The week after one of the most raucous crowds in recent Big House memory, Michigan fans seemed to revert to their old ways, quietly watching the Wolverines take on lowly Eastern Michigan.
The fans weren’t the only ones who didn’t show up ready to go.
The Michigan football team limped through the first half, seemingly hung over from the emotions of last week’s 38-34 upset of then-No. 18 Notre Dame. The Eagles made the most of the slow start, cutting Michigan’s lead to 24-17 before half.
But in the end, the Wolverines were too talented for Eastern Michigan’s upset bid and beat the Eagles 45-17.
“It was spotty in all three phases,” Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said of his team’s performance. “As coaches, we have to do our job in trying to get them in the right position and teach, particularly our young guys.”
There were several questions about the Michigan defense after the Notre Dame game, and those definitely did not get answered against Eastern Michigan. The Wolverines looked weak against the mid-level Mid-American Conference offense. The Eagles, in their new pro-style offense that emphasizes the run game, had averaged just 106 yards on the ground against their first two opponents, Army and Northwestern. In the first half alone, Eastern Michigan racked up 128 rushing yards.
The Wolverines looked especially lackadaisical when the Eagles were trying to find the edge. On two of Eastern Michigan’s first-half touchdowns, there was not a Michigan defender on position to force the ball carrier back inside toward the rest of the defense, creating an easy lane to the corner pile-on.
“They did a good job with (the running game), with how little time they’ve had with their new coaching staff,” senior Zoltan Mesko said. “They did a great job of surprising us in the first half.”
In fact, the only Wolverine to turn in an impressive first 30 minutes was senior running back Carlos Brown. Including his 90-yard touchdown — the third-longest running play from scrimmage in Michigan football history — Brown notched 167 yards before the break, good for an outstanding 20.4 yards per carry.
The rest of the game, Michigan employed the running-back-by-committee strategy. Brown, Brandon Minor, Mike Shaw and Michael Cox all took snaps at running back, and senior Kevin Grady played a key role at fullback.
Freshman quarterback Tate Forcier was an efficient 7-of-13 for 68 yards but fumbled the ball once, and fellow freshman Denard Robinson threw two picks, the first of which allowed Eastern Michigan to pull within seven just before halftime.
But it wasn’t about the pass game.
“We wanted to come in and establish the run from the beginning,” wide receiver Darryl Stonum said. “We studied a lot of film, and we saw that they left the field wide open, so that’s where all our big runs came from. We just wanted to gash the middle of the field.”
That they did. With a combined 39 carries, the Wolverines boasted a ridiculous 9.7 yards per carried.
Forcier had an injury scare midway through the second half when he was dinged up on an errant pass. He walked off the field under his own power to cheers of “For-cier, For-cier.” Robinson finished off the drive with a 13-yard dash to the end zone, his second rushing touchdown of the season. Fortunately for the Wolverines, Forcier just got the wind knocked out of him.
In the second half, Michigan began to pull away. After a touchdown, an interception by freshman defensive end Craig Roh and Robinson’s scamper, the Wolverines opened a 21-point lead they wouldn’t give up.
The Eagles knocked once more, driving inside the Michigan 10-yard line, but they were turned away on a fourth-down attempt.
Robinson was the star of the second half, speeding off to another long touchdown run in the fourth quarter to open the lead to 45-17. On the season, Robinson now has touchdown runs of 43, 36 and 13 yards.