Denard Robinson has been electric for the University of Michigan this season. After four weeks, the quarterback is the nation’s leading rusher, ahead of Oregon’s LaMichael James and Kansas State’s Daniel Thomas. He’s completing 69.79 percent of his passes with seven touchdowns and just one interception.
Head coach Rich Rodriguez has the perfect quarterback running his offense. No wonder Robinson is far and away the leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy.
For now. Robinson could continue to excel for the rest of the season. But Michigan’s defense could cost him college football’s highest honor.
The very defense that helped Robinson become the Heisman front runner could be the reason why Denard is denied the stiff-arm statue.
If it wasn’t for Michigan’s defense giving up a 95-yard touchdown to Notre Dame tight end Kyle Rudolph with 3:41 left in the game, Robinson wouldn’t have the opportunity to lead the dramatic last minute game-winning drive. If the defense didn’t allow Indiana to tie the game with 1:15 left in the game, Robinson wouldn’t have to orchestrate a 58-second game-winning drive.
The defense that set the stage for Robinson to shine will eventually put Denard in a can’t win position. The numbers are scary like Halloween: 102nd of 120 in total defense, giving up 433.6 yards per game; 73rd in scoring defense, allowing 25.4 points per game; dead last in pass defense allowing 307.8 yards per game.
As long as the defense continues their generosity, the moment will come where Robinson won’t have enough time to pull a miracle or won’t get the ball last. And those moments could be coming real soon as the Wolverines get into conference play.
They barely got by an Indiana team that Michigan shouldn’t of had any problems with. No. 17 Michigan State is a much tougher challenge with a power running game featuring running backs Edwin Baker and Le’Veon Bell. And quarterback Kirk Cousins is coming into his own.
After the Spartans, Michigan faces No. 15 Iowa, at Penn State, Illinois, at Purdue, No. 20 Wisconsin, and No. 2 Ohio State in the season finale.
As if the rivalry isn’t motivation enough for the Buckeyes, but OSU has a Heisman candidate in quarterback Terrell Pryor. The Ohio State defense would love to crush Robinson’s Heisman hopes and clear the path for Pryor to snatch the trophy from Robinson.
It’s not just a case of degree of difficulty for Robinson. Denard could continue to be spectacular against quality opponents and still slip in the Heisman standings if the Wolverines start piling up losses.
The Heisman voters are very biased towards players on successful teams. Starring on a team that is one of the best in the nation draws favoritism. Last year RB Mark Ingram won it while Alabama was ranked first in the nation. Yet Ingram was the third leading rusher behind Stanford’s Toby Gerhart and Fresno State’s Ryan Matthews.
Before Ingram, Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford was honored when the Sooners were ranked first in the nation. Florida QB Troy Smith was also en route to the national championship when he picked up the hardware in 2006. QB Matt Leinart commanded USC to first in the nation in 2004. Of the last nine Heisman winners, only one wasn’t on a top five team.
Robnison still has a shot at the Heisman even if Michigan doesn’t reach first or second in the nation. QB Tim Tebow did in 2007 despite Florida’s 9-4 record. But Robinson has to be nearly flawless for the rest of the season. One or two failed comeback attempts will be held against Robinson, however unfairly.
Working in Robinson’s favor is the lack of challengers. Auburn QB Cam Newton is rated higher as a passer but is far behind in total offense. Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett hurt his chances when he collapsed in the second half against Alabama.
Pryor hasn’t had to put up ridiculous numbers for Ohio State to win so far. If Robinson stays healthy (a legitimate concern after being knocked out of the Bowling Green game) and keeps up his pace, the followers will never catch him.
But if Michigan’s defense costs the Wolverines a few games, Robinson’s Heisman hopes go down with accordingly. If Michigan falls out of the top 25, Denard should start telling himself to enjoy the trip to New York.
Randolph Charlotin writes a New England Patriots blog at www.randolphc.com