Slippery when on the run

  • Article by: MYRON P. MEDCALF , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 29, 2011 - 12:12 AM

Michigan QB Denard Robinson sometimes struggles with his passes, but he's an even bigger threat when he decides to take off.


Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson leads the Big Ten in rushing with 552 yards. Last season, he set an NCAA season record for most rushing yards for a quarterback (1,702). “Every time I get a chance they open it up for me, I know I got to do what I got to do to try to score,” Robinson said.

Photo: Tony Ding, Associated Press

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Perhaps they just haven't seen enough highlight film.

Several Gophers football players this week talked about Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson -- one of the fastest athletes playing college football and the Big Ten's leading rusher --as if they were unacquainted with the dangers they'll face Saturday when they open the Big Ten season at Michigan.

Robinson? Just another good player, seemed the prevailing wisdom among Gophers.

"MarQueis [Gray, the Gophers quarterback] is a great athlete ... so facing an athlete like [Robinson] is nothing really spectacular, it's just something we have to come out and face every day," Gophers linebacker Aaron Hill said.

Say what?

When Robinson is on the field, state patrolmen stand on the sidelines with radar guns. Trainers carry fire extinguishers just in case he ignites the turf.

If that hyperbole seems dramatic, consider his numbers.

He's has more total offense by himself than one Big Ten team. Yes, Robinson is responsible for more total yards (1,176) through four games than the entire Northwestern team (1,170 yards) in three games, which is last in the Big Ten in that category.

He's accrued more rushing yards (552) than Penn State (548).

His five rushing touchdowns equal Minnesota's rushing TD total for the season.

Robinson's breakaway speed has helped undefeated Michigan make an easier-than-expected transition to new coach Brady Hoke's pro-style offense, a switch from former coach Rich Rodriguez's spread scheme.

Some speculated that Robinson wouldn't flourish in the new system. Even Robinson acknowledged that he considered changing schools after Rodriguez was fired following a subpar 2010 season.

But he stayed. And he still puts his weapons -- see: record-setting legs (Robinson's 1,702 rushing yards in 2010 were an NCAA season mark for a quarterback) -- to good use.

"When I see an open hole, my offensive line [does] a great job blocking, so every time I get a chance they open it up for me, I know I got to do what I got to do to try to score," he said.

But Robinson admitted the toughest adjustment to Hoke's system has been the demand on precise passing, one of Robinson's struggles throughout his career. He had vast freedom with Rodriguez. Hoke's scheme requires a more scripted approach.

Robinson is sixth in the Big Ten in pass efficiency (132.2). In a 35-31 victory over Notre Dame on Sept. 10, Robinson was 11-for-24 with four touchdowns and three picks. His six interceptions lead the Big Ten.

Robinson said he has to be more patient going forward.

"Last year, I used to try to get out there a little faster than I was supposed to do," Robinson said. "Now, I just got to be the quarterback the coaches want me to be and the team wants me to be."

Michigan wide receiver Junior Hemingway said he's confident Robinson will continue to develop as a passer. But his running ability will improve, too, so receivers have to be ready to help him in that area, he said.

"We take pride in making the blocks downfield," Hemingway said.

The Gophers will have to stay alert whenever Michigan's offense takes the field. Robinson's elite speed can change a game in a matter of seconds.

Gophers cornerback Brock Vereen didn't need game film to figure that out.

"Denard? He's a playmaker, an athletic player. But we have a fast defense, and we're going to rely on that," Vereen said. "Film session? You get a film session if you just turn on ESPN. ... It'll be a great test. You want a test like this early in the Big Ten season."

Maybe Vereen will pass that info along to some of his teammates.


    11 a.m. Saturday at Michigan • TV: BTN (100.3-FM)

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