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September 16, 2012

Notebook: U-M uses blowout win to play many youngsters

As the Michigan football team piled on the points in a 63-13 route of Massachusetts Saturday, tens of thousands of Wolverine fans fled from The Big House. By skipping the fourth quarter, those fans didn't miss out on a wild comeback or a dramatic late-game score - but they did opt out of a chance to see the team's future.

A whopping 56 players took snaps on offense and defense for the Wolverines, and many young players got some meaningful - and invaluable - in-game experience. For a team, like Michigan, that is lacking depth at several key positions. The opportunity to play so many youngsters was a big help.

"When you get to see some of those young guys who are on the practice squad, on the scout team, and you get to see them in The Big House that does boost morale," redshirt junior safety Thomas Gordon said. "There are moments out with guys like [cornerbacks] Terry [Richardson] and Delonte [Hollowell], both of them are young guys producing for the defense. I'm happy for them because I was once in their position."

The Wolverines played 56 or more players just once last year, getting 58 guys on the field for offensive or defensive snaps in a 58-0 romp of Minnesota.

"It's a lot of fun because you see those guys putting in the same work we do during the spring and summer conditioning, and to see those guys get out there and have their moments on the field it's a joy to everyone on the team," Gordon said. "We get into the locker room and everyone is happy for them. That's what you live for - playing as a team."

On offense, three players recorded their first career rushing attempts. Redshirt freshman running back Justice Hayes ran three times for 19 yards and a touchdown, freshman running back Dennis Norfleet, who has been used all year as a returnman on kickoffs, tallied one carry for 14 yards. And redshirt freshman quarterback Russell Bellomy, who played one snap against Alabama (throwing an interception), notched five carries for eight yards.

The Wolverines mobbed Hayes in celebration when he crossed the goal line for the team's final touchdown of the game.

"He was ecstatic, and we were all happy for him, too," fifth-year senior offensive guard Patrick Omameh said. "As many dudes as we can get in the end zone, it's something that we enjoy.

"All the guys that come in every day and practice hard, waiting for an opportunity. And when a guy like Justice gets in and gets in the end zone, it's a good time for every body."

Although Bellomy has yet to complete a pass in his career (0-1 with an interception vs. Alabama, 0-1 Saturday vs. UMass), he got some valuable snaps in the blowout - getting a chance to read defense in the heat of competition. As junior Devin Gardner continue to progress at wide receiver, it is imperative that Bellomy grows more comfortable in the pocket.

"He played calm," senior quarterback Denard Robinson said. "I enjoy watching him play calm. Even though he had a little pressure on the edge, he stepped up in the pocket. You could tell he had confidence. I think he's going to do pretty well."

Note: U-M Offense Racks Up Big Numbers

Listening to Michigan coach Brady Hoke after Saturday's 63-13 win, you may have thought the Wolverines were on the losing end of the lopsided blowout.

Hoke, who, as a defensive line specialist, always keeps a keen eye on the team's play in the trenches, was quick to point out that the Wolverines need to continue to work on establishing themselves along the line of scrimmage.

"We've been challenging ourselves in practice, working hard every day," Robinson said. "We're challenging everyone up front to do better. We've been working and working, and it's finally picking up and paying off."

But, for all the criticism, Michigan did rack up nearly 600 yards of total offense - and took the foot off the gas pedal in the third quarter.

"It just shows the level of expectation that he has for us, that we have for ourselves," Omameh said. "It's what is expected of a Michigan offense line. It's something that we understand and all strive to reach."

"As players, it's nice to have a coach that's not complacent, that wants to keep getting better every week," added Dileo.

The Wolverines finished the game with 585 total yards, gaining 8.6 yards per play. They had 294 on the ground and 291 through the air.

It was just the eighth game in the last 10 years in which the team racked up more than 550 yards of total offense (see chart).

While the offense was busy moving the ball at will against the overmatched Massachusetts defense, Robinson quietly turned in another record-setting performance.

At this point, the video-game-like numbers Robinson puts up seem almost commonplace.

He finished just three yards shy of the sixth game of his career with 400 or more yards of total offense. Before Robinson, no Wolverine had ever topped the 400-yard mark.

Robinson now has the top eight single-game total offensive performances in program history, and nine of the top 10. Should he post two more games with at least 369 yards of total offense this season, he will hold every spot in the top 10.

"I think it's pretty special," Dileo said. "Our receiving corps is downfield blocking and catching balls for Denard. However many years from now, looking back and people are still talking about Denard Robinson, it's going to be pretty special to tell your kids and grandkids that you played with him."

But Robinson is not ready for reflection of his individual accomplishments.

"To be honest with you, all I think about is winning, and going out there and being accountable for my team," he said. "When it comes to records, it's going out there and playing football with the team."

Single-Game Team Offensives Performances Over 550 Yards, Last 10 Years
W, 63-13
W, 58-0
W, 67-65 (3OT)
W, 42-35
Bowling Green
W, 65-21
Delaware State
W, 63-6
W, 34-10
Central Michigan
W, 45-7
*Michigan single-game record

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