ARLINGTON, Texas — By the time the night had ended, Michigan football coach Brady Hoke had lost his voice. Wolverines quarterback Denard Robinson appeared weary. Receiver Jeremy Gallon was subdued.
Safety Jordan Kovacs, meanwhile, held up a brave front. Yet the fact was that their team had faltered on many fronts in a 41-14 loss to Alabama.
"We just didn't start fast," said Gallon, who finished with 107 yards on four catches. "Everybody had a job to do … and we didn't execute that job."
Saturday night at Cowboys Stadium in the Cowboys Classic, Alabama did. Paced by running back T.J. Yeldon and quarterback A.J. McCarron, the Crimson Tide took a 21-0 lead after the first quarter and accrued 280 yards en route to a 31-7 lead at halftime.
"We had it in our minds that we wanted to attack early," Alabama offensive guard Chance Warmack said. "We just used our own momentum against them. And we had it in our minds that we were going to score every time we touched the ball."
Hoke was succinct in describing his team's rough start to the game and to the season.
"We had 30 minutes that we had to play Michigan football," Hoke said. "Because the first 30, I don't think we did."
Michigan lacked discipline. The Wolverines took eight penalties for 99 yards, including two against offensive lineman Taylor Lewan in the first quarter.
Without tailback Fitzgerald Toussaint, suspended for a game after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of operating a vehicle while intoxicated, the running game sputtered. Michigan finished with 69 yards on 29 carries, as Vincent Smith led the Wolverines with 33 yards on 13 carries.
A basis for comparison? T.J. Yeldon, Alabama's top rusher, finished with 111 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries.
"We've got talent on this team," Kovacs said. "[Alabama] had a great game plan and we didn't play Michigan football. We didn't stop the run. We didn't run well. We didn't tackle well. We had too many penalties and we were undisciplined. And that will cost you."
Against a style of game that includes the term "SEC speed," the Wolverines felt the bumps, bruises and, as Hoke typically terms them, the boo-boos.
Robinson was shaken up in the third quarter after diving in an attempt to earn a first down and had to be helped off the field, but returned Michigan's sideline within minutes and to the field, not missing a drive.
Cornerback Blake Countess was injured in the first quarter and did not return to the game, while offensive lineman Taylor Lewan left in the fourth quarter with a leg injury. After the loss, Hoke did not know the status of either Countess or Lewan.
Within the first 12 minutes, McCarron (11-21-0, 199 yards) connected with receivers for two touchdown passes -- a 2-yard pass to Michael Williams with 6 minutes, 56 seconds left and a 51-yard pass to DeAndrew White with 4:59 left in the first quarter -- to give the Crimson Tide a 14-0 lead, and Eddie Lacy added a touchdown with 1:24 left in the first.
Trailing 31-0 late in the second, Robinson scored Michigan's first touchdown, a 6-yard run that capped off a three-play, 75-yard drive that included a 71-yard catch by Gallon, which put the Wolverines inside the Alabama 10.
Alabama took a 34-7 lead on Cade Foster's 51-yard field goal and Robinson (11-26-2, 200 yards) found converted receiver Devin Gardner for the Wolverines' second touchdown, a 44-yard pass, with 14 seconds left in the third quarter.
"We set the tone early," Alabama defensive back Vinnie Sunseri said. "It's an Alabama standard to play great defense, and we did a great job of bottling up the middle and stopping Robinson from spreading the field."
After the loss, Kovacs believed there was little time for dwelling.
"You can take this two ways," Kovacs said. "You can be upset about it and you can let Alabama beat us twice. Or you can learn from it."
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.