As familiar as Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster may be with seeing a quarterback like Michigan’s Denard Robinson, the chore of preparing for somebody like Robinson is an entirely different topic.
Foster isn’t far removed from observing on a daily basis a slightly undersized quarterback who could gain yards on the ground like a shifty running back, while also possessing the ability to get outside the pocket and extend plays long enough to find receivers downfield with maddening efficiency. With Hampton High alum Tyrod Taylor at quarterback last season, Tech had its own guy capable of pulling off that magic act.
“He’s probably the most athletic, dynamic athlete at that position in the country,” said Foster, whose defense of the No. 17 Hokies (11-2) will face No. 13 Michigan (10-2) on Jan. 3 in the Sugar Bowl. “He’s basically another tailback in the backfield and we’ve got to do a good job of negating his abilities to create big plays, explosive plays.”
In Michigan’s last two games, which were wins against Nebraska and Ohio State, Robinson went a combined 25-of-35 passing for 347 yards, five touchdowns and an interception, and ran 49 times for 253 yards and four touchdowns.
Against Nebraska, Robinson became the 10th player in NCAA history to eclipse 3,000 yards passing and 3,000 yards rushing for a career.
Then, in the Ohio State game, he became the fourth player in NCAA history with two seasons of 2,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing.
“That guy is dangerous with the ball in his hands,” Tech free safety Eddie Whitley said. “It’s kind of like when you played little-league football. The best athletes are at quarterback. There’s not going to be a play where he’s not going to touch the ball. It’s going to be hard on us.”
As he came out of Deerfield Beach, Fla., the appeal of Michigan for Robinson in 2009 was the opportunity to play in then-coach Rich Rodriguez’s spread-option attack. Robinson excelled in the offense last season, passing for 2,570 yards, 18 touchdowns and 11 interceptions while running for 1,702 yards and 14 touchdowns.
After Rodriguez was replaced with Brady Hoke entering this season, Robinson had to adjust to offensive coordinator Al Borges’ pro-style approach, but Borges has tailored the offense to include more read-option opportunitiesfor Robinson.
This season, Robinson has passed for 2,056 yards, 18 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, and run for 1,163 yards and 16 touchdowns.
“We can’t let him just run around and get out of the pocket,” Tech defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins said. “That’s when big plays happen. You’ve got to keep him in his little circle or his little box.”
Though Robinson has had three multiple-interception games this season, his running ability provides an element to Michigan’s offense most defenses haven’t been able to completely shut down. He’s second all-time among Big Ten quarterbacks in rushing yards (3,216), behind only former Indiana standout Antwaan Randle El (3,895 yards).
Tech has faced mobile quarterbacks in recent years, with Georgia Tech’s Josh Nesbitt, Florida State’s Christian Ponder, Virginia’s Vic Hall and Marques Hagans, Texas A&M’s Reggie McNeal, Kansas’ Todd Reesing and Air Force’s Chance Harridge all coming to mind.
None of those quarterbacks had the combined passing and running threat of Robinson. For that kind of combination, Foster may have to reference former West Virginia quarterback Pat White, but he hadn’t developed into much of a passing threat when Tech faced him during his freshman year in ’05 — a game Tech won 34-17.
Prior to that game, Clemson’s Woodrow Dantzler may be the closest facsimile to Robinson that Tech can find in the last 12 years. In the Gator Bowl that concluded the 2000 season, Tech defeated Clemson 41-20. Dantzler had 180 yards passing, a touchdown and an interception to go along with 81 yards rushing.
In any case, Robinson is an unconventional quarterback. He’s the kind of player who demands an uncommon defensive effort.
“I don’t know if you can just shut him down, per se,” Foster said. “He can create plays if you don’t pressure him in the passing game. He can buy time and create plays because he is a good enough thrower to make some plays, but I still think our success has got to come from being able to stop the run and make him one-dimensional. That’s a hard job to do.”
Michigan's Denard Robinson poses unique threat to Virginia Tech's defense
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