Oct. 15, 2011
By Steve Grinczel, Online Columnist
With Dennard and Robinson in Michigan State's defensive backfield, it would seem the Spartans have the personnel to cancel out anything Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson does Saturday afternoon in Spartan Stadium.
However, MSU knows cornerback Darqueze Dennard and free safety Trenton Robinson can't counter D. Robinson all by themselves. D. Robinson not only leads the Big Ten in rushing with 120 yards per game, he's third in passing efficiency and fifth in passing yards (188.3 ypg.).
Six games into the season, that's an improvement over last year when D. Robinson was sixth in efficiency and seventh in passing yardage.
"Yeah, I think he's passing better," said Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi. "He's throwing it down there, and they're catching it."
In last season's 34-17 win at Michigan, MSU was one of the first teams to hold D. Robinson in check.
He rushed for just 86 yards on 21 carries and completed 17-of-29 passes for 215 yards and three interceptions.
Narduzzi wishes he could just blow the dust off his game plan from last season and use it again, but he can't.
D. Robinson ran out of a spread-option attack under former U-M head coach Rich Rodriguez, but is now running and gunning out of a more conventional power formation new coach Brady Hoke used at San Diego State.
"They're two different offenses," Narduzzi said. "They'll get in quite a bit of two-tight-end, two-back sets. They'll create a shotgun set and a spread formation out of that, so they're doing a little bit of everything."
And, Hoke has deviated from his stated preseason plan to rely on D. Robinson less as a runner.
"They're using him the same way they have (in the past)," Narduzzi said. "Their offense is a combination of Michigan's last year and what they did at San Diego State. I think we watched about every one of (SDSU's) game from last year, and slowly it seems like they're bringing some of the San Diego State stuff back.
"I think they're integrating both offenses and Denard's carrying the ball a lot more than 14 times a game like their staff said earlier in the year. We'll see if we can limit him to that."
So far, D. Robinson is successfully defending his Big Ten total offense crown with 308.3 yards per game.
"You really just have to contain him," said T. Robinson. "He's fast. You have to close down those seams because if he gets space to get vertical you see what he can do. One of the biggest things is to not let him get vertical."
D. Robinson has completed 67-of-117 throws for 1,130 yards. While he's connected on 57.3 percent of his throws and has nine interceptions, he's also has 10 touchdown passes in addition to eight on the ground.
"He's very dynamic," said Spartans quarterback Kirk Cousins. "I think what gets lost with Denard a little bit is how strong an arm he has. Watching their game (at Northwestern) last week, some of the balls he threw deep went a long ways and he puts a lot of velocity on the ball.
"When you talk about running quarterbacks, you don't give them their due for throwing the ball. I think he measures up very well with a lot of the guys across the country who are considered more pocket passers, and I think his arm strength is right up there with them, too."
The Cousins-Robinson duel has been named this week's Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award Marquee Matchup, and Narduzzi wouldn't mind it a bit if hears "tackle on Denard Robinson by Dennard and Robinson," a lot less than "Denard Robinson's pass defended by Dennard and Robinson."
The Spartans will try to disrupt the Wolverines offense with a mixture of four-man rushes and blitzes.
"They're going downfield a little bit more on the play-action pass, which is not what they used to do," Narduzzi said. "It's run, run, run, suck up (the defense) and then throw it over your head. Their quarterback is a runner, so you have to get an extra guy there somehow, and if you get him there you could lose somewhere else."
Narduzzi is looking forward to matching his 5-foot-11 Dennard and 6-2 Tony Lippett against Michigan's deep-route threats. In such a matchup against Ohio State, Dennard came down with his first career interception.
"We've worked deep balls every day this week," Narduzzi said. "One of our first individual drills is deep balls and jump balls. It's going to come down to who's going to make a play on the ball. I feel real good (about it).
"We've gone up and got the ball. How much do you want throw it up against us, to be honest with you? I hope they do. I hope they throw instead of run it with (D.Robinson). Put it that way."