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September 04, 2012 - Image 13

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The Michigan Daily, 2012-09-04

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Tuesday, September 4, 2012 - 3B

Gardner smoke screen proves ineffectivem

By ZACH HELFAND
Daily Sports Editor
ARLINGTON,, Texas - They
were laughing, and it was only
the first quarter. There were
five minutes left in the quarter
when Alabama scored its second
touchdown, and one Alabama fan
glanced up at the scoreboard and
broke into a joyful laughter, and
he did it on a video board 159 feet
long.
The camera jumped to a set of
pretty girls in a box dressed up in
more formal attire. They smiled
wide, until they too started
laughing.
It was over already, and they
knew it, knew it because Michi-
gan's game plan relied more on
smoke than substance. Without
a feature running back, Michi-
gan turned to last-minute decep-
tion. The offensive plan called
for senior quarterback Denard,
Robinson to win the game with
his arm, but his go-to target on
Saturday was his roommate,
Devin Gardner, a converted
quarterback whose inexperience
showed.
The smoke didn't hold up, not
against mighty Alabama. Michi-
gan's attempt was so futile, and
-the drubbing so efficient, that the
Alabama fans smiled so hard that
they laughed, and the first quar-
ter wasn't even over.
"On both sides of the ball,"
said Michigan coach Brady Hoke
after the game. "It was bad on
both sides of the ball."
After it was over, Gardner, the
one who was supposed to be a
difference maker, received a pat
from a Alabama cornerback Dee
Milliner and then walked off, his
face blank. He jogged into the'
tunnel alone, finally free from
the secondary that blanketed
him almost all night.
Hoke and offensive coordina-
tor Al Borges played coy with
Gardner's status in the spring,
declining to say outright wheth-
er or not Gardner would play at
receiver. During fall camp, they
conceded he'd play some but

Junior wide receiver Devin Gardner caught his first career touchdown pass against Alabama on Saturday.

didn't detail how much.
In fact, the moves actually did
cause confusion. Alabama line-
backer. Nico Johnson said the
Tide had no way of preparing for
Gardner.
"You don't (prepare for a play-
er like Gardner)" Johnson said.
"We kind of just went over all the
possibilities, and that's what we
did and just went from there."
That confusion just never
translated to the field. Milliner
harassed Gardner all game. He
knocked an early pass away on
a slant, ran with him step for
step on a fade, and countered an
impressive leaping attempt with
perfect defensive positioning.
"My teammates were just like,
'Why are they picking on you?'"
Milliner said.
Robinson went at Milliner
starting from Michigan's first
snap. On that play, Gardner ran
a slant, and Robinson delivered a
strike, and Gardner dropped the
ball.
Robinson tried Gardner again
on the next drive, this time a
third-down fade. Gardner was
open, and Robinson floated
it toward the sideline. Gard-

ner, though, drifted toward the
middle of the field, and couldn't
adjust to the properly-placed
pass.
Two more times, Gardner's
inexperience prevented a recep-
tion. buring one route, Gardner
stopped his route, and Robin-
son's pass sailed long as a result.
In the third quarter, Gardner
turned over the wrong shoulder,
and when he adjusted, he ran
into an Alabama defensive back.
Incomplete.
"I'm glad they did what they
did," Milliner said. "I was just
prepared and ready to make
plays."
Milliner and Gardner fiist
met years ago during an Under
Armour high school game, back
when Milliner was a young cor-
nerback trying to improve his
craft and his stock and Gard-
ner was a burgeoning quarter-
'back. On Saturday, as Gardner
tried to beat Milliner with his
legs instead of his arm, Milli-
ner said he talked trash with his
good friend. After the game, his
superiority established, Milliner
was optimistic about Gardner's
future.

"He looked like a normal
receiver to me," said Milliner.
"He had great routes, he was,
physical at the line of scrimmage
when they had to block."
Gardner flashed that poten-
tial, but only once. His jab step
in the third quarter froze the
cornerback, who fell to the turf,
and sprung Gardner to a 44-yard
touchdown reception. Even then,
though, Gardner had to adjust
after turning awkwardly over
the wrong shoulder, and with the
touchdown, Alabama still led,
34-14.
Gardner was one of Robinson's
favorite targets, with seven balls
thrown his way. His touchdown
reception-was his only catch.
"I think Devin's a.pretty spe-
cial athlete," Hoke said. "To get
another athlete on the field helps
us."
Hoke and Michigan counted
on that extra dose of athleticism,
especially in the absence of sus-
pended running back Fitzger-
ald Toussaint. With Toussaint,
the redshirt junior, left in Ann
Arbor, Michigan turned to senior
Vincent Smith and sophomore
Thomas Rawls.

No one outside of the Michi-
gan team knew of Toussaint's
suspension until Friday after-
noon, right before Michigan
boarded the team plane to Dal-
las. Hoke had waited until the
day before the game to announce.
No matter who carried the
ball, though, no one found any
daylight. Smith gained 37 yards
on 13 carries, Rawls managed
just 11 yards on 6 touches, and
even Robinson was limited to
just 37 yards.
Like the Gardner move, the
late announcement of Tous-
saint's suspension affected the
Tide's preparations. Alabama's
players prepare breakdowns of
the opposition each week. On
Thursday, Johnson, the line-
backer, stood in front of the team
and addressed the tendencies of
Michigan's running backs. First
on his list? Toussaint
"It kind of messed my tenden-
cies up," Johnson said. "It was a
big deal for this game, because
the way we game plan was on
certain running backs. Because
(Smith), he's ta more shifty back
than (Toussaint) is, so it's kind
of difficult with him in it because
we didn't really prepare for him
all week."
Didn't matter. Alabama's sub-
stance stomped Michigan's flash,
and by the second half, the Ala-
bama side of the stadium had
already begun celebrating the
first step on the way to another
national championship run.
They beamed. They high-fived
and drank and waved pom poms.
One woman rubbed her eyes with
her fists and mocked a crying
face on the big screen.
Inside the Alabama interview
room with glass windows facing
the field, Milliner talked about
what it was like to be challenged
by Michigan with a player who
had never.played a snap at receiv-
er.
On the glass, Alabama fans
yelled "Roll Tide" and chanted
"S-E-C" and smiled, as the cel-
ebration three quarters in the
making continued.

connected on a big pass play,
finding a streaking Jeremy Gal-
lon for 71 yards.)
Offensive coordinator Al
Borges seemed to make more
of an effort to keep the ball in
Robinson's hands after halftime,
with the Deerfield Beach, Fla.
native making five rush attempts
out of 11 plays in Michigan's first
two drives of the third quarter.
He averaged 4.4 yards on those
carries, compared to just under
two yards per carry on the rest of
the team's 24 attempts.
That's when Robinson went
down hard after taking a big
hit while extending for the first
down on a scramble.
Whether it was fear of fur-
ther injury, or the thought that
the Wolverines needed to use
the passing game if they had
any hope of coming back from a
34-7 deficit, his running essen-
tially ceased for good after he
returned.
"I thought with the running
back being out, I thought (Robin-
son) would've got more touches,
because he's a playmaker, he's a
good athlete, good player," said
Alabama linebacker Nico John-
son.
"And I don't know, it was a
shock."
Johnson said the game plan
was to keep Robinson in the
pocket, and they did well in
doing so.
Perhaps, then, the quarter-
back's woes on the ground can be
partially explained by his inabil-
ity to make Alabama respect him
through the air, save for the-pass
to Gallon and a 44-yard touch-
down to junior Devin Gardner.
Overall, he went just 11-for-26
with two interceptions.
Robinson didn't question the
game plan, instead saying he and
his teammates just needed to
improve.
"Everybody has to focus up
and listen to our coaches," Rob-
inson said.
"I know Coach Borges has a
lot to say to me, because I didn't
play well."

ALABAMA
From Page 1B
total carries.
"They did exactly what we
thought they'd do," said fifth-
year senior safety Jordan Kovacs.
"They tried to run it down our
throats and that's what happened.
There wasn't anything pretty
about what they did today. They
just played some smash-mouth
football and beat us."
It wasn't until 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 gashed the
Crimson Tide defense - which
allowed an average of 8.2 points
per game last season - in the
third quarter, exactly doubling its
first-half offensive output in that
quarter alone (119 yards of total
offense, seven points scored).
After a 51-yard Alabama field
goal pushed the lead to 34-7, Rob-
inson found junior wide receiver
Devin Gardner - a converted
quarterback - open in the left flat
for a 44-yard touchdown, the first
score of Gardner's career.
Then, on an evening that went
as poorly as expected for Michi-
gan, it got even worse.
The air left the building for a
few minutes late in the third quar-
ter, when Robinson lay writhing
on the ground with an apparent
back or hip injury after diving
just short of a first down. He was
taken to the tunnel but returned
for the next series.
It was an uncharacteristic
game for Robinson. After rush-
ing 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, a touch-
down and two interceptions.
Alabama closed the scoring
midway through the fourth quar-
ter with a two-yard touchdown
run by running back T.J. Yeldon,
pushing a blowout even further
out of reach.
=Trudging well behind their
teammates were sophomore

GROWING PAINS
From Page 1B
"I think we're on the short end
of the measuring stick right now,"
Hoke said with half a voice.
Yes, if this game was a mea-
suring stick for how Michigan
has progressed as a program in
the Brady Hoke era, the team
came up way short on Saturday.
night - much closer to the bot-
tom than fans thought it was
following last season's Sugar
Bowl victory over Virginia
Tech.
The measuring stick isn't
magical, though. There's no
DaVinci code to crack. No sor-
cery, no black arts.
You need time. A starting
running back and healthy sec-
ondary would help also, but
you need more time.
Saban has been pulling four-
and five-star recruits to Tusca-
loosa for six seasons now. Each
year, it seems, the Crimson Tide
lose their top performers to the
first and second rounds of the
NFL draft, and the following
season they recharge with play-
ers who are equally talented and
have been waiting three years to
take on starting roles.
Exit star linebacker Rolando
McClain, enter Dont'a High-
tower. Exit Hightower, enter
Nico Johnson. Round and round

it goes. to keep count.
Michigan doesn't have the Those are the dependable
same luxury - not yet at least. veterans that should be leading
This fall, Hoke had nobody to the freshmen by example.
replace the physicaliev of Junior And sometimes, you have to
Hemingway in the receiving give credit where credit is due.
corps, so he was forced to line The Crimson Tide played how
up junior quarterback Devin champions play. Their defense
Gardner at wideout. Though he smothered Robinson's receiv-
wasn't targeted often on Satur- ers and sealed off running lanes
day night, it was clear Gardner with almost inhuman consisten-
is already senior quarterback cy. On the other side of the ball,
Denard Robinson's biggest and their offensive line opened up
most athletic receiver. gaping holes for running backs
But he's not a receiver yet. He T.J. Yeldon and Eddie Lacy.
But Alabama isn't necessarily
a more talented program than
Michigan. Alabama is the fin-
We're on the ished product.
short end of the Four of the 17 Wolverine
freshmen who traveled with
measuring stick." the team for Saturday's game
spurned an offer from Saban
to instead play ball in a winged
helmet, and four more Michigan
needs time to make his routes commits in the class of 2013 are
sharper, to time his jump balls prepared to do the same.
better. He's an unfinished prod- Hoke is successfully bringing
uct. top talent to Ann Arbor - more
And if the individuals on the talent than Rich Rodriguez was
roster are an unfinished prod- ever able to bring over his three-
uct, then so is the team. year span at the helm.
To be perfectly clear, alack of But even the talented kids need
development was far from the a good whooping in the backyard
only issue on Saturday. Robin- before they could hang with the
son crumbled in the limelight, bigboys.
making mistakes coaches said
he had rid from his game this - Pasch can be reached
fall, and his co-captain Jordan at lpasch@umich.edu oron
Kovacs missed too many tackles Twitter: @lucaspasch.

Senior quarterback Denard Robinson threw a touchdown and two picks.
cornerback Blake Countess, in a
track suit and crutches after leav-
ing the game in the second quar-
ter, and redshirt junior offensive
tackle Taylor Lewan, leaning on a
coach's shoulder for support.
A reeling Michigan team has'
seven days until its home opener
against Air Force. Kovacs sees
only two options: dwell on a loss
to a top-caliber program or admit
defeat and move on, realizing that.
the team's stated goal of a Big Ten
championship is still athand.
With a minute remaining on
the clock, Michigan had a full-
cast of bench players in on defense
after the Crimson Tide picked off
redshirt freshman quarterback
Russell Bellomy's first career
pass.
Then it began again, that song
of the South. This time it wasn't
just a boom. It was a chant that
started in the northeast corner of
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