As I sat in Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday, watching the Michigan Wolverines battle the Fighting Irish, I found myself cautiously optimistic, but also painfully aware of where the Wolverines are lacking.
My first thought is a common one, Denard Robinson is crazy good. He is quick and athletic and he generally makes good decisions when he’s holding the ball. Plus, he’s fun to watch, that’s for certain.
One could make the argument that he is solely responsible for putting Michigan back into the AP Top 25 (currently ranked at 20 after beating Notre Dame) for the first time since September of 2009. He is responsible for 88% of Michigan’s total offense (885 of the 1005 yards of offense).
There are comparisons being made between Robinson and Pat White (West Virginia University, drafted by Miami Dolphins in 2009 NFL Draft). White was coached by Rodriguez at West Virginia until Rodriguez left for Michigan in December of 2007.
During Rodriguez and White’s last season together in West Virginia (2007) White averaged 235 yards of offense per game (passing and rushing). In his first two games of that same season (for comparative analysis to Robinson’s first two games this season) White was averaging 170 yards passing and 111 yards rushing.
Robinson is averaging 215 yards passing and 227 yards rushing in his first two games this season. Michigan is relying on Robinson more than WVU relied on White, then again - Michigan doesn’t have a Steve Slaton.
As a fan you can easily look at Robinson’s numbers and get really excited. He’s awesome. But you can’t look at those numbers and think that is sustainable for an entire season. Not with the hits he’s taking. I found myself wondering if Brian Kelly didn’t deliver the message “punish Robinson every time he runs the ball” during halftime, because the defense came out of the tunnel fierce and angry and hitting much harder than they had during the first half.
During the Notre Dame game Robinson took a hit during the first half that caused him to leave the game for a single play. When he went out of the game the stadium went quiet. Notre Dame’s QB was already out, with no clue as to when (or if) Crist was returning, it was plausible to think the game was going to be finished with back-ups.
Thankfully for the Wolverines, Robinson was back in quickly (and Notre Dame’s Crist returned at the beginning of the 2nd half). But sitting in those stands, you could literally hear the hits as they occurred, and there were many hits on Robinson that made you pause and silently whisper to no one in particular “get up, please get up”.
Pat White and Denard Robinson are very similar in size. White has 2 inches on Robinson, but other than that, there isn’t much difference. White battled against injuries throughout his career, rarely missing a game, but most certainly banged up and bruised as each season progressed.
Thankfully for Robinson, Michigan’s offensive line is good. Through 2 games Denard Robinson has yet to be sacked. Part of this success at protecting the QB can be attributed directly to Robinson, as he doesn’t spend a lot of time lingering in the pocket, he’s quick to make a move with the ball. But you also have to give respect to the blocking that is being done by the offensive line. They are providing Robinson with a lot of opportunities to run the ball.
Considering the relative newness of this line, it’s impressive how well they are protecting the quarterback. They lost two starters (Ortmann and Moosman) and one back-up (McAvoy) coming into the season, but they look comfortable in the third year of this system.
The second thought I had as I watched the game was the kicking game needs work. A lot of work. After Gibbons missed two field goals (39 and 40 yards, respectively) the fan confidence in the kicking game was low. I have to believe that HC Rodriguez was also less than confident in Gibbons.
Then factor in the punting game, which can only be described as woeful, and you had to question how the Wolverines were going to come away with a win, without using special teams at all. After three bad punts by Hagerup, QB Robinson actually punted at the end of the 3rd Quarter (and dropped it on the 4 yard line).
The kicking game provided Notre Dame with good field position over and over, and Michigan had to rely heavily on their defense to make up for poor play on the part of the special teams.
I was also thinking about the personal fouls that Michigan had called against them during the Notre Dame game. Sloppy, lazy game play. Personal fouls are the ugliest part of football. Michigan was called for a horse collar, a crackback block, a late hit out of bounds and a low block in the same game. In total Michigan was penalized 8 times for 99 yards. Notre Dame was penalized just 4 times for 29 yards.
All of the personal fouls came on the defensive side of the ball, and all of them were unacceptable plays.
On a positive note, my final thought on the Michigan game was that they are effective in the red zone this season. They are 6-6 inside the 20 yard line, with five of those scores being touchdowns.
Which brings me back to Robinson. After the game I was tailgating with some Notre Dame fans, and they all said (many times) “I thought Michigan’s quarterback was a fluke, but now I believe in him. He’s good.” Yes, he’s really good, but I’m still not ready to push all of my chips to the center of the table.
Admittedly he’s had two great games, and against two completely different teams. I honestly thought Notre Dame would shut down the run, based on their game play against Purdue in week 1.
I’m already hearing “Robinson should win the Heisman” talk, and I’m disregarding that as well, it’s a long season. It’s not that I don’t think he can win it, it’s that I don’t think he can win it alone, he needs some help from both the rest of the offense and on the defensive side of the ball. While the Heisman is an individual award, you can’t win it without a lot of help from your team.
To be honest, I’m more concerned about the fact that he’s producing almost 90% of Michigan’s offensive yards than I am excited about it. That’s a lot of work to put on the shoulders of one person. Especially when Michigan has yet to play a single Big Ten game this season, and that schedule includes Iowa, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin.
HC Rich Rodriguez needs to get Robinson some help, and he needs to do it quickly. Michigan opens up Big Ten play on October 2nd, and the games will get tougher then.