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Defense answers the call

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Denard Robinson went up to the biggest kid in the schoolyard and attempted to throw a haymaker.

He tried to make a statement against the Alabama defense and failed.

Michigan's confounding superstar went toe-to-toe with Dee Milliner and the Crimson Tide defense and ended up on his backside. He went after their top cornerback early and often and ended up handing over his lunch money one nickel at a time.

Milliner batted down pass after pass that came in his direction and intercepted another of Robinson's misguided attempts.

Before Robinson finally wised up and threw the ball to the other side of the field late in the second quarter -- completing a 71-yard bomb, coincidentally -- the game was already in hand with Alabama ahead more than three touchdowns.

"I don't know, I guess they felt the need to attack me today," Milliner said after the game. "But I'm glad they did it so I can make the plays."

Milliner finished the game looking like an anchor on defense with four tackles, one interception and four pass breakups, while Robinson saw his Heisman Trophy campaign open with a box office dud, completing 11-of-26 passes for 200 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions as No. 8 Michigan fell to No. 2 Alabama, 41-14.

Why Michigan targeted Milliner is anyone's guess. The junior defensive back is one of only a handful of players on the Alabama defense with significant experience, starting in six games and appearing in all 13 contests last season.

He was a part of the 2011-12 unit that led the nation in all four major defensive categories. It gave up just six passing touchdowns all season and held the then-No. 1 LSU Tigers scoreless in the BCS National Championship Game.

Milliner was one of the few players to return from that defense which sent six players to the NFL, and has spent the past six months hearing all about it. He's heard all about what the defense lost and took note of the doubters who looked for its inevitable demise.

"They say we're going to be the weak link," Milliner said. "We always take it upon ourselves and compete and voice our opinion when we come on the field."

On Tuesday in Cowboys Stadium, Alabama spoke loud and clear.

"That's our thing, we went into camp and spring ball with a chip on our shoulder," linebacker Nico Johnson said. "All we heard the whole summer was how we weren't going to be good enough."

Milliner and the rest of the Alabama showed what it lacks in experience, it might make up for in talent and determination. Three different players -- including true freshman linebacker Dillon Lee and junior C.J. Mosley -- intercepted passes from quarterbacks in Maize and Blue.

"Everybody is talking about 2010 and 2011," C.J. Mosley said. "Today, we came out with great intensity and great tenacity and showed the world what the 2012 defense is going to be about."

Admittedly, the Alabama defense cannot be the same as a year ago. Those stars are gone. Said Alabama coach Nick Saban, "The team had the challenge of trying to create an identity of themselves … and I think they took a step in that direction."

Against the Wolverines and their star quarterback, the Alabama defense learned a lot about itself. Like Milliner, it learned it can take a punch and give one right back.