- Marissa McClain/Daily
By Tim Rohan, Daily Sports Editor
Published November 3, 2011
Legend has it, the field at Kinnick Stadium talks to unwanted guests.
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They say you can hear the fan in the first row while you’re in the huddle. They say Iowa’s stadium is so tight, you can feel the noise breathing down the back of your neck.
“They could probably touch you,” said junior quarterback Denard Robinson.
After driving through miles of corn stalks, opponents dress for battle in pink locker rooms. Ahead of them is an opponent who doesn’t try to trick or disguise anyone or anything. Soon enough, you’ll be facing a physical, unrelenting defense, which sports a power run game to match.
Brady Hoke will play the role of the leader of the unwanted guests. Unimaginable prior to the season, Hoke has Michigan at 7-1, ranked 13th in the country.
The seniors can still talk about how they have something to play for, how the Big Ten Championship is within reach. Their voices grow more confident each week. All this because Hoke has them playing the right way, but also because his checklist is filling up:
Prove you can take care of the cake-walk teams. Check.
See: the majority of the non-conference schedule and the combined 94-14 drubbing of Minnesota and Purdue.
Prove you can beat a rival. Half-a-check.
See: the thrilling comeback win over Notre Dame. But losing to Michigan State, losing the one game that could’ve helped Hoke control his fate on the march to the Big Ten Championship game, that hurt. But there’s still Ohio State looming.
Prove you can win consistently on the road in the Big Ten. No Check.
This is where the Kinnick Stadium voices come in. The Spartans were too loud — too boisterous for Michigan’s liking. The Wolverines had problems with their snap count. All the preparation didn’t matter when the Michigan State blitzers could easily pounce on Denard Robinson once they timed that snap count perfectly.
Even in the quiet, high-class, less-than-raucous academia setting of Evanston, Michigan wasn’t prepared in the first half to take on Northwestern in their house.
And this field in Iowa can talk, remember.
Silence it — silence the crowd and the questions about his team — and Hoke will have proven this team worthy of being in the hunt this late in the season. He may just be able to add another check to the list of his impressive start.
The noise is deafening though. The top eight teams in the Big Ten, regardless of division, are 39-3 at home this season.
The last time Robinson threw a pass in Kinnick Stadium, he was merely a freshman and in the spotlight for the first time, charged with leading Michigan on a game-winning drive against undefeated Hawkeyes.
The sound reached a crescendo as Robinson tossed an interception with 46 seconds left.
“I actually missed the signal,” Robinson said Wednesday, recalling what many consider the defining moment of his freshman season. “I had a wide-open guy going across the middle.
“It kind of bothered me because I think I could’ve done better — being a little calmer about the situation. ... I was just trying to do so much.”
How will he respond this time? Could he rise above his past mistakes — including a three interception half at Evanston and a poor showing in East Lansing — and play with poise? Can he silence the noise — the racing thoughts — within himself?
The last time Michigan took the field, Robinson was calm and the offense looked a lot like Michigan. Less Robinson, more Toussaint. Questions turned from whether Robinson could ever figure out his mechanical issues in the passing game to whether Fitzgerald Toussaint could keep this up.
Offensive coordinator Al Borges said that’s what the offense is supposed to look like: pound the ball 20 times with Toussaint, with Robinson safe behind “BREAK ONLY IF NECESSARY” glass. Sounds like Michigan circa Lloyd Carr and Bo Schembechler, right?
But Ricky Barnum and Taylor Lewan — the whole left side of the offensive line — are banged up, and Michael Schofield can only spot one of them.
But Toussaint had been absent in so many games this season, carrying the ball 16 times for 32 yards in Michigan’s two road games. Against the Spartans, he had two carries for seven yards.
But Hoke should know better, that the noise is louder on the road. That staying true to your identity is all you can do when it gets loud. Players revert to muscle memory and what feels comfortable when it gets loud.