The Wolverine

November 2011

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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Page 24 of 119

D By Michael Spath enard Robinson isn���t impervious to the world outside Schembechler Hall. He knows the fans that bought Shoelace-inspired paraphernalia by the truckload in 2010 are now clamoring for his backup, sophomore Devin Gardner, to see increased opportunities. He knows reporters that once lobbied for him to win the Heisman are now answering mail plotting his future at wide receiver or tailback. House clad in maize and blue are losing patience with their starting quarterback, lamenting over the plays he hasn���t made this year (seemingly ignoring all the great plays he has produced), Michigan���s coaching staff remains committed to the Deerfield Beach, Fla., native, accentuating his overall performance. ���We���re 6-1, and he���s a lot of the reason why we���re 6-1,��� head coach Brady Hoke said before the Wolverines��� win over Purdue. ���His athleticism, his ability to manage the of- Gaining Ground The Wolverines Are Confident The Passing Game And Denard Robinson Will Improve Such is life for the starting quarterback at Michigan ��� and across college football. The second-stringer, the hope of the unknown, is almost always the answer, even though he is No. 2 for good reason. Robinson averaged 281.0 yards of total offense in the first eight games of the season. He accounted for 21 touchdowns, threw for 300 yards in wins over Notre Dame and Northwestern, rushed for at least 100 yards in four games, and, most importantly, directed Michigan to a 7-1 mark. Yet, he has been scrutinized and criticized considerably this season because of a 54.8 completion percentage that ranks 10th in the Big Ten among starting quarterbacks. Gardner has not fared better ��� he has completed 8 of 16 attempts in five appearances ��� but he is seen to offer greater upside than Robinson, who cannot shake the stigma he is a spread-option quarterback in a system that plays to his weaknesses. While many that pack The Big Through eight games this season, Robinson had rushed for 825 yards and 10 touchdowns, while completing 85 of 155 passes for 1,423 yards, with 11 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Photo by Lon Horwedel fense ��� we���re excited about him and happy with him.��� Taking The Heat When Michigan dropped a game from 2001-03, John Navarre was almost always the culprit. It didn���t matter that in the 10 games U-M lost with Navarre as the starter, the defense surrendered 28.2 points per contest. It didn���t matter that Navarre averaged 249.8 yards passing per game. The finger always pointed at the starting quarterback. Though he experienced ups and downs in 2010, Robinson largely escaped the wrath of Michigan fans, who directed most of their attention at an inept defense. The spotlight has shown brightly on the junior this fall, though, with every misfire analyzed, and every missed scoring opportunity lambasted. Six wins were washed away by the Michigan State loss in some people���s eyes. ���When you lose a football game, it���s natural to look for someone to blame, and the easiest people to blame are the head coach and the quarterback,��� offensive coordinator Al Borges said. ���It���s not fair that all of the criticism is directed at Denard. People forget it���s not just him out there. ���We had some real protection issues against Michigan State. We didn���t drop balls, but we can be better with our routes, and we need to be more reliable receivers. We need to establish a running game. ���It���s a combination of things, and the quarterback takes too many hits, figuratively and literally. But what I have to do is put him in situations that give him an opportunity to succeed. And we���re constantly studying how to do that.��� Michigan���s coaching staff has adapted its offense around the junior signal-caller despite clamoring on message boards that it has not; Robinson has averaged 19.4 pass attempts per game and 16.9 rushes per contest compared to 22.4 attempts and 20.0 carries during the 2010 campaign. ���The coaches know what our strengths are, and it���s up to us to execute,��� Robinson said. ���It���s hard for me when we don���t play like we���re capable of. I want to be the quarterback everyone wants me to be right now. I���m a patient guy most of the time, but I���m getting really impatient with myself. ���I talked to Coach Borges, and he just told me to calm down and keep doing what I���m doing, be eager to learn, and improve every day. As long as I just keep taking a step forward every rep, it will come.��� The Evolution Of The Passing Game Borges has mentored numerous quarterbacks in his 24-year coaching career and understands there is a learning curve with every signalcaller. He routinely points to UCLA All-American Cade McNown, who completed just 52.4 percent of his attempts in Borges��� first season with the Bruins in 1996, but would then complete 60.6 percent in year two. Borges understands time is a necessary component of Robinson���s maturation within the offense, but he also understands the pressure to succeed, and win football games, in the present. ���There was no great metamorphosis that took place with Cade���s skill level ��� he was the same, but his understanding of the offense, as well as everyone else���s understanding of the offense, took a quantum leap,��� Borges said. ���It will happen here, and when November 2011��� ������ the wolverine��� 25

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