Robinson leads Big Ten trend

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Nathan Scheelhaase scrambled back with nowhere to go. Michigan had finally sent a blitz, ending the most offensive game in Big Ten history with a defensive stop.

Michigan's 67-65 triple-overtime win over Illinois last season was a pure offensive show. It displayed what the Big Ten has become -- two teams with mobile quarterbacks having the capabilities to shred defenses and utilize the entire field.

While having a dual-threat quarterback is nothing new this season, the Big Ten might have the biggest crop of them in league history, and the mobile quarterback has dominated the position like never before in the league.

The evolution started at, of all places, Indiana -- with former quarterback Antwaan Randle El. When Michigan faces Illinois on Saturday, two of the league's best this season will be on the field.

Michigan junior quarterback Denard Robinson is the Big Ten's leading quarterback rusher -- and fourth overall in the conference -- with 880 yards. Scheelhaase, Illinois' sophomore quarterback, has rushed for 501 yards this season, just outside the top 10 among Big Ten runners.

"Anytime you've got a guy that can run like that, it puts another parameter that the defense has to be alert for, whether it be the option or just actually running," Illinois coach Ron Zook said. "When you're still running and chasing the passer and if you create any vertical seams in your defensive front, they are going to take off and run and your back guys are in coverage.

"So it creates some problems for the defense."

Three of the Big Ten's top 10 rushers are quarterbacks -- Robinson, Nebraska's Taylor Martinez (712 yards) and Minnesota's Marqueis Gray (571 yards).

The only Big Ten teams without a true dual-threat quarterback are Michigan State (Kirk Cousins), Penn State (Matt McGloin), Iowa (James Vandenberg) and Indiana, which has rotated quarterbacks all season.

But the point man on all of this, for now, is Robinson -- the first quarterback in NCAA history to rush for more than 1,700 yards and pass for more than 2,500 yards in a season. His 1,702 rushing yards last season are an FBS NCAA record for a quarterback.

With at least 15 games left in his career, Robinson is No. 16 all-time in quarterback rushing with 2,933 yards -- 14 yards behind former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow. Robinson is 1,547 yards behind the career FBS quarterback rushing leader, West Virginia's Pat White, who gained 4,480 yards from 2005 to 2008.

Being part of a group that has helped shift the Big Ten is something in which Robinson takes pride.

"It's still going to be the Big Ten, and it's a physical league," Robinson said. "In the Big Ten, the physical teams start running, but guys who are mobile, we can run the ball. So we can add a little twist to the Big Ten."

Starting with Randle El, they have. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said part of the reason for increased proliferation of dual-threat quarterbacks goes back to high school, where he sees more teams running the spread and triple-option. The more teams run that, the more colleges come and find them.

And that has evolved to almost every Big Ten team having one of its best athletes at quarterback.

"You have to be able to defend the whole width of the field," Fitzgerald said. "So it's completely changed the dynamic and it makes it a challenge."

Robinson and his coach, Brady Hoke, though, agreed on one thing. While the mobile quarterback is a good, field-stretching option for teams to have, they still have to be able to run the ball.

And as the Big Ten season moves on, the teams that can run -- with a running back, quarterback or both -- will be the successful ones.


The top 10 rushing quarterbacks in Big Ten history (note -- the Big Ten told WolverineNation it would not include the freshman rushing totals of Nebraska's Taylor Martinez in its record book. If it did, he already would be No. 8 on this list).

Michael Rothstein covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. He can be reached at michaelrothsteinespn@gmail.com or on Twitter @mikerothstein.