ANN ARBOR, Mich. For 57 minutes Monday, the Michigan Wolverines couldn't find a way to stop the Air Force triple-option.
That's when the ghost of Bennie Oosterbaan showed up.
With Air Force driving for a possible winning touchdown, Jake Ryan in his first game wearing Oosterbaan's legendary No. 47 jersey made two huge plays to guarantee Michigan would hang on for a 31-25 victory.
On 2nd-and-15 at the Air Force 37, Ryan dove to knock away Connor Dietz's pass to Don Strickland, and two plays later, he hit Dietz as he attempted a fourth-down pass. The ball fluttered harmlessly to the turf, and the Wolverines ran out the clock.
"Coach Hoke told me a week ago that I would be wearing Bennie's number, and I wanted to do it honor today," Ryan said. "I did some research on him, and I found out that he was a great athlete, a three-time All-American and definitely a Michigan man. He made a lot of plays on defense, and I got the chance to make some big ones at the end."
Oosterbaan was best known for his offensive exploits, but he was also a top-notch defensive end for Michigan, as well as starring on the baseball and basketball teams. Ryan switched from No. 90 to No. 47 after pre-game warmups, then set a career-best with 11 tackles.
"We sat down as a staff and it was an easy decision," Brady Hoke said. "The way that Jake plays and the way he goes about his business, he was the one we wanted to honor Bennie."
Ryan was thrilled by the honor, but not as happy with the fact that Air Force finished with 290 yards rushing. Cody Getz had 130 yards and three touchdowns, mostly running option-pitch sweeps.
"We'll probably never play another team like that it is crazy the number of things they can run at you," Ryan said. "We won't have to prepare for that offense again, but we've got to look at the film and fix our techniques against the run. We were doing too many things wrong today."
Hoke agreed entirely with Ryan.
"They do a tremendous job with that offense, and you have to give them some credit, but when you allow 290 yards rushing, that's not playing well," Hoke said. "Coach Mattison made some adjustments that helped, but we're going to have to watch the film and see what we're doing wrong."
There are just as many problems on the offensive side of the ball, but Michigan had a simple solution Denard Robinson. Robinson rushed for 218 yards, including touchdowns of 58 and 79 yards, and passed for 208 yards and a touchdown. To put the game in perspective, Robinson finished the day with 426 yards of total offense and the rest of the Wolverines combined for minus-4.
"Obviously, the non-Denard running game I guess that's what we are calling it now wasn't productive," Hoke said. "Therefore, I don't think we played well enough on the offensive line."
Fitzgerald Toussaint was supposed to give the offense a spark as he returned from his one-game suspension, but he was completely ineffective. He finished with seven yards on eight carries, but Hoke didn't blame him.
"I didn't see any rust on Fitz he's been practicing this whole time," Hoke said. "I just don't think he ever had a chance to get started. We weren't blocking, so he didn't have a hole."
Robinson, of course, doesn't rely on traditional blocking. With his speed, all he needs is a small gap and a chance to get into the secondary. On Michigan's second play from scrimmage, he did just that getting through the line and then outsprinting the Air Force defenders.
He repeated the play on Michigan's first play of the second half, but to make things more interesting, he ran the last 50 yards with only one shoe.
"I don't want to seem cocky, but when I get into the open, I don't think anyone has a chance of catching me from behind," said Robinson, who famously said last month that he could beat Usain Bolt in a 40-yard dash. "Jeremy Gallon was trying to block for me on the second run, but I even passed him. He told me coming off the field that I need to slow down a little."
While the rushing game was a one-man show, Robinson did get help from a couple unlikely sources through the air. Devin Gardner, playing just his second game at wide receiver, caught five passes for 63 yards and a touchdown, while true freshman tight end Devin Funchess had four catches for 106 yards and a score.
"We've seen what Devin (Funchess) has been doing in camp, so we know that's a playmaker," Robinson said. "Today, he got a chance and he did what we expected him to do. He makes plays, and D.G. makes plays."
Robinson is an incredible athlete, but he can't be expected to carry the entire offense. Not only did Toussaint struggle in his debut, but Roy Roundtree wearing Desmond Howard's No. 21 legend jersey has only caught three passes for 17 yards in two games.
In all, Robinson has accounted for 95 percent of Michigan's offense through two games. At that pace, he'll either be injured or exhausted long before the Wolverines have a chance to make a serious run at the Big Ten championship.