Published August 24, 2012 - 9:59am
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During the third week of September in 2010, the national college football media anointed Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson the Heisman favorite and the most exciting football player in college football. During the previous two weeks, Denard Robinson lit up the defenses of Connecticut and Notre Dame for 197 yards and 258 yards rushing in each respective game (both UConn and ND finished 8-5 that year). He added some nice stats through the air as well. Michigan was back; Rich Rod finally had the missing piece in his offense at Michigan and Denard was the best player in the country. Denard was the focal point of ESPN’s College GameDay during the week three broadcast:
After starting 5-0 in 2010, the Wolverines lost 6 of their last 8, including a bowl game beatdown by Mississippi State. Denard’s numbers moderated (though still were impressive). Rich Rod was fired. Oh yeah, and a guy named Cam Newton won the Heisman.
In 2011, under new coach Brady Hoke, Michigan had a much better season despite Denard’s overall numbers decreasing compared to the prior year.
We know Denard is an exciting player. He’s a media favorite. Exciting, however, isn’t enough when facing off against the top SEC teams. Exciting and dynamic playmakers tend to become less than mortal against the SEC. Just ask Troy Smith, Colt McCoy, or LaMichael James.
As we approach the opener against Alabama, I decided to take a look at how Denard performed against sound defenses during the past two seasons.
The following table shows Denard Robinson’s rushing statistics over the past two seasons. The top half of the table shows his numbers against teams with a rush defense ranked in the top 40 in the country. The below half of the table is against rush defenses outside the top 40. Rush defense rank calculated by yards given up over the course of the season.
|Year||Opponent||Rushes||Yards||Avg. Yards Per Carry||Rush Def Rank|
|2011||San Diego State||21||200||9.5||81|
As you can see, Denard ran for 4.24 yards per carry against a top 40 rush defense and 6.78 carry against the weaker defenses. That sounds about right.
If we eliminate the 2010 season and just look at 2011, the numbers get worse for Denard. In 2010, Denard piled up some serious yardage in the first five weeks of the season, perhaps due to Denard’s “newness” factor. Teams adjusted for him as the season went out. Moreover, 2011 brought a new coaching regime, so 2011 is probably a better look at what we can expect from Denard in 2012.
In just 2011, Michigan State and Virginia Tech had top 40 rush defenses (19 and 20 respectively). Against Michigan State, Denard ran for 42 yards on 18 carries, for an average of 2.3 yards per carry. Against Virgina Tech (Sugar Bowl), Denard ran for 13 yards on 13 carries. The Wolverines lost against Michigan State and won an ugly overtime game against Virginia Tech.
If any teams resemble the Tide defense from 2011, it’s likely Virginia Tech and Michigan State. Denard is a very talented athlete and there’s no need to disparage his accomplishments thus far, but you could make the argument that he’s a bit like Carmelo Anthony in the NBA. He lights it up against weak competition, but has yet to prove himself against the game’s best. And even though the Crimson Tide lost some talent to the NFL, they are still the game’s best.
Michigan fans will be quick to point out the Sugar Bowl win against Virginia Tech, but I’m not going to count that. That game had very little buzz. The game had terrible attendance from their own students. And after watching that game, you wished both teams would be granted an ‘L’ for their effort.
If Michigan beats Alabama, it won’t be because Denard dominates. It’ll be because Michigan plays a high quality game as a team. Single players don’t beat Nick Saban, especially when he has months to prepare for your best.
As we mentioned in the Alabama vs Michigan preview, Saban’s track record against “fast” playmakers is solid. The Tide will likely work to contain the edges and force Denard to beat him through the air. The Tide’s weakness, if they have one, is the secondary entering the 2012 season. Denard isn’t considered a major threat through the air, so this bodes well for the inexperienced Tide secondary.
While the Alabama defensive front will be stout, they replace 3 of 4 linebackers. The Alabama linebackers could be the difference in Denard’s performance.
Perhaps the best way to shut down Denard is to keep him on the sideline. With Michigan returning only one starter on their defensive line and Alabama having perhaps the #1 offensive line in the country, Alabama should be able to control the time of possession. Even with Trent Richardson in the NFL, Alabama has a brood of talented running backs to smash against opponents all year long.
Despite the losses from last year’s championship team to the 2012 roster, it’s not hard to see why Vegas has Alabama as a 12-13 point favorite against last year’s Sugar Bowl Champs on a neutral site. Nick Saban is the top game planner in college football. And you can bet that he’s watched film of every play that Denard has run during his career this summer.
Denard’s a special athlete, but if you’re a Michigan fan, don’t expect much of the “special” on September 1st. If I’m wrong? Well, start the Heisman chatter.