SOUTH BEND, Ind. — With just over three minutes remaining on the clock, sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson led his offense to the huddle. Seconds before, junior Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist had given the Irish the lead on an incredible 95-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph.

Denard Robinson during Michigan’s 28 to 24 victory over Notre Dame in South Bend on September 11th 2010.
Denard Robinson during Michigan’s 28 to 24 victory over Notre Dame in South Bend on September 11th 2010.
Max Collins/Daily
Denard Robinson breaks for an 87 yard touchdown against Notre Dame.
Design by Sarah Squire

But Robinson’s poise — which the Michigan coaches had been praising all offseason — kept him confident as he met his teammates.

“It’s time to put it in,” he said to the other 10 members of the Wolverine offense. “It’s time to put the game away.”

Facing a third down on the final drive, Robinson looked over to redshirt sophomore wideout Roy Roundtree. Roundtree winked at him. “Big players make big plays,” Roundtree had told him in the huddle.

Robinson smiled back with a big grin and took his place under center.

Conjuring images of fellow sophomore quarterback Tate Forcier’s comeback victory against Notre Dame last season, Robinson marched the Wolverines down the field on a 12-play, 72-yard drive — adding to his record-shattering 502-yard performance — capping it with a two-yard touchdown run that left just 27 seconds remaining on the clock. His touchdown gave Michigan the 28-24 lead it needed to finish off the Irish for the second year in a row and give coach Rich Rodriguez a marquee road win.

“(Robinson) played outside his body,” senior linebacker Jonas Mouton said on the field after the game. “I don’t know, it’s his heart. He’s not the biggest guy, but he has a big heart.”

After showing his electrifying potential in the Wolverines’ week-one win over Connecticut, Robinson obliterated his own records in week two against Notre Dame.

With 244 yards through the air and 258 on the ground, Robinson became the ninth quarterback in Football Bowl Subdivision history to run and pass for more than 200 yards in a game. The last to eclipse the mark also happened to be a member of a Rodriguez offense — Pat White, to whom Robinson is often compared. In his time at West Virginia, White ran for the most yards of any quarterback in FBS history.

More staggering than his numbers, though, was that they came in essentially a one-man show, as the sophomore signal-caller accounted for more than 94 percent of Michigan’s offense, including the longest play from scrimmage in Notre Dame Stadium’s 80-year history — an 87-yard sprint to give the Wolverines the lead in the second quarter. Last week against Connecticut, Robinson accounted for 80 percent of the offense. But offensive coordinator Calvin Magee said after the game that Robinson’s performance, despite the high percentage of total offense, was possible because of the play of his teammates.

“There’s 10 other guys blocking and catching and doing all of this stuff,” Magee said. “He’s not throwing it to himself and catching it himself. He’s not making blocks and turning around and running it. There’s some other guys (who are) a part of that. So don’t worry about it.”

Rodriguez said after last week’s game that, in hindsight, Robinson’s 29 carries against the Huskies was much higher than he would’ve wanted. But in South Bend, Robinson was just one carry short of his 29 from last week. That shouldering of the load brought a significant number of questions about Robinson’s durability following his record-shattering performance.

“Of course you don’t want to run him that much,” Magee said. “But at this point, this team has been working awfully hard to try and play as a team and win some games. We’re trying to do whatever it takes right now.”

And Robinson’s poised second-half performance may have been the only answer to Michigan’s woes after halftime.

Leading 21-7 at the half, the game’s momentum strongly leaned in Michigan’s favor, as Notre Dame junior quarterback Dayne Crist missed much of the first half with an injury to his right eye. But the Irish held in the game long enough for Crist to return, and with their starter back, the Irish charged down the field on two separate touchdown drives to take the lead.

With little help from the Wolverines’ special teams play after redshirt freshman kicker Brendan Gibbons missed two makeable field goals in the second half, the heightened drama of a possible game-winning drive seemed to do little to affect Robinson, despite the fact that his only previous game-on-the-line experience ended in an interception at Iowa last season.

Quarterbacks coach Rod Smith said after the game that that poise is something the players and coaches knew about Robinson all offseason. But Smith told the sophomore quarterback after the game that even he was shocked and impressed by his growth on that final drive.

“(I said,) ‘Son, you don’t know how much you have matured, just that one drive, just moved you forward light years (from) where you need to be,’ ” Smith told reporters after the game. “It takes experiences like that in order for quarterbacks to grow — especially young ones.”

Added Rodriguez: “I’ve got my shoes untied in honor of Denard.”

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