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Hoke no longer surprised by Robinson, applauds QB’s decision-making

Adam Glanzman/Daily
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By Stephen J. Nesbitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published September 19, 2012

It really takes something special to impress Michigan coach Brady Hoke these days.

Late in the second quarter on Saturday, with the Michigan football team (2-1) leading Massachusetts 28-10, senior quarterback Denard Robinson took a shotgun snap and stepped back to survey the coverage downfield. He pump-faked once, then again before escaping the pocket.

Robinson pumped again as he angled toward the sideline, then he decided on a different course of action. On his 12th step, Robinson planted his right foot and pivoted 90 degrees to his right.

Without missing a stride, Robinson bolted back across the field, leaving two diving defenders in his wake, and then outran everyone to the pylon. The box score called it a 36-yard touchdown, though Robinson ran closer to twice that number.

All told, the play took 15 seconds for Robinson to shake an entire defense.

It was the 90-degree turn that had people talking this week.

“He checked all his reads, sat in the pocket as long as he could, and then when he broke out he went and made a right-angle cut — I’ve never seen anyone make a right-angle cut directly the opposite way they were going without falling,” said junior wide receiver Devin Gardner on Monday.

“I told him, ‘You’re the best player I’ve ever seen,’ after he came off. … There’s not much you can say after you see that.”

But it’s much harder to surprise Hoke.

“I’m sure there’s going to be something that happens during a practice or a game that you say, ‘Man, I didn’t know you could throw it across your body that far,’ or, ‘He stopped on a dime here and accelerated so fast,’ Hoke said.

What about that 90-degree cut — that was unexpected, right?

“No, not really,” Hoke said. “Because (the Michigan defense) chased him around the first spring. We were chasing him all over and when I knew we were coming around a little bit defensively, he said, ‘You know, a year ago I could run wherever I wanted against our defense. Now I can’t.’

“So I mean, that was a year ago. That’s kind of as good as an endorsement as anything that our guys are understanding getting to the football.”

Though Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges both contend that Robinson needs to have success through the air in Michigan’s hybrid pro-style offense against No. 11 Notre Dame this Saturday, there’s no question that Robinson’s running ability has helped Michigan in its two wins this far this season.

Robinson ran just 10 times in the season opener against then-No. 2 Alabama — he ran just twice in the first half alone — collecting just 27 yards. Since then, he’s been let loose in the ground game. He had 20 rushing attempts for 218 yards against Air Force a week later and 10 carries for 106 yards in three quarters against Massachusetts last week.

There have been more designed quarterback runs and an emphasis on read options, but Robinson is also tasked with making snap decisions as the pocket collapses around him: Hold onto the ball or take off?

Hoke said Robinson in general makes the right decision.

“I’m pretty much OK 99 percent of the time, tucking it and taking it,” Hoke said. “He’s got such a gift, you know, that most of the time when he plants his foot and decides to go north and south, it’s going to be pretty productive with you, so I’m very comfortable with that.”

The ticking clock in the pocket changes from game to game. Robinson couldn’t buy any time for three quarters against the Fighting Irish last season — “They boxed him in a couple different ways with backers and a safety,” Hoke said — but he exploded in the fourth quarter of Michigan’s last-second 35-31 victory.

He finished with 338 yards and four touchdowns on 11-of-24 passing and 108 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown on 16 carries. Though it was just Robinson’s second start under Hoke and in the new offensive system, the performance didn’t surprise Hoke.

“I’ve been around him enough,” Hoke said. “It’s not shocking or surprising.”

INJURIES: Hoke revealed Wednesday that redshirt senior tight end Brandon Moore (MCL) won’t be available on Saturday. Sophomore defensive end Brennen Beyer also (knee) “doesn’t look like he’s going to be ready,” Hoke said.

Junior fullback Stephen Hopkins (hamstring), sophomore linebacker Desmond Morgan (head) and redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Richard Ash (an undisclosed “boo-boo”) are expected to be ready by game time in South Bend.