Denard Robinson Strategy Question

Submitted by StephenRKass on September 21st, 2009 at 9:56 AM

I wanted to see DRob get more time on the field Saturday, and earlier. Unfortunately, the score was too close through the half, and I guess I understand why Forcier stayed in as much as he did.

However, when Denard was actually on the field, I was disappointed in the play-calling in two ways. First, I feel that Denard's biggest need is to establish his passing game. The only passes he attempted were down the field, up in the air, resulting in picks. I can't understand why he didn't attempt wheel routes, screens, dinks to the sideline, etc.

Second, his running ability is so good that I almost hate to see him run. Some blue hairs right behind me in the stands were shouting "run the ball!" (like their shouts made any diff.) Any way, it was almost a foregone conclusion that Denard would gash their defense for big chunks, which is exactly what he did. What good does it really do for Denard to break free for another 30 or 40 yard TD? Sure, it's gorgeous, and breathtaking, yada, yada. We know he's dilithium fast.

But doing this against EMU doesn't prove much. The problem will come when we face a real defense. If Denard doesn't develop downfield passing ability, a good DC is going to crowd the line and will probably have enough team speed to close on Denard when he's behind the line of scrimmage. While Denard's way faster and shiftier than Tate, eventually, just like Forcier, Denard will find out that this isn't high school. He can't outjuke every defense all the time. If a defense doesn't respect his ability to throw the ball, that will lessen his ability to run. I don't want him to wait until Penn State or OSU to find this out.

Do you think Denard should just run anyway, because that's what he does? Or should he pass and pass and pass and then pass some more until he becomes a better passer in our system? I would vote for more passing, but mostly so that the opposing secondary can't cheat by crowding the line. If the other secondary has to respect the pass and sit back, it will only create more room for Denard to roam, leading to more gorgeous runs against opponents who matter.



September 21st, 2009 at 10:05 AM ^

During the ND game I was sitting right in front of one of the ND sections and every time D Rob came in they shouted "run, its a run". It was a foregone conclusion that there would be no attempt to pass. I would like to see about a 60-40 run to pass ration when he gets the opportunity. He has to be able to keep them honest. Every time he was in during the ND game the safeties crept up and there was 8 in the box. I am sure RR is aware of this and it will take some time but he also has not had as much time as T Force.

Blue boy johnson

September 21st, 2009 at 6:07 PM ^

I think it is a false argument to say teams know Denard is going to run so he will be easy to stop. If/when Denard becomes more proficient at passing, he will become a bigger threat and harder to contain, no argument.

There are plenty of teams in the country that you pretty much no they are going to run the ball, that does not make it a foregone conclusion that they will be stopped. It is not just Denard who has the option of running the ball, there are probably 3 or 4 options to carry the ball in M's spread O. Teams may key on Denard, I sure the hell would, but one of our other threats may gash them.

I never watched much WV when RR coached there but I bet teams did not worry much about Pat White throwing the ball, and those teams seemed to do OK.

I think lack of experience with the Offense is the only thing stopping this team from being a force when Denard is on the field. Once Denard learns the Offense look out, if he becomes a proficient passer....


September 21st, 2009 at 10:09 AM ^

but force himself to pass; maybe that's why he got two int's, hehe. The Eastern game would of been a great opportunity to have him practice had he not thrown the two picks. In his defense, teams are expecting him to run so they are stacking the line; D-Rob Dilithium probably couldn't resist chucking it down field. He'll have another opportunity come Saturday.


September 21st, 2009 at 10:13 AM ^

All in all you’re right, but I do tend to think the coaches have called in their fair share of passing plays for Denard, but he gets too frantic back there and isn’t working through his progressions as he should thus leading to his gashing runs or his heaves downfield into double coverage. Hind sight is 20/20, but the only coaching change I would have made in Denard’s development on Saturday would have been letting Tate finish the entire 1st half, more than likely putting us up 31-17 with the rhythm we were in; instead of letting EMU back into the game @ 24-17 by half with Denards 1st pick.


September 21st, 2009 at 10:15 AM ^

I would have loved to see Denard pass against WMU and EMU, however...Conference football starts on Saturday. I think if Denard is still at quarterback as a junior he will be absolutely dominant. Right now though, Denard is not ready to throw the ball. He has a good arm and speed unparalleled in college football, but his accuracy, knowledge of the playbook, and ability to read defenses might approximate Nick Sheridan as a redshirt sophomore. If Tate should go down I would be in favor of running a passing play every 5-6 downs with the instructions that if his man isn't wide open he throws the ball out of bounds. An incomplete pass is a better deterrant to crowding the box than an interception. If that isn't enough of a deterrant...Please God keep Tate healthy.


September 21st, 2009 at 10:16 AM ^

I think it's clear from the Eastern game that the coaches are telling Denard to settle down in the pocket and throw the ball. On those two deep balls he threw for interceptions, he had plenty of room to tuck the ball and run, but he didn't. I was happy to see this because it shows me the coaches are thinking the same thing we fans are. Look to throw first, if nothing there, just run it for a TD.


September 21st, 2009 at 10:18 AM ^

as when lloyd would bring antonio bass into the game. 9 times out of 10 it was going to be a run, and teams keyed on that. d-rob has to throw the ball just enough to keep the other teams honest by having the thought of a pass in the back of their minds. having him come into the game and pass, pass, pass, and pass some more will take away from what he is really good at. as for the the 2 throws that got picked is just more inexperience then any thing. when he goes back and watches the film of both throws i'm pretty sure that he will see that he had more time to throw then he thought.

Brother Mouzone

September 21st, 2009 at 10:19 AM ^

He just needs some time. When he becomes a credible passing threat, the defensive adjustments will open up more opportunities to exploit his running ability, which will in turn increase his ability to have better opportunities to find open receivers.

I expect to see more plays where Denard rolls out to make the throws. After some short and long throws from rolling out, we will probably see a few more passing options open up for him.

Almost all freshmen need time, most don't see the field at this point.

willis j

September 21st, 2009 at 10:22 AM ^

he would have gotten more passing opportunities but he threw two picks pretty early into both drives, obviously limiting his opportunity.

He did have a good throw to Odoms that Odoms bobbled and got overturned. I see the ability, he needs to become more accurate and his progression needs to improved.

The fact is that even if he throws deep INTs it makes the D respect the fact that he will throw and has the ability to. They cant stack 8-9 in the box and leave our playmakers one on one.

UFR will show more but I think his first INT was horrible. The 2nd I think he was just late on making the throw. I haven't seen replay to see for sure.


September 21st, 2009 at 10:23 AM ^

Just to put an opposing viewpoint out there:

What if the coaches were having Denard run all the time now, so that future opponents would key on that, then put him in a game later and have him pass when the opposing D stacks against the run?

R Kelly

September 21st, 2009 at 11:23 AM ^

The coach's job is to put the team on the field in the best possible position to win the current game. If that means Tate and Denard at the same time then so be it, but RR certainly shouldn't be worrying about whether HS players will decommit because he runs certain plays/formations.

double blue

September 21st, 2009 at 10:35 AM ^

first off, denard was 3 for 3 passing on saturday- oh, you're supposed to pass it to your own team?

in all seriousness i think everyone knows he has to get some throws in and i am sure rr is working on his progress/progressions.

i think rr is keeping dr on the side whne tate is in because he doesn't want dr to be seen as a slot receiver/athlete but as a qb.

personally, i think it would open any number of amazing combinations. not sure how athletic tate is in being a wide out, but rr is an "offensive genius" so i am sure he can think of more schemes than we can. my hunch is he's waiting for them to get more experience and for bigger games- no reason to show it off yet- let's freak psu or osu out when the time comes.


September 21st, 2009 at 10:40 AM ^

I had a theory on Denard.

I figure maybe he was going for it all on some of his passes because he sees Tate entrenching himself as a starter. He wants to prove that he to has a good arm so he is forcing it a bit too much as young QBs sometimes have a tendency of doing. He is trying to go for it all instead of just going for the short routes. Why I can't blame him for wanting to go big, I would prefer he gets some short passing in to get into a rhythm before he goes big.

Shalom Lansky

September 21st, 2009 at 10:41 AM ^

He throws the ball just fine in the game! He should really take some time on the PS3-360 and watch his virtual self tear it up, he just led my virtual Wolverines to the Rose Bowl (and a victory over OSU)!

BTW, did anyone else adjust his speed ratings? If he is clearly the fastest guy on the team (or equal with Brown) shouldn't his rating be higher than 90? Kind of embarrassing when d-linemen run him down on the way to the sideline. I'm in year 2 of a dynasty and D. Warren's speed is up at 94 while D-Rob is at 90, even V. Smith went to 92.


September 21st, 2009 at 10:41 AM ^

They may be calling passes for him, but the moment he decides that everyone is covered/a little pressure comes, he may decide to run.

I didn't get to see the EMU game (no cable) but I did hear it on the radio. Definitely against Western (small sample size against ND) I felt like they called passes for him, and then he'd tuck and run with the first chance.

I DO like the idea of giving him some timing routes to throw. Slants, bubble screens, etc. (HT: Nearly every commenter)


September 21st, 2009 at 10:46 AM ^

Denard doesn't understand the offense yet. It's either a called run or he wings it as hard as possible downfield. In the Wing-T offense in high school, his first "read" is the deepest receiver. When you're in high school, you can often get away with throwing that first read if you're a superior athlete.

Now that he's in college, he's still throwing to that deep receiver - or the called bubble screen - but he's not making the proper reads. I think he'll eventually get there and he does need passing reps. I agree with the OP here that calling designed runs probably isn't helping him much. The coaches have answered the question about whether he can run at this level.

The element of surprise only works for one play, for those of you thinking Rodriguez is trying to surprise future opponents. After he completes one deep pass, the surprise factor is gone. I'd much rather see him become adept at throwing the ball in the flow of the offense, because then defenses will be in a Catch-22.


September 21st, 2009 at 10:46 AM ^

His tendency to go deep might just be from high school, where he was always going for the deep ball. He still needs to learn the offense and how to progress down his reads. I don't think it really hurts us though, as a lot of his pass plays so far where in the pocket, and I think he will be the most dangerous on rollouts where he can suck defenders up and then loft it over. I can't recall them doing a lot of that, probably because they don't want to show their hand. I wouldn't worry about denard too much, he will develop better as a passer. Still, he probably won't wrestle the job from Tate, he'll be a playmaker we use to keep D's off balance, because he's such a threat for an explosive play everytime he touches the ball.

the fume

September 21st, 2009 at 10:50 AM ^

When all your drives end so quickly because of a mad touchdown run or an interception. I think he was actually out there for 5 drives or so...2 TDs, 2 INTs, and end of game. He's like Adam Dunn when it comes to true outcomes.


September 21st, 2009 at 11:20 AM ^

I, for one, am happy to have an instant touchdown good for any game against a bad MAC team.

Denard's abilities, as we saw, work much better against less gifted defenses. Moreso, I'd say, than Forcier's game. His moves probably won't burn Ohio State, but against Eastern Michigan, it's simply unfair.

It's all well and good to treat EMU like a glorified scrimmage against a scout team, but when we play these pushovers (Indiana is probably another one), we tend to go in with a "let's practice what we want to do against Ohio State" attitude while they're in a "winning this game would be the biggest thing to ever happen to our program" mindset. And then it's close, and we get nervous.

Too many of these games have gone from hoping we can get a big enough lead to play the kids, to having to actually play football in the 4th quarter. Or worse. Or kittens.

It's nice, then, to have a weapon that immediately trumps anything these teams want to do. Practicing the 1st down passing game is nice and all, but if any of these teams gets uppity, we simply deploy the "Okay, assholes, try and catch Shoelace" option.

I've got an idea here: why don't we start Denard against Indiana? His speed is a much bigger mismatch than the passing game. I think this is the perfect week to build a small passing package for him. Still, his speed is such a mismatch against Indiana, the real purpose is to let Robinson and his jets stake Michigan to an early and sizeable lead. Then Tate comes in and it's practice time.

Works great for the first series if Michigan gets the ball first. The downside to Robinson's game is that, whether by INT or WOAH!!!!, his drives tend to end very quickly. That means the defense doesn't get much rest. Time of possession isn't as important as some people make it out to be, but the sizeable difference in the EMU game, I think, was a direct cause of the Eagles' offensive acumen. Our D was flat-out tired, with lots of rotation bringing down the talent mean. EMU would have this long, sustained drive, then Michigan would get the ball and then


...and then out trots the D back on the field.

It's a problem with the spread philosophy. More possessions per game is good for the better team, yes, but if our possessions are short and theirs are long, our defense will be playing tired while theirs will be playing fresh, and that's a disadvantage.

Robinson's style is like spread philosophy in hyperdrive. In 18 carries, he has 3 TDs (1 in 6). In 8 passes, he has 2 INTs (1 in 4) Those are really small samples, but the message has been clear: one way or another, his drives don't last long.

Therefore, in general, (and until he picks up enough to run the entire offense) I think it's best to use him as a strike attacker when the defense is already rested (start of the game, beginning of the half, after a quick turnover).

Since he's high-risk, the beginning of games against stout defenses is a less rewarding scenario for him. But against crappy defenses (IU = 108th in YPG last year) the likelihood of him breaking loose for a TD is ludicrously high (e.g. he got 2 TDs in 3 carries last week). Since getting an early 3-TD lead in these games can be so useful (demoralizes the would-be upstart, lets us rest the starters and play for next week), why not let Shoelace do the early damage.


September 21st, 2009 at 11:23 AM ^

Denard Robinson's PER is NEGATIVE 6.10, and the coaches don't trust him to run the read option. He should NOT be starting an FBS game at quarterback. There's no way.