Column: Denard Robinson slow to earn Michigan embrace
T he University of Michigan has a football history so long that even one of its minor Big Ten rivalries — such as the one against Minnesota that will be rekindled on Saturday (noon, Big Ten Network) — is dignified by a unique trophy. (This week’s coveted artifact is a century-old brown jug.)
Into this hidebound Midwest football bastion comes Denard Robinson, the Wolverines’ dreadlocked, run-first quarterback from the coastal urban sprawl north of Miami.
Since he became the starter for No. 19-ranked Michigan (4-0) last season, Robinson has shown that there are few passers like him. In 2011, he has rushed almost as many times (71) as he has thrown (72). The junior already is in the top 15 in school history for rushing touchdowns (24), 100-yard games (12) and yards (2,605).
His improvisational, fearless scampers — always with his shoelaces untied — are beyond even Michael Vick territory. Intrigued NFL teams wonder what position he should play in the pros.
Meanwhile, along with the most wins in college football, Michigan has produced a series of effective, immobile NFL quarterbacks to which Wolverine fans — 110,000-plus of them each Saturday in the Big House — have become accustomed: Jim Harbaugh, Elvis Grbac, Brian Griese, Tom Brady and Chad Henne, to name a few.
But for all his gains — he is fourth in the nation with 552 yards — Robinson is an undeveloped passer with a 48.6% passing completion percentage. Essentially, the 6-0, 195-pound Robinson is Allen Iverson at quarterback: cat-quick, unlikely to pass — and prone to turnovers when he tries.
And yet, around Ann Arbor, Mich., Robinson gets little credit for the sublime skills that differentiate him from previous Michigan QBs.
Last Saturday, during a 28-7 victory over San Diego State, Robinson gained 200 yards on 21 carries — three of them for touchdowns. Reporters and fans instead lasered in on his 8-for-17 passing for 93 yards, two interceptions and zero scores.
In response, Robinson displayed a cheerful, relaxed manner unfamiliar to the world of Big Ten stoicism.
“I’m not too mad at myself, because my teammates keep telling me I’ll be all right,” he said, smiling.
The eight-game conference schedule, starting Saturday, will determine whether Michigan fans, at last, will smile along with him.
Max J. Dickstein is amNewYork’s sports editor.
NCAA football: Week 5 highlights
(14) Texas A&M vs. (18) Arkansas, at Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas, noon ESPN
Michigan State at Ohio State, 3:30 p.m. ABC
Auburn at (10) South Carolina, 3:30 p.m. CBS
(13) Clemson at (11) Virginia Tech, 6 p.m. ESPN2
(3) Alabama at (12) Florida, 8 p.m. CBS
(8) Nebraska at (7) Wisconsin, 8 p.m. ABC/ESPN