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Nicole Auerbach: Denard Robinson has won over fans, but don't overwork him

Sam Wolson/Daily
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BY NICOLE AUERBACH
Daily Sports Writer
Published September 6, 2010

On Saturday, sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson was _______ (fill in the blank, your choice, anything from electric to unbelievable).

Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said afterward that the game has finally slowed down for Robinson. But that’s not quite right.

It’s more like the rest of the Wolverines and their opponents were playing at normal speed. Press fast-forward, and that’s when you see Robinson.

Robinson posted 383 total yards — more than Connecticut's entire team — and scored two touchdowns at the Huskies’ expense in his first career start. He proved a few things:

- The quarterback competition is over. (Maybe it was over after Robinson’s first pass this spring?)

- He’s no longer one-dimensional. His 19 completed passes eclipsed his total from last season (14).

- Rodriguez finally found his guy to fit his system. Let the Pat White at West Virginia comparisons begin — they certainly did during postgame interviews.

Saturday’s game was a must-win for Michigan, rare to find in a week-one matchup. For the first time in the Rodriguez Era, the Wolverines not only got the ‘W,’ they did it in a completely dominating fashion against a talented team. Perhaps more important, they did it with a quarterback who, despite making his first start, already exhibits the poise and patience of a veteran.

It’s just one game, and Notre Dame awaits this week, but it’s OK to get excited about a quarterback who doesn’t tie his shoelaces.

The most terrifying moment of the game came late in the third quarter. Robinson, naturally, had taken off for a 15-yard burst up the middle of the field. The play ended with Connecticut crunching his hip. He stayed down for a few moments before walking off the field under his own power.

Of course, he’d get up. Of course, he would come back to start the fourth quarter.

“He’s such a resilient player,” sophomore linebacker Craig Roh said after the game. “He’s always going to get back up.”

But will he always? Should Michigan fans worry?

Robinson had 29 (!!!) rush attempts against Connecticut. Michigan’s top two running backs, Michael Shaw and Vincent Smith, had exactly 29 combined carries.

It’s a scary high number for a running back — let alone the new face of the Wolverines. After the game, neither Rodriguez nor Robinson realized how many attempts the 6-foot-3, 193-pound sophomore had taken.

"If he can carry it 29 times for 200 yards, he'll carry it 29 times," Rodriguez said, smiling. "It is a long season and we play a lot of physical teams. But he's a very strong individual. He can handle it."

If Robinson were to carry the ball 29 times a game for the rest of the season, he’d end up with 348 rushing attempts on the year – a new Michigan rushing record. At the moment, Chris Perry’s 338 attempts in 2003 hold the record, and even workhorse Mike Hart’s heaviest season (2006) was just 318 attempts.

And for comparison’s sake, former quarterback Chad Henne rushed 180 times over four years at Michigan.

Robinson won’t get 29 carries a game, especially after he inevitably tallies a few more jarring hits in September. (Rodriguez admitted it was a bit higher than he’d anticipated, though most plays were planned runs.) That’s the risk a team like Michigan takes with the spread offense, and that’s why teams don’t normally run quarterbacks like running backs.

Yes, Robinson is resilient. But him running so much isn't necessary. Michigan has a nice supply of young running backs who can carry more of the load while letting Robinson dazzle as a dual-threat quarterback.

Robinson is really fun to watch — from the press box, stands or even the field.

“You’ll be blocking, and two seconds later, you look up and see Denard 20 yards upfield,” said center David Molk. “There’s nothing better than that.”

He’s fun for the Michigan defense to watch from the sidelines, too, because for the first time since fall camp ended, they aren’t the ones trying to catch him.

Connecticut got a taste of that, and its coach had a message for the 11 teams remaining on the Wolverines’ schedule.

“Denard Robinson is going to make people look bad,” Connecticut coach Randy Edsall said.

If he's healthy, I can’t wait to watch.

— Auerbach can be reached at naauer@umich.edu