NEW ORLEANS — Denard Robinson would have been a natural fit at Virginia Tech.
Apparently, Robinson is a combination of Hokie quarterbacks of the past — but, in some cases, faster. Virginia Tech players and coaches repeatedly used two names to describe Robinson’s talent: Tyrod Taylor, the Hokies’ quarterback last season, and Michael Vick, who played at Virginia Tech from 1998 to 2000.
“I think he might even be better at running than Tyrod,” said redshirt sophomore linebacker Jack Tyler. “He’s quicker, he’s faster. The difference is, they use set plays to run with and Tyrod was more of just a scrambler.”
Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster made another comparison.
“He reminds me a lot of Michael (Vick) in a lot of ways when he’s carrying the football,” Foster said. “That scares me.”
Robinson grew up watching Vick — who was drafted No. 1 overall in the 2001 NFL draft — play with the Atlanta Falcons, and he tried to recreate Vick’s dual-threat capabilities. But Robinson didn’t have the same college choices Vick did.
The Hokies never offered Robinson a scholarship.
“That was a mistake,” said Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer before Thursday’s practice.
The miscue is magnified now that Beamer has to figure out a way to defend against him.
The Hokies may have the talent. Despite injuries, the Wolverines are unanimous in their description of the Virginia Tech defense — athletic.
But it hasn’t faced a true speedster like Robinson this season. The only other quarterback the Hokies faced who finished the season with over 800 yards rushing is Georgia Tech’s Tevin Washington. And other mobile quarterbacks they’ve faced in previous seasons haven’t had quite the same skill set.
“(Robinson) unfortunately throws the ball a little better than I want him to,” Foster said. “We’ve played some guys over the years — the Pat Whites and the guys of that nature that we’ve played that were dynamic ball carriers. If you stopped the run then I think you gained a huge advantage and I’m not for sure that’s the case right now.”
Preparation for Robinson will largely be mental — as in using imagination.
The Hokies have found that there is no simulating what Robinson can do with the scout team. Instead, practices have consisted of making the play and pretending what Robinson would do in the same situation.
“You just say, ‘Well look, we got him now. (Robinson is) going to be three steps faster,’ ” said free safety Eddie Whitley.
While the true preparation can’t be achieved, the game plan has already been set. Robinson anticipates Foster’s defense will attack him. How they do so won’t be revealed until the game is played. But their strategy will probably replicate what every other team over the past year has tried to do: force Robinson to pass.
“He’s a run-first quarterback, so his arm is only going to be so good,” Whitley said. “But at the same time, he still can get it there. They’re not going to put somebody at quarterback who can’t throw the ball in D-I football.”
Whitley added that if they can force Robinson toward the sidelines instead of north and south, help should be able to arrive in time to stop him from breaking a big run. The lack of rushing success should lead to Robinson throwing more passes, and the Hokies hope that pressure will lead to mistakes.
Yet, Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges commented that he was pleased with Robinson’s passing performance throughout the last three games and said that team hasn’t lost its timing over the long layoff.
If the timing is still there on Tuesday, Foster will make the in-game adjustments that built his reputation as one of the nation’s best coordinators. But Robinson has thrived on Borges’s in-game adjustments all season.
“Within the first couple series, you’ll have somewhat of an idea how they’re going to go about defending you,” Borges said. “And I have found here at Michigan, with Denard more so than probably most the quarterbacks I’ve coached in the past, is everybody’s got kind of a different solution to dealing with Denard’s skill level.”
Whether Foster’s game plan is the solution that escaped most of the Big Ten remains to be seen, but four days before the Sugar Bowl, the Hokies are confident that they won’t pay for Beamer’s mistake.
“I think we’re ready,” said Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller.