Containing Robinson a must for Minutemen

By Jay Asser

Sam Wolson/The Michigan Daily
When the Massachusetts football team travels to Ann Arbor, Mich. this weekend to take on Michigan, Tyler Holmes and company will have a defensive task awaiting them that neither Connecticut nor Notre Dame could tackle – containing Denard Robinson.

The Wolverines (2-0) quarterback led Michigan to victories in their first two games this season, including an impressive 28-24 last-minute win against the Fighting Irish this past Saturday.

Robinson rushed for a two-yard touchdown with 27 seconds remaining, giving the Wolverines the go-ahead score, while adding to his incredible 258 yards on the ground. The sophomore accounted for 502 of Michigan’s 532 total yards, making him only the ninth quarterback in Football Bowl Subdivision history to gain more than 200 passing yards and 200 rushing yards in the same game. The performance followed his school-record feat of 197 rushing yards in Week 1 against the Huskies.

Facing an early Heisman Trophy favorite, UMass coach Kevin Morris knows that the Minutemen (2-0) will have the toughest defensive test of the season on Saturday.

“He’s the real deal and he’s put on a show in the first two games,” Morris said. “The thing I like about him as a quarterback coach myself is that he’s playing within the system now. If something does go wrong and he has a negative situation, he’s athletic enough to make it positive.

“He’s making his plays right off the script, right off the run schemes and the pass schemes. He’s executing the offense extremely well and he himself is playing at a very high level. He’s certainly on a roll right now and it’s going to be a big-time challenge for us to contain.”

Though Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick is always the first player that comes to mind when comparing rushing signal-callers, it’s a different player that Morris relates Robinson to.

“Just recently, we played Armanti Edwards from Appalachian State in the national final game a few years back in 2006 when I was here as the offensive coordinator,” Morris said. “[Robinson] is that type of guy, he can run [and] he can throw. Obviously, I think Robinson is at a particular level just with his overall speed and his throwing ability than Armanti was when we played him. I think he was only a true freshman when we played him at that point in time. He’s got all those skills and probably reminds you of those guys and that’s a scary reminder.”

In that game against the Mountaineers, the Minutemen defense held Edwards to 146 yards in the air and 81 yards on the ground in 15 attempts. In fact, it was tailback Kevin Richardson who gashed UMass for 184 yards and four scores en route to a 28-17 win for Appalachian State. The game marked the first time in the last five weeks of the 2006 season in which Edwards failed to rush for 100 yards or more.

Linebacker Tyler Holmes, who leads the defense for UMass, is up to the difficult challenge of facing an electrifying duel-threat quarterback in what he calls the biggest game of his career.

“Me personally, I feel a running quarterback is the hardest to defend because you can have perfect coverage and he can make a play off of athleticism,” Holmes said. “Robinson seems to be a very athletic kid so I really don’t have that much experience with running quarterbacks. We got to play Justin Thorpe from [James Madison] last year. He was a duel-threat quarterback. I’m just very excited for the opportunity that’s in front of me.”

Thorpe had more success than Edwards against UMass on the ground, rushing for 106 yards on 20 carries.

The James Madison quarterback also threw for 120 yards on 8-of-13 attempts to lead the Dukes to a 17-14 victory.

As tough as it was to play against Thorpe, Holmes realizes that Robinson is a different player and will require more attention to just slow him down.

“I don’t know if you can stop him,” Holmes said. “He’s a great player. I think he has 800 or 900 yards of total offense in two games, so it’s really just believing in our schemes and I believe our coaches are going to come up with a good gameplan and we can hopefully just execute that. Hopefully, we can get 11 guys to the ball. He seems to get out in space a lot, so if we can rally to him, maybe it would work to our advantage.”

While UMass needs to have success in all three facets of the game against Michigan, limiting Robinson will be a foremost priority to pull off the upset victory.

Jay Asser can be reached at [email protected]