ARLINGTON, Texas -- The toughest of tests was too much for coach Brady Hoke and Michigan. This was Alabama – still at its very best.
After an 11-win season and BCS victory in Hoke's first season, the last thing the Wolverines expected was to start year two with a confidence-shaking performance.
"Obviously, we didn't play Michigan football, and that's something that bothers our team, bothers the coaches," Hoke said after a 41-14 loss to the defending national champion Saturday night. "Win or lose your first game, you learn a lot."
What the Wolverines and the rest of college football found out is that the Crimson Tide defense can still be dominating, even after sending three starters from that title team to the NFL as first-round picks.
Dee Milliner and the Tide defenders manhandled the Wolverines and pounded dual-threat quarterback Denard Robinson, who took some hits and struggled to get much going even though he accounted for both of his team's touchdowns.
Sure, Michigan still can recover to contend for a Big Ten title and possible Rose Bowl bid. But the Wolverines didn't want to start with the most lopsided season-opening loss in school history.
"We just didn't play Michigan football," Robinson said, repeating what his coach said. "I didn't make the throws that I should have made today and I feel that I didn't play as the Michigan quarterback today. I've got to step it up and be more accountable."
C.J. Mosley returned an interception 16 yards for a touchdown for the second-ranked Tide. AJ McCarron, no longer with third overall draft pick Trent Richardson to hand the ball off to, threw two touchdowns as Alabama won its 11th consecutive season opener.
"I personally don't think we were trying to send any type of message," McCarron said. "We're just trying to do what coach (Saban) preaches. And that's to go out and play our game. Do what we're supposed to do."
Milliner, the primary nickelback last season now in a starting role, deflected four passes in the first half, and had an interception after shoving intended receiver Roy Roundtree to the ground and into the Alabama sideline. That set up a touchdown for the Crimson Tide, which shot out to a 31-0 lead.
"It's a deflating loss, it should sting," safety Jordan Kovacs said. "But at the end of the day, you can't let Alabama beat you twice."
The Wolverines play their home opener next weekend against Air Force.
They were without suspended running back Fitzgerald Toussaint and defensive end Frank Clark, but even with them probably weren't ready for to beat the Tide.
Even Alabama coach Nick Saban was applauding his team's performance as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
"This team had a challenge of trying to create an identity for itself," Saban said. "I think they took a step in that direction. That happens over time and happens with consistency in performance. It's a big win over a very good team."
McCarron was 11-of-21 passing for 199 yards. Freshman T.J. Yeldon ran for 111 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries, while Eddie Lacy had a 9-yard TD run.
Most of Robinson's 200 yards passing (he was 11 of 26) came on two plays – a 71-yard pass right before halftime that came before his 6-yard TD run and his 44-yard scoring pass to Devin Gardner in the third quarter.
Robinson, held to 27 yards rushing on 10 carries, showed his toughness when he didn't miss a snap immediately after being hurt on a fourth-down run in the third quarter.
The Heisman hopeful got hurt when he stretched and landed awkwardly trying to lunge for a first down on fourth-and-3. He appeared to reach for his lower back while on the ground, where he remained for several minutes before being helped up and then walking gingerly off the field.
Officials first marked Robinson's run as first down. But while Robinson was being tended to, the play was reviewed and it was determined that his elbow came down short of the first down. But he was back in the Michigan huddle after Cade Foster kicked a 51-yard field goal.
McCarron threw his two touchdowns, including a 51-yarder when a backup cornerback fell down, before Milliner's big shove that he got away with for a big play. With Roundtree on the ground and the ball in the air, Milliner caught the ball near midfield and returned it to the Michigan 17.
"I got a good jam," Milliner explained. "When I looked up, the ball was coming and I made a play on it."
Robinson helped make a touchdown-saving tackle, and appeared to grab his right shoulder then.
The crowd of 90,413 was the largest ever to see a college game at Cowboys Stadium, where the crowd was distinctly split by fans in crimson and those in maize.
At the end, the Alabama fans were chanting "S-E-C!, S-E-C!" and "Roll Tide!"