Bulldog defense prepares to stop Denard Robinson
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Mississippi State linebacker Chris White has seen more than a few talented quarterbacks in Southeastern Conference play over the past two years — guys like Tim Tebow and Cam Newton. He has watched countless hours of opponents’ film.
Still, as White prepared for Saturday’s bowl game, Michigan’s star sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson’s film stood out. Was there one play that simply wowed White?
“There are a bunch of ‘em,” White said after practice Wednesday. “He’s got a bunch of long runs. It’s not just one. We’ve been watching film. If he gets out in the open — if he makes one person miss — it’s a touchdown.”
The Mississippi State defensive strategy for Saturday’s Gator Bowl appears to be quite simple: Stop Robinson on the ground. Bulldog players feel that if they can do that, they will take away one huge part of Michigan’s multi-dimensional offense.
And if they can do that, they feel they can win the game.
“That’s what we’ve really focused on — stopping the run,” Bulldog senior linebacker K.J. Wright said. “I believe if we force him to pass, our secondary will do a real good job stopping it.”
Bulldog defensive coordinator Manny Diaz broke down the defensive strategy further.
“It’s all about gap control,” Diaz said. “They do some pretty good things with their run game. They’re going to ask you the questions and you have to have the answer for it. The issue with them is that if there’s a play when you miss the answer, he has a chance to go 80 yards because he’s so fast.
"With such a small margin of error, it might be our death.”
Mississippi State freshman Jameon Lewis has been the scout team quarterback the past few weeks, preparing the Bulldogs for a speedy, small-frame quarterback. White and Wright said they felt the 5-foot-8 Lewis has prepared them well. Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen downplayed it — “That’s just Jameon Lewis, he’s not quite as fast as the guy we have to play.”
And “the guy” will likely be faster than he was in the final weeks of the regular season. It’s no secret Robinson wasn’t at full strength during the latter part of the year.
Robinson sustained a variety of injuries: a sprained knee, an injury to his right (throwing) shoulder, two dislocated fingers in his left hand and concussion-like symptoms. Michigan expects him to be completely healthy on Saturday for the first time since the season began against Connecticut on Sept. 4.
The Wolverines' defense has seen a rejuvenated Robinson in practice leading up to the Gator Bowl.
"Chasing him around in practice, you can tell he’s definitely got his legs back," redshirt junior defensive end Ryan Van Bergen said.
Even banged-up, Robinson was electrifying this season, becoming the first player in FBS history to pass and run for 1,500 yards each. He also won the Silver Football Big Ten MVP award, finished sixth in Heisman Trophy voting and was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.
Awards and statistics are fresh in the Bulldog defensive players’ minds. And the biggest of the “questions” Diaz’s defense will face on Saturday is simple: Can the Mississippi State defense stop — or at least keep up with — Robinson?
“I don’t know about me personally, but all 11 of us can,” White said.
“The big key with him is don’t let him get going,” Diaz said. “Once he gets going, I already know the outcome. I don’t have to watch. Get the extra point team ready.”