No one knew what kind of things junior quarterback Denard Robinson would be asked to do in his debut in offensive coordinator Al Borges’s pro-style offense. That included the quarterback.
“I didn’t know what to expect, to be honest with you,” Robinson said. “We were just out there ready to play and we’ve been working all the plays, so whatever he threw at us we had to be ready.”
It turns out 144 is the new 335.
Though Saturday’s game against Western Michigan went just under three quarters after being ended due to lightning, it was the worst statistical game of Robinson’s career. He threw for just 98 yards and ran for 46 more, giving him 144 all-purpose yards. A year ago he averaged 335 all-purpose yards in his first season as a starter.
Since Borges’s new offense is designed to take the load off Robinson and distribute it among others, Robinson’s previous performances in the spread offense aren’t comparable. The only way to evaluate his game is to take his word for it.
“I’ve still got some learning to do,” Robinson said. “I got to do better. I think I did alright.”
Seeing just six offensive drives couldn’t answer the question about whether the new scheme bottles up Robinson’s speed too much. But there were glimpses of the past. Borges included a number of shotgun snaps and designed quarterback runs.
When that wasn’t enough, Robinson improvised. Late in the second quarter, when a passing play broke down, Robinson eluded a defender in the backfield and cut up the middle for a 12-yard gain.
While the defense added 14 points of its own, Robinson carried the offense to 288 yards and 20 points. The stats weren’t too high, but the production was right where it was supposed to be.
“Al had a plan that he thought would be successful against what they did defensively,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. “Denard’s always going to have a hand in what we do. Number one, he’s a quarterback, but secondly because of his ability to run with the football.”
BRUISED BUT NOT BATTERED: The pain of watching last year’s defense now fifth-year senior cornerback Troy Woolfolk was still fresh in Michigan fans’ minds.
Little more than a year after Woolfolk broke his right ankle and was out for the season, Woolfolk sat near midfield clutching his leg, unable to get up. This came after redshirt sophomore linebacker Cam Gordon was scratched from the game due to the back injury.
The announcer made the call:
“No. 29, Troy Woolfolk, injured on the play.”
The 110,506 in attendance let out a collective groan. He was helped off the field, carted to the locker room and didn’t play for the rest of the game.
“It’s tough to see a guy like that go down again,” redshirt junior safety Jordan Kovacs said. “But at the same time we knew somebody else was going to have an opportunity to step in and play we’ve got some experienced guys at corner.”
But this wasn’t déjà vu. Instead of breaking his right ankle, Woolfolk only sprained his left. Hoke said he thought Woolfolk and Gordon would play next Saturday against Notre Dame.
“(Woolfolk) felt better yesterday,” Hoke said on Monday. “I think emergency-wise he could have got back in there on Saturday and Paul Schmidt our trainer did a good job with all those things. Cam, he tweaked his back early in the week, felt better but still just didn’t feel good enough.
“There was no sense for us to try and put him out there where he could prolong the recovery process.”
VERY SPECIAL TEAMS: After the game, a reporter asked redshirt senior linebacker Brandon Herron whether he was on special teams. Herron sheepishly raised his hand. He knew what was coming.
Western Michigan averaged over 30 yards per kick return on their six attempts. Part of that had to do with the defensive touchdowns that were scored. A lot of defensive starters play on special teams. The long runs on Herron’s touchdowns were immediately followed by a kickoff, leaving tired players to cover the kick.
Hoke didn’t sugarcoat the performance after the game.
“Kickoff returns were awful,” Hoke said.
The other side was a lot quieter. Freshman Matt Wile punted just two times. Redshirt sophomore kicker Brendan Gibbons didn’t have much work to do. The Wolverines went for it and converted on the only fourth down opportunity within field-goal range. Gibbons still found a way to cause Michigan fans to worry though, as he missed an extra point.
NOTES: Fifth-year senior linebacker Marrell Evans, sophomore running back Stephen Hopkins and redshirt junior offensive linemen Ricky Barnum were suspended from the game. Hoke said he expects them back for the Notre Dame game.