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Hoke, offensive line vow to protect Robinson in backfield

Todd Needle/Daily
Senior quarterback Denard Robinson received much better protection in the second half against Notre Dame. Buy this photo

By Stephen J. Nesbitt, Daily Sports Editor
Published October 1, 2012

Nobody’s denying that Denard Robinson struggled mightily in the Michigan football team’s 13-6 loss to Notre Dame. Robinson ended five consecutive drives with turnovers — including four interceptions on four straight throws.

Robinson apologized to the team and the Michigan fan base after the game, calling it the worst game of his career. But his teammates and coaches downplayed Robinson’s struggles by attributing the woes to the collective offensive effort.

The offensive line, in particular, took some heat.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke entered the locker room at halftime with offensive coordinator Al Borges at his heels. The Wolverines trailed 10-0. Something had to change.

Robinson hadn’t done himself any favors, but he certainly wasn’t getting much help. He’d been sacked twice, had pressure in his face constantly through two quarters and had passed for just 59 yards.

“When you look at the process, it’s not all one guy,” Hoke said on Monday. “When you’ve got a linebacker in your face and you’ve got somebody around your leg, sometimes it’s hard to finish plays like you’d like to.

“Do we want him to throw the ball away when the opportunity’s there? Do we want him to be a little more on target with the ball at times? No question. But it’s not just him by any count.”

When he stepped into the locker room at halftime, Hoke said that “the rest of this game is on the offensive line,” according to redshirt junior right tackle Taylor Lewan. Borges adjusted his scheme to buy Robinson time.

“I was pretty fired up about the situation — a lot of guys were,” Lewan said. “Every single guy who played in that game as an offensive lineman took that to heart.”

And it worked. Though Robinson and the offense couldn’t finish in the red zone — scoring just six points out of six total trips there — the first drive took Michigan to the Notre Dame 16-yard line before a fumble, the next to the 15-yard line before a field goal and the final to the 14-yard line before a field goal.

In the second half, Robinson had time in the pocket and was 8-of-11 passing for 79 yards — and, most importantly, he had no interceptions.

“The thing is about that, we had success in the second half — but obviously, it wasn’t good enough,” Lewan said. “But if we can continue to have success like that throughout the whole game, not just two quarters, this team will be a whole lot better off.”

Somewhat lost in the aftermath of the defeat in South Bend was that Robinson passed Chad Henne to become Michigan’s all-time yards leader with a 13-yard pass to junior wide receiver Devin Gardner in the fourth quarter. He now has 9,438 total yards with eight games left on the schedule.

Hoke knows the talent he has at quarterback.

“He’s our quarterback, and he’s a damn good quarterback,” Hoke said Monday.

Hoke turned aside and added, “I didn’t say that, so don’t write that.”

But you did say it.

“Daggone it. My mom’s going to read this and get mad.”

But even for a third-year starter like Robinson, there’s still a learning curve. When asked whether Robinson is where the coaches want him to be in terms of decision-making, Robinson threw the question right back.

“Now really, think about that question,” Hoke said. “What do you think? Seriously.”

Probably not.

“Probably not, right?” Hoke continued. “He’s got to play a little better. We’ve got to help him play a little better by blocking better, routes, catching better, competing better, and also as a staff make sure he can do the things we’re asking him to do.”

INJURIES: Redshirt junior defensive end Nathan Brink suffered an undisclosed injury during practice last week and will be out indefinitely, according to a release from the Michigan football program. Brink made two tackles in four games this season.

Hoke said the rest of the injured players — those who don’t have season-ending injuries, that is — have returned to practice and should be able to play on Saturday against Purdue. That lineup includes sophomore defensive end Brennen Beyer (knee), fifth-year senior tight end Brandon Moore (knee), fifth-year senior left guard Ricky Barnum (shoulder), junior fullback Stephen Hopkins (hamstring), redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Richard Ash (undisclosed) and junior safety Marvin Robinson (undisclosed).


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