Denard Robinson, 0-2 against Michigan State, looks to solve Spartans' defense
ANN ARBOR -- Denard Robinson can make magic happen when the ball is in his hands.
Other times, that magic turns black -- especially against good defenses.
Michigan State has a good defense, and a track record for shutting down Robinson. The Michigan quarterback is 0-2 as a starter against the Spartans, and was neutralized both times.
No. 23 Michigan (4-2, 2-0) rekindles its rivalry with the Spartans (4-3, 1-2) on Saturday in Ann Arbor (3:30 p.m., BTN).
"That's a great football team," Robinson said, when asked why he has struggled against MSU. "They got great athletes and are well-coached. We just got to play Michigan football and, last year, we didn't play Michigan football.
"The year before, we didn't (either). So we got to step it up and get ready to play ball."
Michigan State's defensive style against Robinson can be described in a word: Aggressive.
The Spartans came after Robinson last year with an array of risky blitzes, particularly corner and double-A gap blitzes. Those pressures are effective at getting to the quarterback and stopping the run, with the risk being it leaves soft spots in the secondary.
They basically dared Robinson to beat them with the pass, and he failed, finishing 9-of-24 passing for 123 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He rushed for just 42 yards on 18 carries.
His 2.3 yards per carry were his fewest of the regular season.
Michigan lost 28-14, after falling 34-17 in 2010.
The Wolverines average 15.5 points against the Spartans with Robinson as their starter, and 34.4 points against everyone else.
Robinson, though, thinks he's better equipped to face Michigan State now that he has played two games against that defense.
He's playing his most complete football of the year, after guiding Michigan to 44-13 and 44-0 routs of Purdue and Illinois, respectively, the past two weeks.
Michigan has re-emphasized the run, racking up 657 rushing yards the past two weeks. Robinson accounted for 363 of those yards, and now leads the Big Ten in rushing.
"He’s got something a lot of people don’t have," coach Brady Hoke said. "His ability to start and stop, and then accelerate, and his vision is pretty good. He’s got a good burst.
As the rushes go up, the passes have come down. Robinson attempted just 27 of them the last two weeks, after averaging 24.8 passes per game in the first four weeks.
When Michigan has gone to the air, it has favored short routes. That has helped to reduce the risk for interceptions, which have plagued Robinson this year and in his career against Michigan State (four in two games as a starter).
He doesn't have a pick the past two weeks, the first time that's happened since the first half of 2010, his first season as starter.
"I think we had success running the ball, and that's the key," Robinson said of the new-look offense. "Offensive line is blocking well and that's the key to us winning right now.
"We're just going out there and playing football. Whatever our coach calls, we're going to run it."
But Michigan State, for all its ails, still fields an elite defense. It ranks No. 1 in the Big Ten in scoring defense, total defense and rush defense.
This game, then, could boil down to Michigan's ability to sustain its rushing attack against the league's best rush defense.
Robinson has been bottled about against Michigan State, but remains capable of breaking off a long run at any moment. He has eight rushes of at least 30 rushes this year, which leads the country.
"The next one," he said.
Will that be this week?