Michigan QB Denard Robinson going back to basics in passing game
ANN ARBOR -- Denard Robinson celebrated his 22nd birthday by throwing four picks -- on consecutive throws -- against Notre Dame. He later added a fumble, and was the biggest reason Michigan lost that game.
He called it the worst performance of his career, and the most disappointing day of his life. He apologized to fans, and later his team.
And then he had two weeks to think about all of it.
The bye week was well-placed for the Wolverines, who needed to get healthy and self evaluate after a 2-2 start. But for Robinson, it couldn't have come at a worse time.
"I wanted to get going right after that," Robinson said after Tuesday's practice. "When you lose, you want to get back in the game. So (it) kind of came at the wrong time for me, it seemed like. But it's all good.
"Got to grow from it and make the most of it."
That starts with getting back to the basics.
Robinson was repeatedly praised in the offseason by coaches and players for his development in the passing game. That included correcting mechanical issues, especially his footwork, and improving his ability to read defenses.
That was expected to curb the turnover issues that plagued him last season.
Instead, Robinson has eight picks through four games and is on pace to exceed last year's total of 15. He has thrown the third-most interceptions in the country, despite having last week off.
"The biggest thing about that situation is getting back to some of the basics of reading the defense and making good decisions and things like that," offensive coordinator Al Borges said. "I think that’s really the biggest factor. A couple footwork issues that hadn’t shown up until that game too much."
So, it's back to basics.
For starters: Learning to throw away the ball.
It seems elementary enough. When a defense bears down on Robinson in the passing game -- and that's been the go-to defense of late against Michigan -- he can just chuck the ball into the stands.
Or at least use his physical gifts to tuck and run.
Yet, that has been a difficult task for Robinson. He forced the ball into tight coverage several times against Notre Dame when under duress, and tossed one pick that, if it wasn't intercepted by Manti Te'o, likely would have been picked off by another defender.
"There were a couple plays where I tried to do too much," he said. "I could have just easily thrown the ball away and we could have punted the ball. There was one throw for sure that I threw to (receiver Jeremy) Gallon, Manti Te'o picked the ball off, I know I could have just thrown the ball away and cut the losses."
What goes through Robinson's head when he heaves the ball under pressure?
"You're just in the heat of the battle and you thinking you can make something happen," he said. "That's all."
Robinson acknowledged it's hard for him to learn to throw away the ball, because he's used to being able to make plays. Borges is trying to break him of the habit.
"You gotta understand that he’s been the dominant force in the (previous) two Notre Dame games," Borges said. "I think that he feels some of that, whether it’s spoken or unspoken. As coaches, we have to reel him in a little bit.
"But he’s going to be fine. I really believe he’s going to be fine. He’s shown some great progress going into that game. The good thing about it is you do have two weeks to remember your problems. We just take the turnovers out. We’re going to be fine. We did some good things in that game. It wasn’t hard to find good plays in that game.
"Problem was it just wasn’t hard to find bad ones either."
Robinson has had time to reflect on the game, pour over the film and try to move forward. He thinks he's made progress toward becoming a more capable passer.
But that idleness also has been hard for him.
“It lasted for days because I felt I let my teammates down and I have to be accountable,” Robinson said. “I have to be accountable to my team and that’s not throwing interceptions, that’s playing my role on the football team. Knowing that it’s OK to throw the ball away, knowing it’s OK to take a sack sometimes, knowing it’s a good play to punt sometimes.
"I’ve got to start making better decisions as a quarterback and be accountable for the team.”