It was already bad enough.
There were ill-timed penalties, missed tackles and even a blocked field goal for good measure.
Perhaps worst of all for the Wolverines, the one player they had come to rely on didn’t have a tremendous game against Michigan State. In fact, sophomore sensation Denard Robinson was mediocre by his own standards. The early Heisman frontrunner looked human.
We don’t need to dwell on Robinson’s stats from last week or last month. We know what we saw — an incredible athlete blessed with faster-than-everyone-on-the-field speed and improved passing ability.
He was on pace to shatter college football records, re-define the position of quarterback and beg the question: Pat White who?
Robinson’s early critics cried out about his fragility. Could he carry the ball 20-plus times per outing and survive the 12-game regular season? Through a few big hits and five games, the answer was yes.
The critics changed tactics — they argued that Robinson hadn’t faced a good defense yet. Michigan State would be his first test.
I’m no professor, but I don’t think I’d give him an A+.
Yes, he accounted for 301 yards (215 passing, 86 rushing) and ran for a touchdown. That’s a pretty good day for any quarterback, especially when you consider he didn’t break any big runs.
But Robinson also threw three interceptions (after throwing just one through the first five games), two of which were in Michigan State’s endzone. That’s 14 points right there, not to mention a blow to Robinson’s confidence.
“It’s frustrating to see him struggle because I know he was trying so hard,” offensive coordinator Calvin Magee said.
After the game, Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez reminded the media of Robinson’s youth. Saturday’s game was only his sixth start, and that explains some of the missed reads. Robinson said he was too excited at times, particularly when he overthrew Darryl Stonum in the endzone early in the game.
If there was one thing to take away from the coaching staff and players in the postgame press conferences and interviews, it’s this: Nobody is concerned about Robinson. His coaches think he’ll learn from his missed reads, and his teammates think he’ll grow from his struggles.
Robinson addressed his teammates in the locker room after the game, according to slot receiver Kelvin Grady.
“He told the guys he doesn’t like this feeling. He doesn’t ever want to feel this way again,” Grady said. “I really liked that. It showed a lot about him. I think he’s really growing as a quarterback and as a person.”
Grady refused to call Robinson’s performance a “letdown” and challenged fans who expect record-breaking numbers from their quarterback every weekend.
“This doesn’t take away from anything he’s done,” Grady said. “He’s doing well, and he did fine. He had a couple of mistakes but it happens. It’s football.”
But there’s still a problem when you’ve got an offense that relies so heavily on one player, particularly with a shaky defense. That one player must play great every week because even good isn’t good enough to carry the team on his shoulders.
When Robinson accounted for 94 percent of the Wolverines’ offense against Notre Dame a month ago, it was astonishing — almost laughable. But nobody’s laughing now. Michigan learned in an all-too-painful way that it can’t have a one-player team with no backup plan. Upcoming opponents will watch the tape of Saturday’s game, and they will mimic Michigan State’s defensive strategies.
“I’m not the only weapon on offense,” Robinson said.
There’s a difference between a handgun and a butter knife, though, and Michigan needs to have some more weapons in between.
— Auerbach can be reached at email@example.com.