Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Preparing for Robinson a nightmare for Irish
By Matt Fortuna
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- In defending Denard Robinson this Saturday, Notre Dame is tasked with trying to contain a quarterback who doesn't make you pay for a mistake by gaining a few extra yards.
No, Robinson disheartens defenses by gaining every extra yard. That is, if you miss him once, the left side of the Michigan Stadium scoreboard will serve a reminder seconds later of the six points "Shoelace" just rang up for the Maize and Blue.
"Unfortunately it just is what it is," defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said. "We need to be perfect, because any little crease and it's over, he's gone. It's not like, somebody hits a crease and he rattles for eight, 10 yards and you get him on the ground. This guy hits the crease and he can punch a hole in the top of the defense like that."
Denard Robinson accounted for 502 yards of total offense last season against Notre Dame.
As a linebacker at Iowa in the mid-90s, Diaco had experience against great runners -- Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George comes to mind -- and against great passers, like Indianapolis Colts opening-game starter Kerry Collins.
But Diaco has never faced the combination of threats that Robinson presents. At least not in one player.
"It's just a monumental task defending a runner at quarterback in particular, that it almost gives you the feeling like they're playing with 12," Diaco said. "It's a problem."
In last year's home loss, the Fighting Irish held Michigan scoreless during a seven-drive stretch in the second half. And Robinson still netted 502 yards of total offense for the game, including an 87-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
Robinson accounted for all 72 yards on the Wolverines' final drive, which ended with a decisive two-yard touchdown run with :27 left to account for the 28-24 Michigan win.
"I think keeping the explosive plays down is something that we had stretches of where we did that very well," Irish safety Harrison Smith said. "And then we gave up a couple of plays, which is how they get those yards and how they move the ball so well with this offense. So it's easy to say, well, if we had just taken out that -- I think there was a 90-yard run or something at the end of the half — if we had taken that out, it wouldn't have been so bad.
"But that's part of the game. You can't have that if you want to win. That's our focus, to keep those plays to a minimum."
Defensive line coach Mike Elston remembers how difficult it was to scheme against Syracuse's Donovan McNabb when he was a graduate assistant at Michigan. But even Elston admits preparing for the eventual six-time Pro Bowler paled in comparison to what has awaited him in Week 2 these past two seasons.
"Denard Robinson is fantastic, because he is so much faster than everybody else," Elston said. "He's got a great arm and when he breaks it he can go all the way. Not a lot of quarterbacks can do that. They can pick up the first down, they can get a big chunk play but he can change the game with his legs at any time."
Which makes safeties coach Chuck Martin's approach all the more practical.
"We go to the grotto every day," Martin quipped. "Say some prayers."