Brock Mealer led Michigan into the stadium and Denard Robinson led Michigan up and down the field, Saturday, as The University of Michigan rededicated the bigger and better Big House in style, beating up on a UConn team some thought might be able to go into Michigan Stadium and pull out a win, in a 30-10 victory to kick off the 2010 football season in Ann Arbor. An NCAA attendance record 113,090 fans watched Robinson run for 197 yards (a new Michigan record for rushing yards by a quarterback) and throw for another 186 while frustrating UConn defenders and coaches throughout. Michigan’s embattled coach, Rich Rodriguez, must have wanted to privately exhale profoundly afterwords.
With so much emotion pent up throughout Wolverine Nation, who better to lead the team out onto the playing field than Brock Mealer. Told he would never walk again, the young man who grew up an Ohio State fan and who obtained his undergraduate degree from Ohio State led Michigan out of the tunnel and out on the playing field steadying himself with two canes and with his brothers Eliott and Blake on each side – the poster moment following a long and arduous rehabilitation process that took place in the strength and conditioning facilities at the University of Michigan and Schembechler Hall. I’m not sure how many dry eyes were present in Michigan Stadium during that walk, but I know mine were blurry from the tears. From there the wound up crowd would be treated to plenty of highlights.
Michigan started the game on defense and promptly shut down Big East Conference favorite UConn for a 3-and-out on their opening series. With little certainty on defense and lots of young players being used in a system some questioned leading up to the game, Michigan showed they might have come a long way from the horrid defense they fielded in 2009. They pressured UConn quarterback Zach Frazier early and his feet never seemed to get under him after that. They forced a timely turnover (for a change), held UConn to 4 of 15 on 3rd down conversions and even blocked a kick on special teams. Holding an experienced team to only 10 points was something of its own to behold.
While Denard stole the spotlight on offense, it wasn’t without other performers chipping in as well. Vincent Smith scored one touchdown on the ground and one through the air in his first action since having off-season knee surgery following an injury during last year’s Ohio State game. Daryl Stonum had 5 catches and converted on 3rd down, and the rapidly improving offensive showed why it indeed may be the second biggest key to a successful season outside of healthy and competent quarterback play; plowing open holes and running lanes and keeping Michigan out of tough second- and third-and-long situations.
The win sets up a big early season show down and road test for Michigan at South Bend, IN, where they will take on rival Notre Dame. The Wolverines desperately want to show the world that they are an improved ball club and winning on the road is a key objective in that effort. They have only won a single road affair under Rodriguez’s leadership (a 2008 road win at Minnesota) and likely need early season success to build confidence in young players and systems that could finally be finding their stride.