now he had two. In a sense, he covered over twice as much ground as Denard Robinson, 123 yards to 46.

In the opening minutes of the third quarter, lightning forced the officials at Michigan Stadium to suspend play for just the second time in program history. The other was a game against Central Michigan in 2006.

While the teams shuffled back up toward the locker rooms, the rain slowed and the sunshine broke the clouds again. A rainbow stretched brilliantly over the luxury suites on the stadium’s east side.

Lupe Fiasco’s “The Show Goes On” pounded through the stadium speakers.

And the show went on — for a while.

The seniors led Michigan out of the tunnel 30 minutes later. There was no “Go Blue” banner and no marching band fanfare. It was quiet. The loudest sound was Jordan Kovacs popping Carder just moments later for a sack.

Football tackles setting the cadence at the Big House, Hoke can buy into that one.

The game was designed to be a spectacle. The massive new scoreboards were built to impress. The high-definition screens were meant to make you question whether turning your head back to the field was worth it.

But, instead of showing replays, the scoreboards spent the better part of two hours streaming the live weather radar.

Meanwhile, Hoke brought in his new version of Michigan football. The offense was a throwback with a bit of spread offense flair and Robinson in the shotgun. A 43-yard run from Toussaint was good, but it was wide receiver Junior Hemingway’s downfield block that Hoke remembered.

The defense wasn’t great, but it was manageable. Mother Nature took care of the rest.

A plus-3 day in the turnover margin still made Hoke say he wasn’t too pleased with the defense. And he felt a bit slighted when he walked into the locker room and told ‘Team 132’ that their first mission was over — victorious but in the third quarter.

When Michigan was announced as the winner, the crowd of zero sat on its hands. There wasn't even a band there to play "The Victors." It was the least celebrated debut victory in the history of debut victories.

Granted, a win’s a win. Michigan really won, Western Michigan really lost. But this one still felt incompl—

- Nesbitt decided to wrap up 1:27 before his deadline. Follow him on Twitter: @stephenjnesbitt