As if game film didn’t do enough justice, all Pat Fitzgerald has to do is open up a newspaper to know what kind of player Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson is.
The 6-foot, 193-pound junior has his name up for just about every postseason award—most notably, the Heisman Trophy.
"There's no question he's a special player,” Fitzgerald said of Robinson. “Denard is a Heisman Trophy candidate for a reason. He is explosive with his legs, he's made great decisions this year, from what I've seen on tape, with throwing the football. He's a difference maker no matter when he touches the ball.”
On the season, Robinson has racked up 14 total touchdowns, while rushing for 603 yards—good for fifth best in the nation. He has helped lead the Wolverines to a 5-0 start with many signature moments, including a fourth-quarter comeback against rival Notre Dame.
Northwestern is looking to upset Robinson and the unbeaten Wolverines when they clash under the lights at Ryan Field on Saturday. Any hopes for a Wildcat win revolve around containing Michigan's run-heavy offense, which features talent at each position. The nucleus of the offense is their quarterback.
“He’s without a doubt the most explosive player in the country and a very big key for their offense,” said NU defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz. “He’s one of the fastest, most explosive players and what’s making it tougher now is he’s throwing the ball better. It’s bad enough with his explosive running ability, but now he’s throwing it better. They got excellent speed at receiver, excellent running backs, and a veteran line. They’ve got a heck of a package.”
The Wildcats’ 82nd-ranked rush defense has a tough test ahead of them when Robinson and the Wolverines take the field. The unit has seen plenty of film showcasing the quarterback’s talents, now they just have to execute a gameplan.
“You need to be more aware of the quarterback,” said NU defensive end Tyler Scott. “Keep in your lanes, make sure your lanes are very focused, make sure you’re not getting too far up the field, make sure you get to the quarterback level, make a countermove, and keep him in the pocket.”
According to Pat Fitzgerald, the key to managing Robinson is simple—try to contain him. That, at least, gives the Wildcats a chance.
“You've got to be disciplined with what you do,” Fitzgerald said. “Then, you've got to incorporate some other guys. You've got to have multiple sets of eyes on him. You can't just expect your (defensive line), if you drop eight, to have just (a three-man rush). He's going to take too much advantage of it. It comes down to discipline, and I thought we did a pretty good job on Saturday, except for a couple of mental errors."
Fitzgerald is well aware of Denard Robinson’s talents. He will get a first-hand look at the Heisman Trophy contender on Saturday, though he already tagged Robinson with high regards.
Out of all the quarterbacks Fitzgerald has ever gameplanned for….
"He's the most explosive,” he said of Robinson. “Every time he touches the ball he can score a touchdown. He's just a dynamic playmaker.”