Notre Dame Football: Denard Robinson

Today brings us to the eighth-most memorable moment from Notre Dame's 2012 season.

As always, my mailbag is open to hear your suggestions on rankings such as these.

Sept. 22, 2012: ND gets revenge on Robinson, UM in night win to cap perfect opening month (Stories here, here and here)

For a Notre Dame fans who watched Michigan quarterbacks rally to last-second wins over the Irish in each of the previous three years, this was perfect. The Irish forced Denard Robinson into the worst performance of his career — on his 22nd birthday, no less — as Shoelace turned it over five times to all but doom the Wolverines' chances.

Everett Golson wasn't much better himself, getting replaced by Tommy Rees early. But Rees came through again for the Irish, even rushing it in himself for the game's only touchdown. (Seriously, who predicted Rees to get more rushing touchdowns than Robinson?)

Michigan had a stretch in the first half of five straight passes getting picked off, as running back Vincent Smith tossed an interception to Nicky Baratti in the end zone.

The win made the Irish perfect through month No. 1, giving them their first 4-0 start in 10 years. At the time, the post-game celebration was considered one of the best scenes of the college football season, with "Oh, What a Night!" blasting over the speakers as the fans -- decked in leis to support Manti Te'o through what was then believed to be a double-dose of tragedy -- stayed in their seats while the players jumped into the crowd.

The revelation of the Te'o girlfriend hoax no doubt takes some luster off the night as a whole -- he recorded two picks, landed on the Sports Illustrated cover the following week and said that the game was the same day as his purported girlfriend's funeral -- but there is no denying what a big win this was for the Notre Dame program as a whole, especially after losing to rival USC at home a year earlier in what was the first Notre Dame Stadium night game in 21 years.

(This was also the same night that Jack Swarbrick handed David Brandon an envelope calling off the series after the 2015 season, but Irish fans will always have this night to remember.)

Previously

No. 10: Rees replaces Golson on final drive, leads Irish to win over Purdue

No. 9: Irish open season in Dublin with rout of Navy

Irish lunch links

April, 17, 2013
4/17/13
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Let's decry the one-and-done rule ... and then decry Marcus Smart for not taking advantage of it!

Halloween at Notre Dame

October, 31, 2012
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Avoid the traps, noises and every other cliche spouted about your favorite undefeated team. Here are a few treats to hold you over until Notre Dame takes the field again Saturday:

Haunted house: Is it still USC? Notre Dame won its last contest there, and the Trojans dropped another home game last year, with tough test there against Oregon before they host the Irish in the regular-season finale. It's not what it once was, but the Los Angeles Coliseum is all that will likely stand between the Irish and a perfect regular season.

The Exorcist(s): No teams owned Notre Dame coming into this season the way Michigan and Stanford had recently. The Irish then put Denard Robinson through the worst birthday of his life, forcing him into five turnovers in a prime-time win. And three weeks later they bridged the gap with a Cardinal team that had physically manhandled them recently by stopping Stepfan Taylor four times inside the 5-yard line to preserve an overtime victory.

Paranormal activity: Miami's Phillip Dorsett dropped not one but two sure-fire touchdown passes on the opening drive against Notre Dame on Oct. 6 in Chicago. How do you explain that?

Witchcraft: BYU quarterback Riley Nelson's comments following after missing Cody Hoffman late in the fourth quarter of an eventual 17-14 loss at Notre Dame: "That throw will probably haunt me until I die." Irish coach Brian Kelly's remarks after the win made his team 7-0: "You just need to find ways to win. That's who we are. Embrace who you are, is what I'm saying. Our football team, they believe they're going to win. There's no question they believe they're going to win." Tough to find simple logic in all of that.

Jason Voorhees: Suspended from the opener? OK. No preseason reps or starting job? Whatever. Booed by his own classmates? Ha! Put Tommy Rees in at any time, any place. No matter to the junior, who has rescued the Irish three times this season, delivering clutch throws against Purdue, Michigan and Stanford and starting against BYU (and Miami). He's not going anywhere.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Nicky Baratti doesn't really know how to explain it. He wasn't here last year, after all, when Notre Dame's defense forced just 14 turnovers over 13 games in a five-loss campaign. So he can't really compare.

But the freshman safety sees something in the way the Irish's defense comes out to practice every day. He sees the effort that coordinator Bob Diaco puts into studying opposing defenses. And he knows that he and his teammates will be ready for virtually any look an opposing offense throws at them week to week.

"No loafs," Baratti said of the practice mentality. "If you mess up, then go all-out. And that's the ultimate eraser. Just hustle everywhere you go, and if you're loafing -- something bad's going to happen to you."

For now, the bad things have been happening to the Irish's opponents, who have turned the ball over 13 times through four games. Notre Dame is tied for second nationally in forced turnovers, and it is fifth in turnover margin. The Irish finished last season 118th in that category, and they had only five takeaways after a 2-2 start.

[+] EnlargeNicky Baratti
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesNicky Baratti's end-zone interception against Michigan is one of 13 turnovers Notre Dame has forced through four games.
Priority No. 1 for the unit, as Diaco and his players will tell you, is to keep the points down. Holding Michigan State and Michigan without a touchdown in consecutive games is a good start, especially when the Wolverines reached the red zone five times. Two of those red-zone trips resulted in turnovers, with Baratti responsible for one of them with a first-quarter interception in the end zone.

"In terms of the list defensively, we can't move too far away from our core beliefs," Diaco said. "That's -- we're interested in keeping the points down. In keeping the points down, the next piece that produces points is big plays. So, defensively, we have to be sure that we're constantly focused on eliminating big plays.

"After that, we try to analyze what the opponent does to produce points, so we can limit and keep the points down. After that, if I had to put an emphasis, if you forced me to, we're interested in attacking the football and creating ball disruptions."

The Irish are holding opponents to 9 points per game, good for No. 4 in the nation.

"I would say it helps," defensive end Stephon Tuitt said of forcing turnovers. "It helps a lot. Our whole goal is to keep the opposing offense's points down. … Right now we want to be the best defense out there, but we have a long way to go to keep working at it."

Tuitt, whose six sacks are second-most in the nation, has a hard time putting a finger on why the defense has been able to impose its will so much better in his second year at Notre Dame.

Forcing nemesis Denard Robinson into five turnovers, and Michigan into six, was the latest step in the unit's development. But the Irish insist that it is just that -- one simple step that has built upon the foundation set when the majority of the staff assembled three years ago and laid out its plan.

"We've continued to maintain the same core beliefs and the same defensive ideologies that we've had since we've gotten here," Diaco said. "Over time, consistency, maturity of the players -- obviously the expectation is that they continue to improve on the things we're working on. So we're working on it, they're improving at it. Sheer physics -- as the players become bigger, faster, stronger over time as they mature or through the recruiting and collection of talent, there also becomes a little bit better clock in the head of the opponent quarterback.

"Partner with the emphasis and partner with the focus of the players and the diligence of them in film study and in practice, and also just the sheer physics of a pretty stout front, creates some ball disruptions."

Irish Lunch Links

September, 24, 2012
9/24/12
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Lots of stuff today ...

Notre Dame weekend rewind

September, 24, 2012
9/24/12
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One last look at how Notre Dame improved to 4-0 on Saturday.

The good: Notre Dame is 4-0 for the first time in 10 years. The Irish did it by forcing Denard Robinson into the worst game of his career, on his 22nd birthday, no less. Shoelace turned it over five times, his team did it six times, and the Irish walked away from the month of September unscathed, with unspoken big-picture dreams very much a possibility one-third of the way through the season.

The bad: Everett Golson is the starting quarterback, but he has been pulled from two games in his four-start career. Saturday's was a no-brainer after the redshirt freshman tossed two interceptions early, including one in the end zone. Brian Kelly termed the mistakes as "carelessness" and made mention of a heavy workload in the classroom in the week leading up to the game, but he and everyone else expects more from the No. 1 quarterback, which Golson will be entering the Miami game in two weeks.

The ugly: Michigan had a stretch of five straight passes that were picked off. There were eight combined turnovers and 10 total penalties on the night. Woof.

History: The Irish topped Michigan State and Michigan in the same season for the first time since 2004. They held both schools without a touchdown in the same year for the first time since 1909. History, indeed.

Next up: Notre Dame has a bye week before beginning a three-game stretch without an away contest: Miami (in Chicago), Stanford and BYU. Oklahoma awaits the Irish Oct. 27 in Norman.

Rees comes through again for Irish

September, 23, 2012
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- All those turnovers, all those jeers, they were nothing but a thing of the past now. Here was Tommy Rees, out of the shotgun, third-and-4, Notre Dame's fate against Michigan the only thing riding now on his right arm.

The snap came in, the ball went high down the home sideline, and up went Tyler Eifert, the All-American grabbing his first catch of the night for 38 yards, breaking the dam and setting off a party unlike any seen in recent history inside Notre Dame Stadium.

This building has been known more for its quaintness, more for its hospitality, and suddenly that was all coming apart at the seams. Manti Te'o was finding his basketball friends in the crowd again, happy Louis Nix was dancing the way happy Louis Nix usually does, and no one inside the student section dared ditch the scene a moment too soon.

The Irish had finally knocked off Michigan, 13-6, after three years of torture, and out from the scrum amid chants of his name came Rees -- first for the television interview, then for a bountiful jog up the tunnel, a far cry from the reception he received the last time he took this field, two weeks earlier.

"It feels good, I'm not going to lie," Rees said. "It feels good to go out there and help the team win and have all your teammates count on you, and you being able to deliver.

"It's still early in the year. We've just got to keep moving forward and taking it one day at a time."

Notre Dame goes into its bye week at 4-0, winning three consecutive games the hard way, two of them behind the poise of the best backup quarterback in the nation, if he can even be called that at this point. Coach Brian Kelly shot his quarterback situation down definitively -- "Everett is our starter," he said -- but the eyes and ears suggest that Rees isn't going anywhere, not in a season ripe with potential like this one.

[+] EnlargeTommy Rees
Chris Williams/Icon SMITommy Rees completeed 8 of 11 passes for 115 yards -- and, unlike starter Everett Golson, no picks.
Everett Golson completed just one more pass to his teammates (three) than he did to defenders (two), and so Rees was summoned midway through the second quarter, making his presence felt on his first drive by plunging into the end zone from 2 yards.

"He's a tough competitor," Theo Riddick said of Rees. "He knows the game, and there's not one day that he doesn't want to go out there and perform. So when his number's called, we expect that."

Riddick carried much of the load in the second half, rushing it 12 times for 40 yards during the Irish's final two drives to help them escape the Wolverines. On a night when Notre Dame's defense was nothing short of dominant, Rees and the offense did everything that was asked of it.

The junior completed 8 of 11 passes for 115 yards, and for the second time this season dispelled the "Turnover Tommy" moniker that dogged him throughout last fall.

Rees' 20 giveaways in 2011 overshadowed his 12-4 career record as a starter, or the fact that he was the only Irish quarterback to enter this season with experience as the No. 1 guy. Those yips were why his off-field arrest this past spring was met by many with a simple headshake rather than a full-out freakout, and why, yes, many of his own classmates let their unhappy feelings show from the stands when he stepped in two weeks ago to relieve Golson before lifting the Irish past Purdue.

Rees will never have the arm that Golson does, never bring the fans or teammates to their feet with a big run like the redshirt freshman. And yet he is beginning to win over his locker room in a way few other reserves could, by tossing distractions aside and by taking care of the football.

"No. 1, it just shows that you can't be selfish," Riddick said of Rees' showings. "It's a team sport, and you've got to do whatever you've got to do to make this team better, and he understands that. And like I said, when he comes in, we all expect him to know everything and play as if he is the starter."

Kelly called last week's win at Michigan State a signature victory. After beating Michigan to end a perfect month, he said this group knows it has a chance to do something big.

Yes, Golson is the man of the future and will start in two weeks because of his promise. But the guy who was nothing more than a glorified graduate assistant a short month ago will be ready if his number is called, as big a reason as any that these Irish just may be on their way to something special.
Denard Robinson was the difference in the Michigan-Notre Dame classics in 2010 and 2011.

Robinson was again the key figure in the 2012 meeting, though not in a good way for the Wolverines. And the game was anything but a classic -- but Irish fans will gladly take the ugly 13-6 victory.

It was a bizarre game in South Bend that featured eight turnovers, including six of them by the losing team. Here's a quick look at how it went down.

It was over when: Tommy Rees found Tyler Eifert for a 38-yard gain on third-and-4 from the Notre Dame 31 with less than two-and-a-half minutes remaining. That play, coming against one-on-one coverage, allowed the Irish to run out the clock and keep Robinson from pulling off another miracle. It was Eifert's only catch of the game.


Game ball goes to: The Notre Dame defense. For the past two years, they were absolutely terrorized and traumatized by Robinson. This time, the Irish not only held Michigan out of the end zone, they forced Robinson to turn it over five times (four interceptions, one fumble). He had 228 total yards, and his longest run was only 20 yards. It was like a photo negative of Robinson's previous two performances in this series. The front seven got great pressure and stayed in its lanes, while Manti Te'o played an enormous game with two interceptions and two hurries that led to turnovers. That's why the Irish erased their nightmares from years past.

Stat of the game: Michigan had 299 total yards to only 239 for Notre Dame. But the minus-four in turnovers was too much to overcome.

How the game was won: Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly made the best move of the game when he lifted Everett Golson for Rees in the first half. Golson looked too skittish for this stage and had two bad interceptions. Rees settled down the offense and while he threw for only 115 yards, he was the only quarterback in the game who took care of the ball.

Second guessing: Michigan was driving the ball well in the first quarter and had the ball on the Notre Dame 10-yard line when offensive coordinator Al Borges got a little too tricky. He called for a halfback pass from the diminutive Vincent Smith, who jumped in the air with Te'o barreling down on him and lobbed an easy interception in the end zone. The Wolverines could have used the momentum early and ended up really needing the points.

What Notre Dame learned: While this one wasn't pretty, the Irish could hardly have asked for a better start to this season. Its defense is playing at a championship level -- to hold Michigan and Robinson to six points is an outstanding achievement. There are still questions for this team, and Kelly will have to answer even more quarterback controversy questions this week, but this is the toughest Irish team we've seen in a while.

What Michigan learned: The Wolverines still aren't ready for prime time. They got blown out in the opener against Alabama and then were ridiculously sloppy with the ball in this one. While Michigan had by far its best defensive performance to date and can build on that, Robinson is still making too many mistakes in the passing game. There's really no reason for the Wolverines to be ranked in the top 25 right now, but Michigan still will be a factor in the weakened Big Ten, which went 0-3 against Notre Dame.

It's game day at Notre Dame Stadium

September, 22, 2012
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Greetings from Notre Dame Stadium, where I'm checking to make sure that my eardrums still work following a pregame F-16 flyover about an hour before kickoff.

As colleague Adam Rittenberg notes, today is actually the 22nd birthday of one Denard Robinson. Irish fans might be familiar with him after the school's past two meetings with Michigan, and they would love nothing more than to ruin his golden birthday tonight with a victory.

The sky is clear and the sun is shining right now, a far cry from earlier today, when heavy rainfall forced the tarp to come on over the field. The teams are warming up on the gridiron as I type this, with no real signs of anything abnormal.

In case you missed it earlier, I picked Notre Dame to win this one by a 27-21 margin, while Adam and Brian Bennett were split.

We'll have breaking news and injury updates here if necessary, with in-game observations and notes coming via Twitter, so be sure to follow for any of your in-game needs. Barring anything unforeseen, we'll be back here to wrap it all up later. If recent history between these schools is any indication, it will be a very late night.

Enjoy!

Video: Michigan-Notre Dame pregame

September, 22, 2012
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Adam Rittenberg, Matt Fortuna and Michael Rothstein preview Saturday night's game between No. 11 Notre Dame and No. 18 Michigan

Notre Dame mailblog

September, 21, 2012
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What's happening, folks?

Kent from Reston, Va., writes: Hey Matt - thank you for your candid reporting on the Irish. Q: Who are the next guys on the depth chart behind Farley, Russell, Motta and Bennett — are the Irish looking to convert more offensive players to the secondary to add depth? Thanks - Kent

Matt Fortuna: Thanks Kent. The second-team corners on this week's depth chart are Josh Atkinson and Jalen Brown, with Nicky Baratti and Chris Salvi listed as the No. 2 safeties. Brian Kelly said this week that Baratti, Salvi and C.J. Prosise will be getting into the rotation from here on out, as the Irish simply need to build depth back there with so many blows having already been suffered. Cam McDaniel was cross-training but has seen snaps out of the backfield this season. Davonte Neal was recruited as an athlete but I can't see him getting any more responsibilities on his plate right now, especially in the middle of his first season. And DaVaris Daniels actually played some safety in high school, but the chances of him ever switching positions are, well, zero.




James Darnell from South Bend, Ind., writes: I first off want to thank you for your coverage of ND, you do a great job. I know Michigan will be a tough team to beat but with the blueprint Alabama put out there and the defense we have I think we can keep Denard wrapped up and make him beat us with his arm. One huge difference I have seen with our secondary is that the corners might be young but they find the ball unlike last year and their speed is an upgrade. What are your thoughts on these? Thanks

MF: Appreciate that, James. Notre Dame's defense did a very good job for nearly three quarters last season, but it all came apart in the fourth. While I think last year's secondary was superior (and much more experienced), I have a hard time seeing Michigan coming down with all of those 50-50 balls the way they did last season. The Irish's young corners have impressed so far, and they need to, in Kelly's words, limit the big chunk plays. The front-seven will have its hands full but I think ultimately can contain Robinson just enough Saturday night.




James Coleman from South Bend, Ind., writes: Do you think Notre Dame has a chance to be unbeaten heading into the Oklahoma game?

MF: A chance? Absolutely. The toughest test until then has already been passed, last weekend at Michigan State. But it means nothing if it all comes apart Saturday against the Wolverines. The Irish are too young in certain spots — and the more experienced players have been humbled too much already in their careers — to look ahead to that late-October trip. Beating Michigan is still a big hump for this team to cross, and that Stanford contest in a few weeks doesn't look like it will be any easier.




Greg from Wonder Lake, Ill., writes: Anything more to the Hounshell DNP coaches decision than just his depth chart status? He did not make the trip similar to other injured players (Carlisle and Nichols). Suspecting shoulder injury as others have speculated. Trying to preserve medical redshirt status?

MF: Greg, Kelly finally acknowledged this week that Hounshell has been battling a shoulder issue, but he said that he was going to give it a go this week at practice. Just how bad that shoulder is remains unclear, though if there is any doubt and the Irish have enough bodies on the defensive line — a valid question given the bumps and bruises of the first three weeks — then preserving a year is probably the smart move for a player who has a redshirt option available.

Notre Dame Week 4: Did you know?

September, 21, 2012
9/21/12
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As always, a tip of the cap to ESPN Stats & Info and both of these schools' sports information departments for sharing some of these nuggets.
  • Through three games last season, Notre Dame led FBS schools with five red-zone turnovers (three picks, two fumbles). This year the Irish have thrown just one interception in 15 red-zone drives. Michigan has not forced a red-zone turnover in 12 drives this season, and has allowed opponents to score on 83.3 percent of red-zone chances.
  • Everett Golson has completed 9 of 18 passes with a touchdown and no interceptions when under duress. Denard Robinson is 5 of 20 with a touchdown and two interceptions when under duress.
  • Robinson has 17 touchdowns and 18 interceptions on throws of 15 yards or longer in his career. He has not improved with these throws during his career, with his completion percentage decreasing in each of his three seasons as a starter, from 32 percent (2012) to 38.1 (2011) to 45.6 (2010).
  • Last season against Notre Dame, Robinson was 3 of 10 on throws of 15 or more yards during Michigan's first 12 drives, averaging 16.4 yards per those completions with one touchdown and two picks. On his final two drives, however, he was 3 of 5 on those throws, averaging 21.4 yards per those completions and throwing for a touchdown.
  • Robinson remains on pace to gain more than 1,000 yards on designed running plays for a third straight season. He is averaging a career-high 9.3 yards per rush on such plays this year, and he has averaged 180.5 yards per game on designed running plays against the Irish in the last two seasons. Against the Irish the last two seasons, Robinson has carried the ball more than in other games (20 rushes per game to 14.7), averaged more yards per carry (9 to 6.7), averaged more rushing yards (180.5 to 99.4) and has averaged more rushes of at least 10 yards (6 to 3.1). These numbers do not include scrambles and sacks.
  • In his last two seasons, Robinson has taken a snap from under center on 19.2 percent of his passes. During that time period, he has thrown 12 of his 26 touchdown passes from under center. His numbers under center as opposed to out of the shotgun are better, from completion percentage (62.5 to 52.4) to yards per attempt (9.3 to 8.5) to touchdown-interception ratio (12-1 to 14-18). Against Notre Dame he is 5 of 7 under center for 107 yards with four touchdowns and one pick.
  • Notre Dame's defense has allowed just 103 yards and five first downs in the fourth quarter this season. Among BCS-AQ teams, that ranks in the top five in both categories.

Irish Lunch Links

September, 20, 2012
9/20/12
12:00
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Welcome back, Ichiro.

What to watch: Week 4 vs. Michigan

September, 20, 2012
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Here's what to watch for Saturday as Notre Dame hosts Michigan under the lights:

1. A big play from Shoelace. I may as well put "lights," "tackles" and "a big crowd" while I'm at it. The Irish defense is much better equipped this season to handle Denard Robinson, but he will still break off one long run -- say, 40 yards or more -- at some point Saturday night, regardless of how well Notre Dame plays.

2. One quarterback. Amid the ACC news and a sound performance at Michigan State, the "starter-closer" story line has gotten buried. Everett Golson will keep it that way Saturday night, directing an offense that won't need another perfect two-minute drill to get the victory. (Garbage time snaps do not apply to this prediction.)

3. Leis everywhere. The school spirit group, the Leprechaun Legion, will distribute 7,500 white leis to students at Friday night's pep rally to support Manti Te'o after the senior's tragic losses last week. That should make for an interesting sight in the student section, and it is certainly a great cause.

ND prediction: Week 4 vs. Michigan

September, 20, 2012
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I got a taste of humble pie by whiffing on last week's prediction. You'll have to forgive me if it happens again, because there is no telling what can happen whenever the Irish and the Wolverines take the field together. Michigan has pulled out three straight against Notre Dame by four points each time, and each contest was decided in the final minute. Can the Irish put an end to the misery and start 4-0?

When Michigan has the ball: Denard Robinson. Denard Robinson. Denard Robinson. The man is capable of a big play every time the ball is in his hands, and Notre Dame's defense cannot get caught snoozing at any point. The Irish's front seven will need to get pressure on Shoelace and force him into some untimely throws, which will make life easier for Notre Dame's depleted secondary. Fortunately for the Irish, they should have no problem winning the battle in the trenches against the Wolverines.

When Notre Dame has the ball: The Irish found great success in last season's game by pounding it up the middle early, and they should do that again. Notre Dame has three very good running backs and an offensive line that will be facing a significantly easier task than the ones they had against the fronts of Purdue and Michigan State. A sound attack will suit the Irish well, as it won't require Everett Golson to do too much and should create some openings in the passing game when Michigan decides to blitz.

Intangible: Notre Dame has better personnel than Michigan. The Irish have played better football than the Wolverines through the season's first three weeks. They are playing at home, under the lights, with a chance to atone for last season's letdown and head into the bye week at 4-0. But Michigan and Robinson always seem to come up big when it matters most. The Irish must block that out and play their game, which is good enough to win.

Prediction: Notre Dame 27, Michigan 21. The Irish jump out to an early lead, withstand a late charge from Robinson and ultimately have enough to end the Wolverines' reign of terror.

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