- - Friday, December 30, 2011

Soon after the Sugar Bowl matchup was set, Virginia Tech free safety Eddie Whitley was bombarded by text messages about Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson.

Denard, Denard, Denard. That’s all I get,” Whitley said two weeks ago.

He didn’t need anyone to remind him.

The 6-foot, 195-pound Robinson is one of the most electrifying dual-threat quarterbacks in the country, and the Hokies know neutralizing him is the key to stopping the Wolverines’ offense.

“In this game, it’s all about stopping Denard Robinson,” Tech linebacker Jack Tyler said.

Tech and Michigan square off Tuesday at the Superdome in New Orleans. It was on that arena’s turf that Hokies quarterback Michael Vick wowed fans with his running and passing ability in a national championship game loss to Florida State in 2000.

Robinson, a Deerfield, Fla., native, said he doesn’t remember seeing that game. He was only 9 at the time, but he became a Vick fan later on.

He was inspired when he watched Vick play.

“I was just like, ‘Man, I want to be like this guy someday,’” Robinson said.

Robinson, who became the first quarterback in NCAA history to pass for at least 2,500 yards and rush for at least 1,500 in a single season in 2010, is certainly on his way.

His numbers are down from last year, but that’s because he has learned to rely more on his supporting cast in first-year offensive coordinator Al Borges’ system.

Robinson was the Wolverines’ chief rushing option last year when he gained 1,702 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground. This year, he and sophomore tailback Fitzgerald Toussaint have shared the rushing load.

Robinson has rushed for 1,163 yards and 16 touchdowns, and Toussaint has rushed for 1,011 yards and nine scores. By not having to carry the rushing burden, Robinson has taken fewer hits and learned to become a more complete quarterback.

“He’s had to make sacrifices,” Borges said. “He went from being a 1,700-yard rusher to being a 1,100-yard rusher. I told him from the beginning, from Day 1, that he wasn’t going to rush [as much], because we’re going to keep him in one piece if it killed us.”

“And he accepted that and really worked at developing other phases of his game.”

Robinson might be running less this year, but the Hokies still will be wary of his game-changing ability on the ground.

He has rushed for over 100 yards five times this season and has eclipsed the 200-yard mark three times in his career. He has touchdown runs of 41 and 53 yards this season.

Robinson has the ability to beat defenses with his arm, too. He’s been especially effective in the passing game since getting over an assortment of nagging injuries.

In Michigan’s three-game win streak to end the regular season, Robinson completed 69 percent of his passes for 439 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions. He also rushed for 283 yards and six touchdowns.

“If you don’t pressure him in the passing game, he can buy time and create plays because he is a good enough thrower to make some plays,” Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “But I still think our success has to come from us being able to stop the run and make him one-dimensional. But that’s a hard job to do. Nobody has really had success doing that all year.”

Robinson can beat a defense in many ways. Foster is hoping to slow him down just enough.

“He’s just a dangerous player,” Foster said. “I don’t know if you can just shut him down per se, but we’ll try our best.”

Read about the Hokies at VTeffect.com

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