ARLINGTON, Texas — In the pristine football palace, things went as poorly as expected for Michigan. And then, somehow, it got even worse.

The Michigan football team never sniffed the lead and fell behind defending-national champion Alabama early — and plummeted fast from there. The Wolverines struggled equally on offense and defense against the second-ranked Crimson Tide, losing the season-opening Cowboys Classic, 41-14, in front of a crowd of 90,413.

Michigan’s defense — a major question mark entering the game — came out of the gate strong, forcing a three-and-out on Alabama’s first offensive possession.

That stand, however, was just a flash in the pan. The Crimson Tide bashed, rumbled and rolled through the Wolverines’ front with reckless abandon.

Alabama opened the scoring midway through the first quarter, when junior quarterback A.J. McCarron led a nine-play, 61-yard scoring drive capped by a play-action pass to tight end Michael Williams in the corner of the end zone.

Two minutes later, after sophomore cornerback Blake Countess was injured on punt coverage, McCarron found wide sophomore receiver DeAndrew White wide open down the sideline after junior cornerback Courtney Avery — Countess’ replacement — lost his man in coverage. White pulled in the easy pitch-and-catch and waltzed for a 51-yard touchdown. Countess did not return in the game.

Alabama squeezed in another score before the end of the first quarter — a nine-yard run by running back Eddie Lacy after senior quarterback Denard Robinson threw an interception — to grab a strangle hold on Michigan early.

It wasn’t until after Alabama scored a field goal and a 20-yard interception return for a touchdown that Michigan finally cut into the 31-0 deficit. Robinson put Michigan on the board with a six-yard touchdown run with 2:20 remaining in the first half — on just his second rush of the day.

At halftime, Michigan had just four first downs and 119 total yards to Alabama’s 12 first downs and 280 total yards.

Michigan finally began to move the ball against the Crimson Tide defense — which allowed an average of 8.2 points per game last season — in the third quarter, exactly doubling the first-half output in that quarter along (119 yards of total offense).

After an Alabama field goal pushed the lead to 34-7, Robinson found junior wide receiver Devin Gardner — a converted quarterback — open in the left flat for a 44-yard touchdown, the first of Gardner’s career.

The air left the building for a few minutes late in the third quarter, when Robinson lay writhing on the ground with an injury after diving just short of a first down.

He was taken to the tunnel but returned for the next series.

Alabama closed the scoring midway through the fourth quarter with a two-yard touchdown run by running back T.J. Yeldon, pushing a blowout even further out of reach.

Michigan finished the game with 268 yards of total offense while allowing 430 yards on defense.

There were, as expected, a few unexpected wrinkles when Michigan took the field for the first game of the season. Gardner, the worst-kept secret at wide receiver, played exclusively on the outside and had a considerable number of passes thrown his way. Fifth-year senior Elliott Mealer, penciled in as the starting left guard in the weekly depth chart, instead played center.

Offensively, Michigan used a full stable of running backs, with senior Vincent Smith carrying the majority of the load. In the absence of redshirt junior Fitzgerald Toussaint, who was suspended for the game for after being arrested for driving while intoxicated in July, Smith combined with sophomore tailback Thomas Rawls for 41 yards.

After rushing just twice for three yards in the first half, Robinson ended up scampering 10 times in the game for 27 yards, while going 11-for-26 passing with 200 yards, 1 touchdown and two interceptions.

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