Denard Robinson and the Michigan Wolverines walked away from their rivalry game against the Ohio State Buckeyes with little reason to celebrate. Winning the Outback Bowl would be a nice consolation prize.
Expectations were high for Robinson and a Michigan team that went 11-2 last season, which included a victory over Ohio State and a thrilling 23-20 overtime win in the 2012 Sugar Bowl against Virginia Tech.
Expectations often lead to disappointment.
Michigan finished the 2012 regular season 8-4, and missed out on a chance to secure the Big Ten title in a year that saw its Rose Bowl representative Wisconsin Badgers finish 8-5. It was by all means a season of failed expectations, and Robinson is the poster child for such expectations. He was considered a Heisman front-runner entering the 2012 season, but failed to find consistency while dealing with injuries and offensive depth issues that forced Robinson to line up at tailback to end the season.
The Wolverines have a lot to prove on New Year’s Day, and you can expect Robinson to play as well as he’s ever played in what will be his final college game. He’s been a strong leader for a squad that lost six games just a couple years ago, and a team that has undergone a revival under second-year coach Brady Hoke.
Despite failing to live up to the hype, Robinson posted 2,509 total yards in 2012 and was still the biggest factor in Michigan’s offense. Starting running back Fitzgerald Toussaint went down against Iowa with a leg injury that would end his season, and Robinson stepped up to fill the role vacated by the former 1,000-yard rusher.
You can expect to see a big dose of Robinson against South Carolina on Jan. 1.
He is the type of dual-threat quarterback who can completely change the dynamics of how opposing defenses prepare for a game. Even lined up at tailback, Robinson offers tremendous versatility, and will also play a big factor in limiting the effectiveness of South Carolina’s standout pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney.
Clowney registered 13 sacks in the regular season and became the first sophomore to win the Ted Hendricks Award as the top defensive end in the country. His initial burst and ability to penetrate off the edge make Clowney a force, but there will be an equal force opposing him.
Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan has been terrific for the Wolverines this season. He’s allowed just two sacks all year, and is a potential first-round talent if he decides to declare for the 2013 NFL draft. Lewan is an athletic tackle, though he may not have to do much to limit Clowney’s pass rush.
If Robinson takes a lot of snaps at quarterback, South Carolina will need to be cautious in how they use Clowney off the edge.
Robinson thrives on breaking containment on the edges, which could easily happen if Clowney gets the best of Lewan and manages to get penetration. With Robinson’s wheels, Clowney may have to play more conservatively in order to keep Robinson in the pocket.
Michigan will also use talented junior quarterback Devin Gardner under center with Robinson sharing snaps at running back. Gardner was terrific against Iowa on Nov. 17, completing 18 of 23 passes for 314 yards and three touchdowns. He offers the potential for big plays in the passing game, especially if Michigan can establish the run early in the game.
South Carolina finished the season ranked No. 91 in total defense, and the Gamecocks have allowed 372.4 yards per game. South Carolina’s defense will have trouble stopping Robinson and Gardner’s dual-threat offense, and Michigan will win the Outback Bowl in a shootout that could yield close to 1,000 total yards of offense due in large part to a monster day from Robinson.
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