Commentary

Robinson doesn't give up the fight

Originally Published: January 2, 2012
By Adam Rittenberg | ESPN.com

NEW ORLEANS -- Art Taylor sat on his couch watching the Michigan-Notre Dame game in September 2010 when a familiar face with a familiar expression appeared on the screen.

[+] EnlargeDenard Robinson
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesDenard Robinson led Michigan's improbable comeback against Notre Dame under the lights.

Michigan trailed 24-21 after surrendering a 95-yard touchdown with 3:41 left. Taylor, who had coached Wolverines quarterback Denard Robinson at Deerfield Beach High School in Florida, turned to his wife.

"I told my wife, 'Look at that look in his eyes,'" Taylor said. "You get that look, and the other team needs to watch out."

Robinson orchestrated a 12-play, 72-yard scoring drive, which ended on his 2-yard touchdown run with 27 seconds remaining. It proved to be the game winner, as Robinson capped a record-setting afternoon at Notre Dame Stadium in his first road start for Michigan. He accounted for 502 of Michigan's 532 yards, shattered his own records for single-game team total offense and Big Ten single-game quarterback rushing (258 yards) and set a new mark for Michigan single-game rushing on the road.

In a big game and on a big stage, Robinson delivered. And he was only getting started.

He broke Fighting Irish hearts again earlier this fall, rallying Michigan from a 24-7 fourth-quarter deficit to record the third-biggest comeback in team history -- in the first night game at Michigan Stadium, no less. Robinson ended the regular season with his best two-game stretch as a Wolverine, helping Michigan to critical wins against then-No. 16 Nebraska and rival Ohio State. The latter snapped a seven-game slide against the Buckeyes.

Robinson's big-game heroics helped Michigan reach another big stage, the Allstate Sugar Bowl, where on Tuesday night the Wolverines will face Virginia Tech in their first BCS bowl game in five seasons.

"I would classify Denard Robinson as a pure baller," Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges said. "He balls. When it's time to line up and go, he goes. He's going to perform. That's what he is."

It's what Robinson always has been.

"When he has to lead a team back, I listen to the broadcasters and they're like, 'Oh, I don't know [if he can],' and I just laugh," Taylor said. "I just sit back and tell my wife, 'Watch, he's going to do it again.' Because he's done it so many times for me."

In 2007, Robinson's junior season at Deerfield Beach, the team faced powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas. Deerfield Beach led much of the game until Aquinas scored to go ahead 41-40 with 1:34 left.

Taking over at the Deerfield Beach 20-yard line, Robinson led the offense 78 yards in eight plays, twice converting third downs with completed passes. Deerfield Beach kicked the game-winning field goal as time expired, handing Aquinas its only loss of the season (Aquinas went on to a state championship).

"I told coach, 'I think we can win this game,' and he put the game in our hands," Robinson said. "I started talking to the team and told them, 'We're not going to lay down. We've got to keep fighting.' That's one thing, from where I'm from, my city, they don't let us lay down."

The Aquinas game helped prepare Robinson for bigger stages and higher stakes at Michigan.

"I remember to keep fighting," he said. "Because you never know what will happen at the end, just like the Notre Dame game this year."

[+] EnlargeDenard Robinson
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesRobinson is beloved in Ann Arbor after snapping Michigan's losing streak to archrival Ohio State.

The Notre Dame game tested Robinson's mettle, as he struggled for the first three quarters, completing just 4 of 14 pass attempts for 136 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. But he came alive in crunch time, completing 7 of 10 attempts for 202 yards and three touchdowns and one interception in the final furious 15 minutes.

Robinson had a similar performance under the lights several weeks later at Northwestern. After throwing three first-half interceptions, he completed 7 of 8 attempts in the second half and added 79 rush yards and two touchdowns as Michigan turned a 10-point halftime deficit into an 18-point win.

"When you start something, you've got to finish it," Robinson said. "My teammates always keep me up. They're always on me, telling me to keep my head up and keep going."

Although Robinson has been more vocal this season, his nature is more show than tell.

"He's the kind of guy who can react to a situation," Michigan center David Molk said. "It really doesn't matter what had happened previously. He knows how to change it, and alters his game to truly get the most out of it."

Robinson admits he gets too hyped up for games at times, and his play has reflected it occasionally. To calm himself, he began listening to slow music -- mostly R&B -- before games this season.

But when the ball is kicked, Robinson seems to embrace the moment, even after making mistakes.

"He'd come to the sideline and go, 'Coach, let me run this play. I feel it!'" Taylor recalled. "You just have to trust in someone like Denard. When he says he can do something, maybe the first time I might have doubted him, but not after that.

"I don't think he feels the pressure. He loves that. He loves when things are on his shoulders."

The pressure to perform drove Robinson in his other athletic endeavor, track and field. He served as the anchor leg on Deerfield Beach's 4x100-meter relay team in the state championships.

Deerfield Beach trailed Ely High School by 8 yards as Robinson received the baton, but Robinson caught up to Ely's Patrick Peterson -- the future LSU cornerback and Arizona Cardinals first-round draft pick -- and beat him to the line to win the title.

"That's one thing he loves about track," Taylor said. "It's an individual challenge, him against somebody else. He almost would like to be from behind, so he can catch the guy."

Another big stage awaits Robinson on Tuesday night as Michigan aims for its first BCS bowl win since Tom Brady led the Maize and Blue to an Orange Bowl championship 12 years ago.

Taylor will be watching and waiting -- for the look.

"He's going to do what he always does," Taylor said. "It's a big game. He's going to heat it up."

Adam Rittenberg covers Big Ten football for ESPN.com. He can be reached at espnritt@gmail.com.