Notebook: Robinson's fumbling issues addressed, Hoke plays quarterback

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Junior quarterback Denard Robinson fumbled twice against Illinois last Saturday. Buy this photo

By Kevin Raftery, Daily Sports Editor
Published November 16, 2011

According to Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges, there was one way the Michigan football team could have “screwed it up” against Illinois last Saturday — by fumbling the ball.

For the most part, the 22nd-ranked Wolverines held onto the ball just fine en route to a 31-14 victory. But there was one player Borges noted — junior quarterback Denard Robinson — who fumbled twice in the first half.

Often this season, Borges has been asked about Robinson’s difficulties throwing the ball. During his Tuesday press conference, it was a different story.

“The issues with Denard, I think, were pretty much ball security deals,” Borges said. “Other than that, he didn’t really throw the ball too bad.”

On a 2nd-and-5 play late in the first quarter, Robinson kept the ball after play-action, running into a swarm of Illinois defenders. The three Fighting Illini just ripped the ball out of his hands.

“There was a lot of pulling and scratching, all that kind of stuff,” said Michigan coach Brady Hoke of the play. “The guy hits the ball right and you’re trying to get some extra yards or you’re trying to make a play, and you lapse a little bit in your ball security.”

Later in the second quarter, Robinson dropped back to pass and was pancaked by a pair of Illinois defenders, sending the ball flying in the air and squashing an opportunity for Michigan to build on its 14-0 lead.

Borges said Robinson needs to be more aware of when he’s about to get hit in the pocket.

“We have to keep the ball inside the perimeter of your shoulders, so that you naturally brace when you get hit,” Borges said.

Robinson also had a costly fumble two weeks ago in the 24-16 loss to Iowa when he held the ball with one hand as a Hawkeye defender pressured him. Falling to the ground, Robinson tried to keep his balance but lost the ball as his hands hit the turf.

“He got the ball away from his body one time when he was running,” Borges said. “You usually fumble when you’re fundamentally bad. You don’t keep the ball with five points of pressure, and it gets away from your body and somebody strips it.”

Robinson’s struggles to hold onto the ball also played a factor in deciding to keep him on the bench in favor of sophomore Devin Gardner with Robinson hurt.

Borges said he would have “put (Robinson) back in a minute,” but he and the coaching staff were concerned Robinson would have even more trouble holding onto the ball with his injured wrist.

Despite Robinson’s three fumbles in two games, Borges and the coaching staff remain confident in Robinson — who is healthy and will start this Saturday against Nebraska — and his ability to run and hold onto the ball.

“He’s featured as a runner in our offense and will continue to be featured as a runner,” Borges said. “He’s been pretty good running the ball, taking care of the ball.”

BRADY HOKE, QUARTERBACK: On Saturday, Michigan will be facing one of the better mobile quarterbacks in the nation in Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez, who is third in the Big Ten in total offense, behind only Robinson and Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson.

Luckily for the Wolverines, they have the perfect scout team quarterback to prepare for the speedy Martinez — Brady Hoke.

“I become the scout team quarterback on walk-throughs,” Hoke said. “I run the offense. We’ll have a walk-through Saturday morning. I’ll be a big part of that.

“I was a really good quarterback at one time.”

Says who?

“I do,” Hoke said. “But I never played quarterback. I was a blocking fullback.”

Though Hoke will lead the offense in vigorous walk-throughs on Saturday, Michigan does indeed have the perfect quarterback to prepare for Martinez in practice this week.

Statistically, Robinson is one spot ahead of Martinez in nearly every offensive category, and features a similar skill set.

CARR TO BE HONORED: Former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr is set for induction into the National Football Foundation and College Football College Football Hall of Fame on Dec. 6, and he will be honored with a pregame ceremony in Michigan Stadium on Saturday.

Hoke, who was an assistant coach under Carr from 1995-2001, had nothing but praise for the former coach.

“I thought Lloyd handled the team as well as anybody I’ve been around,” Hoke said. “I think that’s probably the biggest thing. (He) wasn’t always (that) nice — there’s some tough love in there.

“I think that’s always been a part of who I am, but I think you get some affirmation when you see the success that someone else has doing it that way.”

Saturday is also Military Appreciation Day at the Big House, and Carr’s ceremony is one of several events planned before the game, including a card stunt that will involve the fans.

Because of the pregame plans, the Athletic Department is asking that fans get to the game early.

NOTES: Redshirt junior offensive lineman Ricky Barnum, who has missed the last two games with an ankle injury, will be available on Saturday, but Hoke said he’s unsure if Barnum will play. … Fifth-year senior safety Troy Woolfolk, who hurt his leg last week, will play at full strength against the Cornhuskers. … If Michigan — which is 4-2 in conference play — wins on Saturday, it could help 5-1 Michigan State win the Legends Division of the Big Ten. “Doesn’t matter,” Hoke said. “We care about winning.”