As quarterback Denard Robinson goes, so goes Michigan’s offense.
Robinson has accounted for 67 percent of his team’s total yards through 11 games this season. Limiting the Heisman contender will be the challenge for the Ohio State defense Saturday.
“It’s going to be tough to game plan for him,” senior defensive end Cameron Heyward said. “I don’t know if there really is a weakness.”
The difficulty comes from Robinson’s ability to beat you with his legs and his arm. The quarterback is the first player in NCAA history to have more than 1,500 yards passing and 1,500 yards rushing in the same season. The evolution of his passing game is what has OSU defenders worried this season.
“You’ve got to watch out because he has turned out as a good passer,” defensive tackle Dexter Larimore said. “He has been able to throw down field like he hasn’t quite been able to in the past couple years.”
That improvement has come from more repetitions and more thorough preparation by the sophomore signal caller.
“You’ve got to be able to read everything and know where everybody is supposed to be at on the offense,” Robinson said at Michigan’s weekly press conference Monday. “I think that is pretty much what I learned this year.”
The fact that Robinson has been able to put both facets of the game together makes him hard to duplicate on the scout team in practice. The Buckeyes have to use more than one player to mimic the Wolverine quarterback.
“I’m sure we’ll get some of the wide outs in there doing part of it (and) the running backs,” coach Jim Tressel said. “It’s a tremendous challenge because it gives you all of the problems that a wildcat offense gives you with a great running back … (but) it has all the passing problems.”
The Buckeyes will use different scout players to work on Robinson’s running and passing threats separately because it is “impossible to simulate him” in any other way, Tressel said. Unfortunately for OSU, the two skill sets will be combined this Saturday.
To slow down Robinson’s dual-threat capabilities, the Buckeyes will have to stay disciplined.
“We just have to play assignment football,” senior safety Jermale Hines said. If “guys stay home and guys do their job, everything should take care of itself.”
Teammates agreed that a team approach will be essential this weekend.
“I think the biggest thing is to be able to play as a team and be able to play a team defense because he’s probably going to make one guy miss or two guys miss,” Larimore said.
Discipline aside, Buckeye players realize that completely stopping Robinson is not an option.
“He is one of the best players in college football, so it is going to be a huge challenge for our defense,” senior linebacker Ross Homan said. “We know that he’s going to get yards on us, but we just can’t quit.”
The ability to dictate how he gets those yards might be the key to beating the Wolverines. In Michigan’s four losses, Robinson has 185 yards rushing a game. That number falls to 138 yards a game in the team’s seven victories.
Given this disparity, limiting the passing attack might be more important for the Silver Bullet defense. The players realize that to do so, they can’t let Robinson get off to a quick start.
“He gets very hot very quick,” Heyward said. “We have to be ready for both the pass and the run, and he’s got so many different options on the team, it’s going to be tough to stop him.”
No matter how they go about slowing down Robinson, OSU players know doing so is the only way to stop the Wolverine attack.
“He is definitely what makes their offense go,” Homan said.