ANN ARBOR — With quarterback Denard Robinson on the sidelines, clutching his right wrist in pain, the Michigan football team could have immediately shifted into panic mode.
But in Saturday’s 45-0 win over Illinois, calm prevailed. Wolverines coach Brady Hoke replaced Robinson with redshirt freshman Russell Bellomy for one series in the second quarter and when Robinson returned, he didn’t miss a step.
In Michigan’s Big Ten Conference home opener, Robinson scored two touchdowns and passed for two more, and topped 10,000 career yards as he finished 7-of-11 passing for 159 yards and two touchdowns and rushed 11 times for 128 yards and two touchdowns.
Those kind of numbers gave no indication that Robinson may not have been at 100 percent.
“It was just a boo-boo,” said Robinson, who also finished the game with 40 career rushing touchdowns and 40 career passing touchdowns. “Everybody gets hurt, so, it’s all good. I came back in and it didn’t bother me at all.”
But if Robinson suffered a seemingly minor injury, the Wolverines (4-2, 2-0 Big Ten) put the hurt on the Illini. Nine different players caught passes for 174 yards, including Jeremy Gallon’s 71-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter.
Behind Robinson’s rushing output, Thomas Rawls led the Wolverines with 90 yards and a touchdown on nine carries and was one of five different players to combine for 225 yards rushing.
Michigan, ranked 25th in this week’s Associated Press top 25 poll, took a 10-0 lead over the Illini (2-5, 0-3 Big Ten) on Gallon’s touchdown off a screen pass from Robinson less than seven minutes in the game. Two plays after Robinson got hurt when he was hit on an eight-yard carry, Brendan Gibbons’ 18-yard field goal gave the Wolverines a 10-0 lead with 54 seconds left in the first quarter.
After Illinois kicker Taylor Zalewski missed a 50-yard field goal attempt Robinson returned to the field with 8:37 left in the half and promptly steered a nine-play, 68-yard drive that ended with Robinson’s first touchdown, a six-yard carry.
With a 17-0 lead, the Wolverines opened the gates in the second half as Robinson’s 49-yard touchdown run less than three minutes in kicked off a three-touchdown quarter. Robinson found freshman tight end Devin Funchess for an eight-yard scoring pass two minutes later, and Mario Ojemudia’s fumble recovery at the Illini 6-yard line set up Fitzgerald Toussaint’s two-yard touchdown, which gave the Wolverines a 38-0 lead with 3:43 left in the third.
After Zalewski’s second-quarter field-goal attempt, Michigan’s defense didn’t allow Illinois past its own 41-yard line and limited the Illini to 13 yards in the second half.
“This was probably the most complete we’ve played,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. “Defensively, after the second series or third series, we played well against the run, and I thought when we did that on first down and second down, it gave us an opportunity to try and put some pressure on the quarterback.”
Illini quarterback Reilly O’Toole finished with 25 yards on 5 of 10 passing with one interception in place of starter Nathan Scheelhaase (2 for 6, 4 yards), who left the game with a concussion midway through the second quarter.
Illinois coach Tim Beckman found flaws in every facet of his team’s performance, and center Graham Pocic told the media his team’s effort was “embarrassing.”
But Robinson’s injury — though seemingly trivial in retrospect — provided some perspective and plenty of motivation for the Wolverines.
“Watching Denard go down like that, we knew we had to step our game up,” Michigan linebacker Kenny Demens said. “In essence, if they don’t score any points, then we win the ballgame. We stopped them, then we did our job.”
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.