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Friday Focus: Michigan Quarterback Denard “Shoelace” Robinson

Adam DiBartolomeoCue the dramatic music.  It’s the day before “The Big Game”.  And contrary to popular belief, this game is a HUGE rivalry, and due to the new B1G alignment, most years it will be THE most important game on the schedule.

Yep, I said it.  The landscape has changed and so must the mindset of the fans.  Bo and Woody are unfortunately no longer with us.  I have seen the light and faced the reality of the new B1G…feel free to follow.  I digress.

Since this is THE most important game this week’s focus, or better yet, microscope, will be on THE most important player on the Michigan Wolverines.  You guessed it.  Quarterback Denard Robinson.  Not only is his production and ball security essential in each and every game Team 133 plays, he has been absolutely horrendous in  both of his career starts against the Spartans.

I can’t sugarcoat it.  His lack of effectiveness and propensity to turn the ball over against Sparty has directly led to defeats.  Saturday is his last chance to taste victory in this bitter rivalry in which MSU has won four straight contests.

To say Denard is the Michigan offense is not an exaggeration.  When he’s on the Wolverines roll.  When he’s struggling and turning the ball over the Wolverines roll over…and play dead.  You don’t have to look much further than his statistics through six games:


  • ACCURACY – 69/126 (54.8%)
  • YARDS – 1,101 (183.5 YPG)
  • TD – 9
  • INT – 8 (Six in team’s two losses; Has not thrown an INT in last two games which resulted in big wins)


  • YARDS – 804 (LEADS TEAM)
  • YPG – 134.0
  • YPC – 8.0
  • TD – 6



Denard has made many mad dashes to pay dirt in his Michigan career.

His total yards account for 75.86% of the team’s total offense.  To say he needs to continue to play well to win this week is an understatement.

After a rocky start to the season against Alabama and Notre Dame, games in which he was asked to throw the ball down field roughly 30 times, Al Borges has simplified the offensive attack.  He is passing less (13.5 avg. attempts) and running more (17.5 avg. attempts).

The routes have been kept to the short to intermediate variety and he has been put in situations to succeed.  The results have been an offensive explosion (44.5 ppg) , ZERO interceptions, and two convincing Wolverine wins.  There has been no hiding from the truth as to his capabilities and limitations.  It appears they have found the formula for success.  Assuming they stick to this plan, it will be up to #16 to execute it.

All that is fine and dandy except the Spartans are the team that has written the book on how to slow down “Shoelace.”  Not only is Denard 0-2 against Michigan State, but his numbers are abysmal.  I’m talking real bad.  Observe:


  • ACCURACY – 26/53 (49%)
  • YARDS – 338 (169.0 YPG)
  • TD – 2
  • INT – 4 (3 in 2010 and pick six to seal the game in 2011)


  • YARDS – 177
  • YPG – 88.5
  • YPC – 4.53
  • TD – 2

The Spartans have smacked Denard around in both of their meetings with their rivals.

The killer stat is the interceptions and it has been the aggressive Michigan State defense that has forced Denard into these blunders.  They have been in his face, knocked him around, and forced him to make quick decisions in which he has chosen them poorly.

It’s no secret the Spartans will once again blitz Robinson, attempt to take away his running lanes, and force him to make plays with his arm.

I don’t think Borges will go back to the Alabama and Notre Dame gunslinger game plan but Denard will have to make a play or two through the air without completing passes to those wearing green and white.  He will also have to hope that some of his teammates (Toussaint, Rawls, Funchess, Gardner, etc.) can take some of the burden off of his shoulders and make a few plays as well.

He can’t be asked to win the game by himself.  But one thing is for certain, if he once again gets flustered and becomes reckless, the Spartans will see to it that he can be the biggest reason Michigan loses.

Look, we know how electric Denard Robinson can be.  We know he can change a game in the blink of an eye.  We know that he can single-handily carry the Michigan offense.

We also know know that he can get rattled and single-handily put his team at a significant disadvantage by turning over the football in bunches….especially against a nasty Michigan State defense.  He simply cannot lose his cool again against Sparty on Saturday or the Wolverines will fall in defeat for a fifth straight time to their in-state rivals.  It’s really that simple.

Team 133 has the defense to keep the sputtering MSU offense at bay, but they cannot be constantly asked to bail out the offense after turnovers.  If Robinson can play smart, opportunistic football and the offense can control the clock, they will win on Saturday.

If they keep their defense on the field too much, Denard will not be remembered for the gazillion records he will break in his career, but rather as a Michigan QB who was unable to win big games or defeat their rivals, the Michigan State Spartans.  Fair or not, that is the reality.  Luckily he gets one more bite at the apple to cement his legacy , or at least his perceived legacy, as one of the Michigan greats.


You can follow Adam on Twitter at @adamdibart.

And also be sure to click on over to Adam’s blog for all things Detroit sports here at

Saturday is “Shoelace’s” last chance to eat against MSU. - May the Hoke be with you! © January 11th, 2011
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