Michigan Football: A Half-Speed Robinson Is Enough for Wolverines vs. Minnesota
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Denard Robinson is good to go.
But just how good will he be Saturday against the Minnesota Gophers?
The Michigan Wolverines senior quarterback's presence may not have two cents worth of say come game day. Michigan (5-3, 3-1) has lost to Minnesota (5-3, 1-3) in the "Little Brown Jug" series just thrice since 1977.
That's dominance of a rival, but that continued dominance is contingent on whether or not Robinson has even the most insignificant impact—just as long as he makes some sort of impact.
Questions surrounding the status of Robinson's right elbow may be too much to ignore, despite the fact that Wolverines coach Brady Hoke says "Shoelace" is up and running after nerve issues in his right elbow suffered in the second quarter of this past Saturday's 23-9 loss to Nebraska.
Healthy or not, Michigan can't afford to look past the Gophers. A victory Saturday is imperative; the Wolverines can't risk a late-season comeback effort to claim the Legends Division if Nebraska (6-2, 3-1) beats Michigan State (5-4, 2-3) this weekend.
Robinson has to do enough, but not too much Saturday—if that makes sense.
There is no reason why Michigan shouldn't handle a Gophers team that scored 13 points in each of its three losses prior to this past Saturday's 44-28 win over Purdue. And there is no reason why a half-speed Robinson wouldn't do the job this weekend.
Robinson has windows where he's beyond effective
The Wolverines need Robinson to be quick out of the gate on the ground against Minnesota; the first half is when he does the most damage.
Robinson has six rushing touchdowns this season, with four of them coming in the first half. That's not a mere coincidence, the Wolverines have proven that they're quite capable of quickly pouring on the points as long as Robinson is in gear.
A strong first half rushing doesn't necessarily mean that Robinson runs out of gas in the second. If anything, he's more apt to take advantage of a sluggish defense, something that's indicative of his 8.8 rushing yards per-attempt average in the final two quarters.
He averages 6.2 in the first half.
Either way, something is bound to happen when he's carrying the ball.
Robinson has thrown for 922 of his season-total 1,319 yards in the first half. Going to the air early against Illinois and Purdue surely adds cushion to that total, though. But it reaffirms that a fast response from Robinson all but ensures a win; he doesn't have to take over, he just has to make his presence felt, and early.
Will Robinson dictate the pace of Saturday's game?
Robinson against the Gophers (just one game)
2011 -- Michigan wins 58-0
Robinson completed over 78 percent of his attempts in the steamrolling of the Gophers, adding 51 rushing yards and a touchdown to go with 169 passing yards and a pair of touchdowns on 15-for-19 passing.
Quick work. That one was in the bag after Vincent Smith's 17-yard touchdown pass to Drew Dileo that gave the Wolverines a 20-0 lead prior to Brendan Gibbons' point-after attempt.
So one game doesn't constitute enough to pull trends from or properly analyze.
But it's Denard Robinson against a very similar Gophers team Saturday.
Minnesota running back Donnell Kirkland rushed for 134 yards against Purdue. He would have three 100-yard plus games had he gained just one more during a 17-10 win over Syracuse; he's not to be ignored.
The 20-carry mark seems to be his measuring point. Kirkland has rushed for 99 and 110 yards on 22- and 28-carry games (his only 20-carry plus games). Michigan has to send a message early that keeps the Gophers from feeding him the ball.
Not many backs have had success against the Wolverines this season, at least when backs that play for Alabama are taken out of the equation. Remember, Michigan contained one of the best physical runners in the country when it limited Spartans star Le'Veon Bell to just 68 yards in a four-year losing streak-snapping, 12-10 win over Michigan State two weeks ago.
Give Shoelace time
Protecting Robinson will be key, as the Gophers average two sacks per game. But those sacks have come against teams that don't have Robinson as the quarterback. Although his elbow may be bothersome, it's certain that his legs will give him an advantage when facing the Gophers defense.
Get the run going
Michigan needs four quarters to get its running attack situated. It's been spotty this season, and if it jumps out to a sizable lead Saturday, giving Thomas Rawls and Justice Hayes carries wouldn't be such a bad idea.
If Toussaint can't replicate something close to his 108-yard explosion (9.8 yards per carry) during last years' 58-0 trouncing, Michigan should look Rawls' way first; he had 73 yards from 10 carries, including a long of 25 yards.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81
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