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Stephen J. Nesbitt: Don't use 50-point rout as a barometer for Team 133

Erin Kirkland/Daily
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By Stephen J. Nesbitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published September 16, 2012

Denard Robinson looked across the field, scanning the sea of maroon and white jerseys heading up the Michigan Stadium tunnel. Robinson took off on a jog. He had somebody to track down.

Robinson caught up to Michael Cox, the starting Massachusetts running back, at the 30-yard line and they greeted each other like brothers; their elaborate handshake included a few windmill gestures and ended with a bear hug. Roy Roundtree followed right behind, a grin splashed across his face as he hugged Cox — his classmate and teammate for four years at Michigan.

The final seconds had just ticked off the clock, closing Michigan’s convincing 63-13 rout of Massachusetts on Saturday.

Robinson and Roundtree finally parted ways with Cox and raced to the north end zone to sing “The Victors” with the student section.

Cox turned the other way, smiling all the while. None of his teammates were left on the field. He shook hands with a pair of Michigan coaches, the ones that were on his sideline just nine months ago, and started up the tunnel.

Everything was off-kilter for Cox. He felt like he’d taken a wrong turn or two in his final visit to the Big House. He was in the wrong locker room, on the wrong sideline and on the wrong end of a blowout.

But as he took his first step up the runway, maize-clad fans reached down for a high-five. Maybe they remembered him, maybe not. Cox obliged, slapping hands as the darkness of the tunnel quickly enveloped him for the final time in his career.

Just like that, the man whose return to Ann Arbor made something of a game that meant absolutely nothing was gone.

And by nothing, I’m serious. Michigan punished and pummeled a team that is just three games into its move from Division 1-AA, and it had 41 freshmen on its roster after having to add 22 scholarship football players to meet the minimum NCAA requirements. Let’s be clear from the outset — it was an undersized, undermanned, glorified intramural team on the opposing sideline on Saturday.

That isn’t to show any disrespect to Massachusetts, but the Minutemen came more for the $650,000 payday than they did a true competition. They knew that, so did Michigan.

“If you want to be one of the best teams in the land you need to know what a great team looks like and what a great program looks like,” Massachusetts coach Charley Molnar said in a teleconference last week. “Going to Michigan, that will really open the eyes of our football players to see what a great team looks like, how a great program does their business, this is how hard they play, this is what their athletes look like, this is what we aspire to be.

“It took Michigan 100-plus years to get where they are at, maybe 120-125. We're only at week two going into week three of a Division 1-A program, so we have a ways to go but we have at least a vision of what a great team looks like.”

It’s taken 133 years, I suppose.

A win’s a win, and kudos to the Wolverines for getting the job done, but temper your takeaways from this 50-point victory. It didn’t mean anything.

It did nothing for Michigan’s quest for a Big Ten championship. It won’t impress any pollsters or recruits. And it didn’t appear to do much to prepare Michigan for a matchup with upstart Notre Dame next week.

But Hoke and the players kept pointing back to a different reason that the Michigan-Massachusetts matchup served a purpose for Team 133. That’s the “team morale factor,” as Hoke put it.

Chemistry, morale, team spirit; there’s something to be said of their importance, especially for a team that traveled a slim majority of the 110-man roster to a rout against Alabama in week one, and came off a nail-biter win against Air Force.

It was an old-fashioned beatdown. Robinson tossed the ball around the field to the tune of 291 passing yards — his fourth-highest career total — but even more importantly he connected with nine different receivers. Eight different Michigan players scored touchdowns in the full-team effort.

Redshirt freshman backup quarterback Russell Bellomy entered with the reserves in the fourth quarter, and every starter took the sideline to support the rookies.

“Them having the ability to play in this football game, in front of 110,000 family and friends, I think that’s great,” Hoke said.

And it is great. (Forget that there were probably only 40,000 people left in the stadium.)

But don’t forget to take the rosy glasses off for at least a moment. Cox could tell you the last time Michigan played a game like this one. It was Oct. 17, 2009 and Delaware State was in town — one of the three games Cox ever got a carry at Michigan.

The final score was 63-6. Cox ran for 90 yards and scored the only two touchdowns of his career. (His 85 yards against Michigan on Satuday was his second-best career game.)

But that rout of hapless Hornets was no barometer of Michigan’s success. The Wolverines and Tate Forcier didn’t win another game that season, losing to Penn State, Illinois, Purdue, Wisconsin and Ohio State.

Not a nice memory, is it? Don’t get carried away. It’s doggone hard to take much out of a 50-point blowout, so don’t hurt yourself trying.

— Nesbitt can be reached at stnesbit@umich.edu and on Twitter: @stephenjnesbitt.