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Robinson works his magic in Michigan win

9/8/2010

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan defenders J.T. Floyd and Craig Roh can empathize with their counterparts from Connecticut.

"He's a crazy animal to tame," Floyd said.

"What you saw happening out there," added Roh, "is what was happening all of practice to us."

After having Denard Robinson make them look bad for the past seven months, Floyd and Roh got to sit back and watch another defense get humiliated. Needless to say, they enjoyed the view.

So did a record crowd of 113,090 at the rededicated Michigan Stadium, as Robinson delivered a historic performance in his first career start, lifting Michigan to a 30-10 victory against UConn. Robinson shattered Michigan's single-game quarterback rushing record with 197 yards and a touchdown, surpassing Steve Smith's mark midway through the third quarter.

More surprising is what Robinson did with his arm, considered useless by some after he completed only 45.2 percent of his passes as a true freshman in 2009. He completed his first eight pass attempts and finished the game 19-for-22 for 186 yards and a touchdown.

Robinson completed 14 passes all of last season.

"I knew I always could throw the ball, it was never a question," Robinson said. "It was just getting the offense down pat."

He appeared to master coach Rich Rodriguez's spread system on Saturday.

How tough was it to stop Robinson? Connecticut defenders tried just about everything, even stealing his cleats.

"They were like, 'Take his shoe, take his shoe,'" said Robinson, nicknamed "Shoelace" for famously leaving his footwear untied at all times.

"They took them off on one of the plays," he added.

It didn't matter. Robinson could wreak havoc barefoot if he wanted to.

Rodriguez waited until Friday night to gather his three quarterbacks and inform Robinson that he'd start the opener. Rodriguez let Robinson, freshman Devin Gardner and last year's starter, Tate Forcier, take reps with the first-team offense throughout camp.

But it would have been a surprise to many, including center David Molk, if anyone but Robinson had taken the first snap on Saturday.

"Most of the guys knew," Rodriguez said. "I don't think it was a big secret. Denard was taking a lot of reps with the [starters]. ... Denard certainly had asserted himself in camp more than anyone else."

Robinson always has had the big-play skills. His first career touch as a college player resulted in an electrifying 43-yard touchdown run, on a broken play, no less.

But until Saturday, he hadn't shown the ability to consistently move an offense. Consider four of the five scoring drives he engineered against Connecticut.

  • 14 plays, 96 yards, six runs by Robinson

  • 7 plays, 77 yards, three runs by Robinson (capped by 32-yard touchdown)

  • 19 plays, 74 yards, six runs by Robinson

  • 11 plays, 89 yards, three runs by Robinson

Robinson finished the game with 29 carries and absorbed several big hits, including a helmet to his left hip that left him sprawled on the field. Running back Vincent Smith wasn't worried.

"He always gets up," Smith said. "Very tough."

Robinson missed a total of two plays.

As Robinson's carries total rose, Michigan quarterbacks coach Rod Smith turned to offensive coordinator Calvin Magee.

"We were like, 'We've got to be careful here,'" Smith said. "But Denard, he didn't back down. He said, 'Coach, give it to me.'"

Rodriguez didn't realize Robinson had 29 carries until looking at the postgame stat sheet. Was it too much?

"If he can carry it 29 times for 200 yards, he'll carry it 29 times for 200 yards," Rodriguez said. "I don't know if he can do that each and every game."

In the past, Michigan might not have had a choice, as Robinson was a totally one-dimensional player as a freshman. Not only did he struggle with his accuracy, but he threw four interceptions in only 31 attempts.

Third-and-long used to mean punt or turnover. On Saturday, it meant opportunity.

After Connecticut had reclaimed momentum just before halftime, Robinson converted five third downs on a 19-play drive that set up a field goal.

Two plays after returning from the hip injury, Robinson pump-faked and then hit a wide-open Terrence Robinson in stride for a 42-yard gain, setting up another touchdown.

Asked to describe the play, Denard Robinson, for the first time all day, looked confused.

"It was, uh, I can't tell you," he said.

After leaving the podium, Robinson greeted Rodriguez, telling him, "They were trying to take one of our plays, coach."

The way Robinson looked Saturday, Rodriguez could have handed Connecticut coach Randy Edsall the playbook.

"There were probably more times he should have went down the field," Rodriguez said. "But we were able to control the game from a running standpoint."

Things get tougher next week, as Robinson hits the road to face a Notre Dame team that contained Robert Marve and Purdue on Saturday.

"He did what he had to do," Rod Smith said. "We gave him the reins, he took it and ran with it. Basically, now it's going to be his to run with for a while."

Robinson didn't sound so sure after the game.

"We probably don't know who's going to start next week," he said. "We'll see."

Riiight.

Informed of Robinson's comment, Rodriguez smiled.

"Stay tuned."