Oct. 18, 2012
By Steve Grinczel, Online Columnist
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Since 2010, Michigan has a 5-4 record in games when marvelously maneuverable quarterback Denard Robinson is held to a rushing long-gainer of 16 yards or less.
Meantime, the Wolverines are 17-6 when Robinson breaks one for at least 17 yards, and 14 of those scampers covered a minimum of 25 yards.
That's a winning percentage of .555 with sub-17-yarders vs. .739. The Spartans own two of those efforts while Alabama (this season) and Iowa (in 2010) account for the others.
Since MSU has never allowed Robinson to get loose for more than 16 yards, and since it is 3-0 in those games including when he went in off the bench in '09, and since no other team has been as consistently good at containing the elusive one, it's no surprise defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi's game plan will focus primarily on one element of the U-M attack in Saturday's game at Ann Arbor.
"Denard Robinson," Narduzzi said. "They've got weapons everywhere, but he's definitely the guy who runs the show."
Narduzzi proclaims not to put much stock, if any, in statistics and that may be, but the numbers tell the story of Michigan State's victories against the Wolverines when Robinson starts and wins by all opponents overall.
Last season, the Spartans held him to a net of 42 yards on 18 carries - after dropping him for 36 yards in losses - for a 2.3 yards-per-carry average. His longest run from scrimmage went for 15 yards and MSU won, 28-14.
In MSU's 34-17 victory over U-M at Michigan Stadium in 2010, Robinson netted 86 yards on 21 carries - he was trapped for 13 yards in losses - and averaged 4.1 per carry. He also ran for a touchdown.
Here's another way to look at what Robinson means to Michigan: In 22 victories, including four this season, he is averaging 7.1 yards per carry; in 10 losses during the same period, he is averaging 4.8.
The Wolverines' dependency on Robinson is even more pronounced so far this season. In victories over Air Force, Massachusetts, Purdue and Illinois, he has already gained 687 yards on 64 carries for a whopping 10.7 yards per carry.
However, in losses to the Crimson Tide and Notre Dame, Robinson totaled just 117 yards on 36 carries for a 3.3 average.
Coincidentally, in the last two meetings with MSU, Robinson has averaged 3.3 yards per carry.
Making Robinson rely on his arm more than his legs has been the secret to Michigan State's success against him.
Two years ago, Robinson passed reasonably well, completing 17-of-29 for 215 yards, three interceptions and one touchdown. Last season, he was 14-for-28 for 123 yards, one interception and a TD.
Naduzzi has returned to the practice approach he previously used before playing Robinson, but abandoned before facing Ohio State's Braxton Miller earlier this season. Miller stung the Spartans for 136 yards on 23 carries and completed 16-of-23 for 179 yards, one interception and one touchdown in the 17-16 Buckeye victory.
"I made a dumb coaching error against Ohio State," Narduzzi said. "We didn't go live (tackling) on the quarterback that week when we should have treated him like a tailback and been live on him. We won't make that mistake again."
True freshman safety Demetrious Cox, who rushed for 1,263 yards and 22 touchdowns last season as a quarterback for Jeannette (Pa.) High School, and starting sophomore wideout Tony Lippett, who averaged 9.0 yards on 192 carries while calling signals for Detroit Crockett in 2008-09, are simulating Robinson this week in practice.
"That's how important that position is and we've been live on them," Narduzzi said. "I don't know if you can blitz (Robinson) as much because he's throwing the ball underneath and getting it out a little bit quicker, so there are some (different) things you've got to worry about."
The Spartans can take heart in knowing that if Robinson does jitterbug free for a gain of more than 16 yards against them, they can still win.
The Fighting Irish did this season despite giving up a 20-yarder and Iowa prevailed in 2010 after letting him get loose for 22 yards on one carry. And in 2010 Penn State (for 32), Wisconsin (for 29), Ohio State (for 20) and another MSU, Mississippi State (for 20), momentarily lost contain on Robinson before going on to defeat the Wolverines.