If there’s one word to describe junior quarterback Denard Robinson, it’s speedy. He runs fast, his teammates say he talks fast and most of the time when he struggles, the coaches say he just needs to slow down. So when the coaches unveiled their newest offensive wrinkle, it was only fitting that it started with speed — the speed option, that is.
Despite working on the speed option since spring practice, Michigan hadn’t run a speed option the first three games this season. The only option they ran was a read option. Robinson was in the shotgun, read the defensive end and decided whether to hand the ball off or keep it.
In Michigan’s fourth game last Saturday against San Diego State, offensive coordinator Al Borges didn’t waste any time unleashing the new weapon and called the play. On 3rd-and-2, Robinson went to the line and checked the play to the right. Junior running back Vincent Smith went in motion as Robinson snapped the ball.
Robinson took a few strides horizontally, found a crease and sprinted 53 yards into the end zone.
“You got a guy who can run (a) 4.3 (40-yard dash) with the ball,” Borges said before laughing. “That’s a little scary to the defense, that kind of ball carrier. It just forces them to defend more.”
The Wolverines ran the play a couple of more times, to varying success. Robinson did make the pitch to redshirt sophomore Fitzgerald Toussaint for five yards. Then Robinson converted on fourth down. Borges said that most defenses are playing man coverage on the receivers, leaving a couple of guys keying on Robinson while trying to force him to pass. Running the speed option is an effort to counterbalance that defensive set.
“(It) is a way to really back people off from man coverage,” said Michigan coach Brady Hoke. “Because if you’ve got your pitch man and whoever’s going to take the quarterback — when you play man and you’re going to blitz, you’ve got to be right.”
Despite the success of the option, Borges said he wasn’t surprised the Wolverines hadn’t run it until now.
That may have been due to the original plan of the offense. Before the season, Michigan’s offensive mantra was to take the pressure off Robinson’s legs, partly in order to prevent some hits to Robinson’s body.
After four games, Hoke and Borges have been adamant that they’re going to do everything to win, even if it means exposing his quarterback to more hits through the option or otherwise. Robinson has carried the ball 47 times for nearly 400 yards in the past two games. As No. 19 Michigan heads into the Big Ten season — which beat up Robinson last year, knocking him out of multiple games — Robinson’s health is a concern. But Hoke has said Robinson has been “doing the best he can” in avoiding contact.
The option won’t be a new wrinkle from here on out, but if it continues to work, Michigan will still run it. According to Borges, novelty may not be an issue.
“There’s more,” Borges said. “We’re in the Big Ten now, and there’s going to be more stuff that we haven’t done.”