For a few weeks now people have been asserting that Denard Robinson has not been right. I wasn't sure what to make of those complaints since we didn't really get to see him in the open field much. After Nebraska, the answer appears to be "speed just fine, thanks" even if Lavonte David did hack him down on a couple of potential big gainers.
But, yeah, I do think something isn't right with Denard. That is not necessarily injury. Against Nebraska I've had more "argh" moments in re: Denard running than I've had in a long time. There was this:
That's a scramble on Michigan's botched end-of-half drive on which Denard, presented with a massive hole straight upfield, tries to bounce outside and gets tackled for a three yard gain—in bounds. Michigan ended up getting nothing here when making the really obvious cut (Denard knows the corner will be keeping leverage as his top priority) sees them set up with a first and ten near field goal range or better.
There was this on a play where Martavious Odoms came in motion to be a pitch man:
Denard handed off there when Nebraska had one guy containing two on the edge; Hopkins thumped straight ahead for three yards. Robinson keeps showing up in the run minus category because he's not pulling when the corner opens up like whoah.
Even when Denard did pull he made some inexplicable decisions. Here's one.
It's first and ten on the Michigan something or other and Michigan is in some variety of formation. So is Nebraska. I'm not entirely sure what they are because the director in this game comes from the Michigan Stadium Replay Guy school of framing where everything is a super tight closeup. I assume Michigan is in a standard three-wide set. You can see the slot to the bottom of the screen; M will have a WR on the line outside of him. The other guy could be in a trips formation below or to the top of the screen away outside.
Nebraska appears to be in a straight nickel with a safety as support.
Michigan runs a basic inside zone read, leaving the backside guy unblocked and flaring Koger out.
The above is the mesh point. Robinson is reading the end. The end is square but he is in shuffle mode.
What's shuffle mode?
Remember that period in 2009 when Carlos Brown or Brandon Minor would slam up the backside of the line and run untouched into the endzone? That was Michigan's response to various games defenses were playing with the backside end. The shuffle is the DL's response to that response. He is protecting the soft spot behind the backside tackle that the zone read often causes. He's not really containing the QB, though he's a lot more useful on a keeper than someone screaming down the line. He's more of an RB defender.
Michigan's started seeing this because they brought back the RR H-back inside zone where there is a guy cracking back on this DE.
On the next frame Robinson has just pulled it:
Denard Robinson is Denard Robinson. Koger has flared out to seal the playside linebacker. There is no slot to the top of the screen. Robinson is about to run to the corner for a billio—
I SAID, ROBINSON IS ABOUT TO RUN TO THE COR—
Robinson does run past Meredith and David but Huyge can't extend his block on that defensive end, and that defensive end…
…eats Denard after a two yard gain.
Items of interest
Yeah, this is kind of the same thing Scheelhaase did last week. You know, this:
The difference between the plays is that Scheelhaase screwed up his read and pulled when the defensive end was upfield in a QB contain mode. It was a plan B, one that worked. Here Michigan's plan A is "Denard in a race with a defensive end going the other way." That's a good plan. Let's try that.
It does almost work, but Huyge isn't great and he loses his guy. If Michigan sustains that block they get a decent gain.
Note the difference in the defensive ends. Clark is not shuffling down the line. He's a couple yards further outside and a yard in the backfield. Meredith is at the LOS and tucked in behind a Michigan OL. That should be enough to get Denard the corner but…
Denard seems hesitant. I don't know what the deal is. Unless there's something outside the frame that's relevant—not likely—it's really weird that Robinson wouldn't just run outside. Feel the panic in this linebacker:
That is a man going "oh shiiiiiiii" in slo-mo. He's done and Denard pops outside the DE and is dealing with that safety. Maybe he gets five yards. Maybe he gets ALL OF THE YARDS.
In recent weeks it seems like he's been less of a north-south guy. In this game he is way less of a read threat than he needs to be. In just the first half of last week's game you've got the above three plays, a speed option on which Denard cuts all the way to the backside of the line to little effect, and three or four seemingly obvious pull reads he's missed.
It is possible the reads aren't actually reads, but given what Borges has said it seems like they are. I'm not sure we've seen him pitch on the option yet, though. Is it really an option, or is it just a decoy?
The picture painted is of a guy who's thinking, not reacting.
Too much cram cram. This is a downside of not having a true base offense, I think. Lacking reps on all these things, Denard makes mistakes. If the speed option is just another way to run a QB stretch that's because they don't rep the option enough to be comfortable with the pitch. If they miss a bunch of keep reads it's because they're not repping it enough to make that clear to the quarterback.
Remember that last year Michigan largely dumped the read option in favor of just running Denard. This isn't a regression, it's Denard trying to do something he might not have been very good at last year. That plus an entirely new passing offense means there's a ton on his plate.
We've seen progress in the passing game. They may be emphasizing that since it turns out handing the ball to Toussaint isn't that bad of an idea even when it's a bad idea. Hopefully Michigan can get some of this corrected over the next week because Denard left a lot of yards on the field even when Lavonte David wasn't tackling him by his ankles.