So… it wasn't necessarily as crazy as it appeared when he threw it. Is this good news? Maybe. It seems that Denard had one major problem in the Northwestern game, which was throwing off his back foot.
Inaccurate but complete TD to Watson
Robinson had time to step into the some of the above throws throw but did not. Other times he didn't read the play fast enough and got pressure because of indecision. When not throwing off the back foot he was his zippy 2010 self; when he did it was armpunts away.
Sometimes you have to throw it off the back foot. These times are when there is a guy in your face and you have a really wide open receiver. None of the above are events that fit that profile. On the first he does have a guy really wide open but also has time to step into the throw. On the second he also has time to step into the throw. On the third he doesn't, and that's what this post is about.
Interception #2 exposed some of Robinson's flaws as a passer but it still should have been a touchdown. Michigan has a second and six on the Northwestern 16 after Devin Gardner's tricky rollout of the Denard jet action turned into a scramble. They come out in a common set for them, shotgun with twin TEs:
On the snap Denard moves towards the LOS and Schofield pulls. This will turn into QB Oh Noes.
As Denard withdraws into a passing position Koger releases downfield; Smith will head out on a wheel route. Both of NW's linebackers are headed upfield:
At this point you have two guys trying to cover two Michigan players, One of them is Koger, who will run a post. The other is the flat-footed corner on the LOS.
This is the key frame. Smith is gone past the blocker. The safety is similarly flat-footed against Koger, and Schofield has run past the blitzing SLB to double a defensive end:
This is all kinds of touchdown except for Schofield running past the gap in Michigan's line:
Without this linebacker getting in Denard's face the safety faces a choice between leaving either Koger or Smith wide open for six points.
But linebacker is in Denard's face, forcing an early throw off the back foot…
…that does not end well.
I think there was a bust in the Wildcat secondary, possibly by this safety, because Koger is open for an easy TD and the pressure cannot be anticipated. If the safety is going with Koger this is still incomplete. Denard overthrew it by five yards because he chucked it off his back foot.
Items of interest
This is definitely a protection the pulling guard is expected to make. On fourth and one later in this half Schofield will pull and correctly read this gap, then fill it, opening up the first down.
When Denard throws off his back foot, rivers of baby blood flow from my eyes. This was a thing that Michigan evidently got fixed in the second half when Denard was 8/9 for many many yards, but it threatens to pop up whenever the opponent gets a little QB pressure. The Watson one is the worst: no one is even in position to hit you after the throw.
This is not actually an insane read. I think his assumption was that the S, being the only guy on that side of the field near Koger, would go with him and this would leave the wheel open. The key moment:
He's not staring Smith down. He's looking at Koger and naturally assumes the only guy with a shot to cover him will take the hint. This was wrong in the same way it can be difficult to play poker against someone who doesn't really know what they're doing—they do something very very bad that turns out well because you didn't expect them to have a pea-sized brain.
Again, because of the back foot stuff this was five yards long and would have been incomplete in a best-case scenario. Robinson should probably just take off when things like this happen instead of doing this.
Needs moar play action. The super aggressive Northwestern defense was super aggressive, as you can see here. When Michigan went to QB play action it invariably got dudes vastly wide open, and while Michigan didn't have much luck getting these things completed, the passes are easy (seam to Koger is too high) or the problems easy to fix (block that guy, Schofield). A good chunk of the issues running the ball were on these aggressive linebackers—Michigan doesn't seem to make them hesitant. Maybe right after scoring 42 points while turning the ball over three times isn't the best time to bring this complaint up.
When Al and Denard talk about bad footwork, it's not just about throwing off the wrong foot. A pro quarterback in this situation (facing a free rusher charging up the middle) moves laterally in the pocket to buy an extra second for the receiver to come free, and also to get a clear view of the passing lane. The chuck-it-up reaction from Denard is basically panic. If Denard scrambles a bit first, the safeties are the ones who have to panic and come up in run-support; if that had happened, Koger would have been hand-wavingly open at the back of the end zone. Fortunately this is something that is correctable with time and practice; it's not a systemic problem and it's not beyond Denard's abilities.
In the 4th and 5th pictures after Denard stops and sets up in the pocket, it's pretty obvious that the middle of the field is wiiiiide open. Shouldn't Denard's read be to Koger? If he leads Koger a little to the middle and lofts it so it's a jump ball, the only way the safety intercepts it is if he makes a All-American type play.
How is this not a bad read when he throws it directly to the guy who's covering the covered receiver? It's a bad read. It's a bad throw. It's bad everything.
I know we like to canonize Denard Robinson, but there are times when he is a shitty, shitty passer. Tom Brady is a very good passer, but that doesn't mean every time he runs we have to "ooh" and "ahh" at how good of a runner he is or say that his running was a good choice. Tom Brady's not a good runner, but that doesn't mean he's a horrible player.
It was a bad pass, a bad read, and a bad time to make a bad decision. It sucked. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. I bet Denard would tell you that, I bet the coaches would tell you that, and I bet experienced observers would tell you that, too. That play sucked, and that's all there is to it.
The way a lot of fans refuse to admit Denard's shortcomings as a passer is infuriating. Look, every single team we've faced going back to State last year has game planned the exact same way against Denard - force him to make throws and wait for the inevitable turnover. It's like there's some kind of psuedo-random number generator in his head that every so often turns off his decision making ability, and no amount of coaching or experience can fix that.
Denard is a unique player, but unfortunately that means dealing with this uniquely heartburn inducing turnover problem for as long he's the starting QB.
"...no amount of coaching or experience can fix that."
I don't know that that's true. To me he often looks like a guy who's trying to do something that he's not very familiar with - put simply, to be Tom Brady after spending two years training to be Pat White.
Borges has said that he's generally had a big jump for his QBs from the first to second year in his system. I think we can't know if your verdict is right until the end of next year.
"All of the doughnuts have names that sound like prostitutes."
Weren't we gonna make a HUGE leap between RR year 1 & 2!?
More to the point : I'm pretty sure Jim Harbaugh DIDN'T say "Hey, this is gonna take a year or 2" when taking over the 49ers.
Now I'm extremely pleased with the team's results thus far, but let's NOT "wait til next year"... Ok?!
I seem to recall Denard getting a lot better between his freshman and sophomore years. That year of experience is big. That's not to say that he can't be good this year, but he should be even better next year.