Joe Stapleton: Can Michigan continue putting on a one-man show?

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Running back Michael Shaw (20) congratulates quarterback denard Robinson following his game winning touchdown that put Michigan up 28-24 against Notre dame at Notre dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana September 11, 2010. Buy this photo

Daily Sports Editor
Published September 11, 2010

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Before I say anything, it should be noted that the fans who watched Saturday's win against Notre Dame watched what could have been the greatest individual performance by a Michigan player ever.

It was truly a special occasion. Denard Robinson's feats of speed and agility and moxie were so unbelievable that to try to describe them with mere words seems almost to cheapen them. Michigan fans — not to mention all the Irish fans who packed into Notre Dame Stadium — should consider themselves extremely lucky to have witnessed such an incredible player's ascent into national superstardom.

That being said, prepare to get your buzz effectively killed.

I really hate to play this role, but I have to. On Saturday, Robinson accounted for 502 yards of offense (I'm sorry, just writing that makes my jaw drop. Re-affixing it ... now).

Michigan's total yards, as a team?


Any way you phrase it — he did, in fact, account for more than 94 percent of the offense — that number is either amazing or terrifying, depending on your view. For now, feel free to be amazed, and that's perfectly okay.

But here's the terrifying part: what everyone saw on Saturday was as close to a one-man team as you can get in football.

Now, despite what people have alleged, I'm not stupid — I fully realize that there are five offensive lineman clearing the way for every spectacular run; there are receivers there catching every 100-mile-per-hour pass; and there is a defense playing valiantly while Robinson is resting on the bench.

With that qualification in mind, I have to reiterate: In football, the ultimate team sport, this Michigan team has been as close to a one-man team as one can be the past two weeks.

For Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez, there appears to be no limit to the amount of carries he's willing to give Robinson. Or if there is, it's just very loosely defined.

"What did I tell you last week?" Rodriguez said."'We can't be running him 29 times again.' We ran him 28. We're just trying to win the game. That's more than we wanted."

It has the ring of someone who insists that they'll start a diet tomorrow. They keep on saying they'll start it tomorrow but when tomorrow comes that jelly doughnut looks extra tasty and they succumb. Rodriguez may be saying he doesn't want to run Robinson more than 25 times every week until the end of the season, but if these results continue to be so delicious, you can bet Robinson will get the ball as many times as it takes to win. And maybe, just maybe, that will pay off.

Maybe Robinson will keep playing the way he's playing. Maybe when teams make Robinson beat him with his arm, he will. Maybe he'll stay healthy.

All of that could very well happen (the jury's still out, in my opinion, on whether or not it's actually possible to game-plan around his speed). But that last point remains a real concern. We're two weeks into the college football season, and Robinson has taken two trips to the sideline with apparent injury. Each time, it hasn't been serious, but the law of averages says that if he continues to run the ball as many times as he has the first two games, it will be eventually. And that's a possibility most Michigan fans have blocked out of their psyches in much the same way they blocked out that one time they walked in on their parents.

But this goes beyond injury. Even through passing, simply relying on Robinson as much as this team has is extremely dangerous. One-man teams can only go so far. It's true in any sport.

One of the arguments for depending on Robinson so much is that, should he get injured, there are two very qualified quarterbacks on the sideline ready to step in. While that may be true, there aren't two Robinsons. And this team simply relies on him too much to proceed without a hitch when he leaves the game. If he accounted for maybe half of his team's total yards on Saturday, it would be different. But not 94 percent.

It's essential to get the running backs involved. I realize they weren't running very well early on in the game Saturday, but allowing them to take some of the punishment and carry some of the load will be invaluable toward alleviating some of the immense pressure they are currently putting on Robinson. Winning a football game by yourself ain't easy, and he's had to do essentially that two weeks in a row.

Once again, I don't mean to take anything away from Robinson's performance — calling his game-winning drive a "Heisman moment" would be an understatement on par with calling the Big House the "Pretty Good-Sized" House. But Michigan has relied on Robinson as much as the Cleveland Cavaliers used to rely on LeBron James, and that's not a good thing.

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly had this to say regarding Robinson's workload:

"You run a quarterback 25 times, you have to have toughness," Kelly said. "I'll let Coach figure out if that's the case for ten games. Coach Rodriguez knows his team better than I do. We hit him pretty hard today, but he's a good, tough kid."

He is indeed a good, tough kid. But even a kid as good and tough as Robinson has his limits.

But then again ... does he?

— Stapleton can be reached at