On Saturday evening, minutes after losing to Notre Dame in what he called the worst game of his career, Denard Robinson wanted to apologize.
“I want to say sorry to everybody who watches football, who watches Michigan football and whoever follows Michigan football,” Robinson said, surrounded by reporters and tucked into a tiny hallway beneath Notre Dame Stadium. “I want to say sorry and it won’t happen no more.
“For the 22 years I’ve been living, this is the most disappointed I’ve been in myself.”
But answering to the sprawling Michigan fan base and the 6.4 million people who watched the game on NBC wasn’t the hardest part. That part happened in the locker room, when Robinson stood up and had to answer to his coaches and teammates after throwing four interceptions and fumbling in the red zone during the Wolverines’ 13-6 loss.
He said he knew what went wrong. He said it time and time again that night.
“I wasn’t accountable,” Robinson repeated.
Senior defensive tackle Will Campbell said Robinson addressed the team and apologized. Apology not accepted. Michigan’s ‘Team 133’ apologized right back.
“He’s our brother — we have to show him support,” redshirt junior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint. “We all made mistakes, not just Denard, we did as a team.”
“It was the team that put us in that position,” added redshirt senior right guard Patrick Omameh.
The defense, stout all evening, couldn’t make a stop on two crucial third downs on the final drive, and Robinson and the offense never got a chance at a fourth-consecutive last-second miracle against the Fighting Irish.
“As a defense we all went up to Denard and told him that it’s a team thing,” Campbell said. We kicked the ball once, that’s all we needed. As a defense, if they didn’t score we would have won.”
The three-hour bus drive back to Ann Arbor was a somber one. (“We were all pretty downtrodden,” Omameh said.) While teammates attempted to sleep, trying to forget the agony of the past few hours, Campbell was texting back and forth with Robinson.
“He just said we all need to step it up in practice,” Campbell said. “We told him that wasn’t all on him. This is Michigan, we’ve got to stand behind each other and protect one another.”
From Michigan coach Brady Hoke’s perspective, the turnovers were certainly concerning, but the way for Robinson to grow from the game wasn’t to humiliate him. The coach and quarterback had a conversation, and Hoke stressed only one thing: “Decisions.”
“What else are you going to say?”
So no embarrassment. No walking through every interception, every turnover. Isn’t that letting him off easy?
“We try not to pound any kid, to be honest with you,” Hoke said. “Seriously, they’re 18-23. They’re competing and if they didn’t practice well or they didn’t come to practice well and they didn’t have energy and enthusiasm, I’d feel differently, but I like the growth we’re making.”
Robinson’s interceptions, plus another thrown by senior running back Vincent Smith, came on consecutive drives, consecutive pass attempts in the first half. Hoke said he didn’t see a theme in the interceptions and didn’t see Notre Dame do anything abnormal to disguise its coverage schemes to confuse Robinson.
When the buses pulled back up to Schembechler Hall early Sunday morning, it was a new week. There’s been no more apologizing, and Toussaint said Robinson has been himself.
“Denard’s being Denard,” Toussaint said. “He’s got a smile on his face and he’s ready to improve.”