ANN ARBOR, MICH. (AP) - Denard Robinson’s dazzling day was witnessed by the largest crowd to watch a football game and by many more on television.
Michigan’s speedy quarterback with a solid arm and catchy nickname is about to take his talents to a bigger stage.
Robinson and the Wolverines, coming off a season-opening rout over Connecticut, will play rival Notre Dame in its iconic stadium on network TV with millions tuning in Saturday to see if he can duplicate his first start.
“I just have to stay focused,” he said.
Good luck, Shoelace.
Robinson created a buzz by running for 197 yards and a touchdown and throwing for 186 yards and another score in a 30-10 win against the Huskies.
His head-turning speed, savvy in the pocket and accurate arm encouraged 113,090 fans at the Big House and embattled coach Rich Rodriguez.
College football’s winningest team desperately needed a star to emerge this season after a pair of miserable years stunted enthusiasm about the Wolverines. Doubts had been raised about whether Rodriguez’s spread offense could work for the team after Bo Schembechler and two of his assistants, Gary Moeller and Lloyd Carr, led the program to success for decades with offenses that were more traditional.
Rodriguez’s ways have worked at every stop he’s made from Glenville State to West Virginia.
Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly is well aware of what is coming, but says Robinson makes Rodriguez’s scheme tough to stop.
“If you look at Rich Rodriguez’s quarterback situation, with Pat White obviously, he’s had some extraordinarily gifted quarterbacks,” Kelly said Sunday. “That’s what makes it the most difficult because you are isolating one-on-one a linebacker, a defensive end, on a quarterback who is not just a quarterback, he’s a great athlete.”
Connecticut coach Randy Edsall lost to Rodriguez in all four meetings when he led West Virginia and had a flashback of sorts during his fifth straight loss to him.
“I would say that Rich would feel very, very comfortable with this guy at quarterback because this is what Rich did when we played him at West Virginia with Pat White,” Edsall said. “I’m not saying that he’s Pat White because Pat was pretty good, but with time I think that this young man will have a chance to become a very good quarterback.”
Rodriguez acknowledged how Robinson played reminded him of some of White’s performances with the Mountaineers.
“Yeah, he runs fast,” Rodriguez said. “Very similar to Pat, Denard really showed a sense of feel and maturity. The game may be fast for everybody else, but it’s slowing down for him.”
Robinson said Connecticut tried to slow him down by taking off his shoes in pileups.
The sophomore from Deerfield Beach, Fla., has been known as Shoelace since he was 7 because he never ties the laces on his cleats. Robinson wasn’t known to all as Michigan’s No. 1 QB until he took the first snap Saturday at his 4.
He rolled left and threw a strike to the flat on his first pass and sprinted for 9 yards on his first run, setting up a 14-play, 96-yard touchdown drive. On his second possession, he ran for a 32-yard TD to put him over the 100-yard mark en route to setting a rushing record for a Michigan QB.
“I knew I had to play well or somebody else would take the snaps,” Robinson said.
Robinson carried the ball 29 times _ mostly by design _ and said a shot to his hip was what knocked him out of the game briefly.
“I’m a tough guy,” he said. “I’m not changing anything.”
Rodriguez said “stay tuned,” when asked if Robinson earned the start against Notre Dame. But barring an injury, seeing Devin Gardner or Tate Forcier under center for the first snap against Notre Dame would be stunning.
Rodriguez lost a school-record nine games in his debut season in Ann Arbor without a quarterback who fit his read-option scheme and was forced to play freshmen last year, turning a 4-0 start into a 5-7 flop.
UConn, though, was the first team to find out Rodriguez has a player under center who can do what he wants with his feet and arm.
“It’s a totally different team because of the quarterback,” Edsall said.
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