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Posted on Sun, Sep 4, 2011 : 7:52 p.m.

Breaking down how Denard Robinson was used in Michigan's football opener

By Kyle Meinke


Denard Robinson dodges a Western Michigan player in a 34-10 win Saturday at Michigan Stadium. It was the junior quarterback's first game in offensive coordinator Al Borges' system.

Angela J. Cesere |

What does Denard Robinson look like in the pro-style offense?

A lot like Denard Robinson in the spread-option offense — so far, at least.

After an offseason of speculation about how much Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges would tailor his West Coast offense to his junior quarterback, and vice versa, the Wolverines came out of the chute resembling last year's spread look in a few ways.

Here’s how Robinson’s day broke down in Saturday’s 34-10 win against Western Michigan: 26 shotgun sets (68.4 percent of total plays), 12 from under center, only four pass plays from under center and seven designed runs (plus one scramble on a pass play).

The good news: Robinson operated Michigan's offense with proficiency, no matter the look.

“Coach called the plays, and I was ready,” Robinson said after the game. “I didn’t know what to expect, to be honest with you. We were just out there ready to play with all our plays.

“Whatever they called, I was just ready.”

Borges’ play calling bent heavily toward shotgun and spread-type plays early in the game.

On the Wolverines’ opening drive, Robinson operated from the shotgun 12 times, and from under center only four times — none of which were pass plays. Their first five plays were shotgun looks.

“We just had a plan, and Al had a plan that he thought it would be successful against what they did defensively,” coach Brady Hoke said. “Denard is always going to have a hand in what we do. No. 1, he’s the quarterback, but secondly, because of his ability to run with the football.”

Hoke said the staff wanted to establish a rhythm and comfort level for Robinson, who took snaps almost exclusively out of the shotgun last year and ran 19.7 times per game.

It worked.

Michigan's first offensive possession of 2011 was an efficient 16-play, 76-yard drive that ended with a Fitz Toussaint touchdown run and consumed 8 minutes, 33 seconds.

Robinson was flawless on the drive. He had four carries — all designed runs, although one appeared to be an audible — for 26 yards. Each run resulted in a first down.

He also completed all five of his passes.

The first play, which was scripted, was a quarterback sweep on which Robinson gained 11 yards.

“Al and I had talked, and he was going to start the game with the 38/39 sweep, the quarterback sweep,” Hoke said of the first play.

Hoke indicated earlier in the week he thought Borges, who handles the playcalling, would begin the game with a power run. That did not happen.

“That was a comfort level, probably,” Hoke said of the quarterback sweep. “You want (Robinson) to feel good.”

Michigan’s second drive was a three-and-out, with each play a shotgun look. One play was a designed run for Robinson.

It wasn’t until the Wolverines began their third drive, with 6:06 left in the first half, that they started dipping into more of the traditional pro-style sets — and they were just as successful as the shotgun plays.

They constructed a nine-play, 74-yard touchdown drive that featured only three shotgun looks and six sets from under center. It also included Robinson’s first three passes from under center, with varying results.

One ended in a pass interference call, one was a clumsy three-step drop that ended with a nice 10-yard completion to junior receiver Roy Roundtree and the third was a deep drop on which no one was open. He tucked it and ran, picking up 12 yards on a skillful dash through the heart of Western Michigan’s defense.

All told, Hoke — who has no hand in the play calling and, in fact, was seen without a headset for stretches against Western Michigan — was pleased with the balance that Borges struck offensively.

“I think we were in and out of spread enough,” Hoke said. “I think with (Michael) Shaw’s run and I think Fitz a couple times, he pounded it up with the power play — those were good also.”

Toussaint gained 80 yards on 11 carries and scored two touchdowns in his debut as Michigan’s lead tailback. Shaw added 55 yards on only four carries, and scored on a 44-yard touchdown run.

But Robinson was the steady force behind them.

He finished 9-of-13 passing for 98 yards and rushing eight times for 46 yards. Not counting a couple poor throws late in the game, when the rains cascaded violently, Robinson played relatively mistake-free, despite all he’s been asked to learn.

“I still got some learning to do, got to get better,” he said after the game. “But I enjoyed it.”

Kyle Meinke covers Michigan football for He can be reached at 734-623-2588, by email at and followed on Twitter @kmeinke.



Tue, Sep 6, 2011 : 2:16 p.m.

This is work in progress. There will be a different game plan for each opponent. That means Denard will look a little different in each game. His job is to basically manage the offense and not make any mistakes. He did not throw a pick vs WMU, he may not have busted a long run for a TD but came close the breaking a tackle. One other positve, he did not get banged up like he did in every game last year. I would rather see him get off the a slower start this year. Lest we forget, there are 11 games to go and our schedule will get tougher in October and even tougher in Novemeber. It remainds me of training for and then running a marathon, and the marathon course has more steep and long grade hills in the latter portion. Denard will be fine, he's always a big threat to break one open.


Tue, Sep 6, 2011 : 12:36 p.m.

Watching Inside Michigan Football yesterday Jim Brandstatter and Brady Hoke confirmed that many plays (the long Toussaint and Shaw runs for example came out of the spread. I don't believe that those comments are an editorial comment do you? Why can't the coaches use what works? I suspect we will see more spread and more pro style next week as the main thing is to win games and advance the team. The article did not claim that Robinson carried the day, the article was not a complete run down of the game but an article on how Denard Robinson performed,, a topic of interest for one or two people but perhaps not the residents of Washtenaw County?


Tue, Sep 6, 2011 : 2:28 a.m.

I agree it looked a lot like the offense of last year. It's beginning to be clear that Denard Robinson will not become the passer we all hoped he would be, and running is his forte (or maybe they're saving his passing for later). It's too early to draw conclusions on this season based on the first game, versus Western Michigan especially. They'll obviously show off a lot more vs. Notre Dame next week.


Fri, Sep 9, 2011 : 5:57 p.m.

You're judging his passing versus WESTERN MICHIGAN. This should not be an indicator of him being a good passer if he was 9/13 versus WESTERN MICHIGAN. If his passing truly improved, you'd imagine he could carve up Western Michigan like most Big 10 teams do to MAC schools. But obviously, you see that Michigan decided to run the ball more rather than let Denard sling it. I know you're probably one of the people who has faith in Denard Robinson as a passer, but that's becoming clearly evident that it is not who he is and not who he will become. Did you see the amount of QB runs vs. QB passes? Did you really just get excited over 13 pass attempts through 3 quarters?


Tue, Sep 6, 2011 : 3:54 a.m.

How does a 9 for 13 performance on a day when the running game was clicking translate to "It's beginning to be clear that Denard Robinson will not become the passer we all hoped he would be"? 9 for 13. That's a 69% completion percentage. What do you want from the kid?

Chad Williams

Mon, Sep 5, 2011 : 8:31 p.m.

I think it was a warm up game. Thats why they were scheduled to be the first game. The biggest concern is the d-line. They got no push the first half at all. The only mistake wmu made was the two blitzes that went for touchdowns. Mich d line got no pressure on the QB and really didnt assert its self as this physically imposing line that will stop a big ten rushing attack. Nice to see the defense make plays and get turnovers but if this team has to rush 7-8 guys to bring pressure then this defense will be in trouble. Better O-lines are ahead of this team. This offense wants to be a tempo controlled team but their going to have throw the ball vertically more to beat ND. Can't afford to punt and settle for fgs. ND lost but 500 yards and 5 turnovers has them feeling like they should of won that game. They know they can move the ball and against mich at that.


Mon, Sep 5, 2011 : 8:14 p.m.

It has been mentioned and it has been talked about, but it was so obvious that it needs to be addressed immediately. Special teams on kick offs sucked. Michigan may as well try on-side kicks instead of kick offs, the field position will be the same.


Mon, Sep 5, 2011 : 7:44 p.m.

"How Denard Robinson was used in Michigan's football opener...." Pretty much the same way all college football players are used by their institutions: to help make huge amounts of money for athletic programs, risking losing any future prospects to a serious concussion or a blown-out knee, while receiving nothing close to fair monetary compensation for the revenue they generate.

Blu n Tpa

Tue, Sep 6, 2011 : 12:45 p.m.

"Monetary compensation"? What value do you put on his college education? How about all the coaching he is now getting to make himself more profitable after college? Plus it's a proven fact that college teams are supported regardless of who's playing on them. (Success helps for it's not THE overriding factor.) Remember these young people only have four years of eligibility, five depending on redshirt status, so it's not like the school can keep them forever. And then you seem to forget about the vast majority, 98% +/- that are in school to prepare them for life after sports. Life is about choices and college helps teach young people to make better choices. Playing sports is a decision the person makes for themselves. Don't want to get hurt? Don't play, just go to class. (BTW do you know keepingitreal?) TiM Go Blue!


Mon, Sep 5, 2011 : 6:03 p.m.

It's one game, the first game, against a nothing team, and skewed by insane weather and missing the entire final quarter. There really isn't much to be taken away from this game. Remember, people... Michigan allowed just 10 points to UConn last year and was +1 in turnover margin. We all know what happened next.


Mon, Sep 5, 2011 : 2:38 p.m.

Hoke would be a fool, not to try and get Robinson in the open field running the ball. With the recruits of the Rich rod era, they are not going to be able to play "smash mouth" football. I think the early runs of Denard, were "safe" plays. Anyways, Western Michigan is not an opponent to be judging this team by. They are going to have to step it up for Big Ten play.


Mon, Sep 5, 2011 : 2:55 p.m.

Hoke is no fool.


Mon, Sep 5, 2011 : 12:25 p.m.

Denard: Did ok but need more razzle-dazzle flashy pays in order to win Heisman and Crystal. (Grade: C-) Scoreboards: Bigger but size of actual screen is still the same, AND now they don't even show the stats. Plus, still no scores of other games until they put them up there and announcer guy reads them for us - utterly ridiculous. (Grade: D-) Hoke: End of 2nd quarter and he takes knee, eating his 3 timeouts. Lloyd would have given him an A+++ for this. (Real grade: F) Drinking fountains: Got to one at halftime and the water was HOT. Not warm, mind you, but like the HOT in your shower! Saw real little kids and older ladies and gentlemen nearly in tears when they got up to the fountain expecting cold relief and instead were welcomed with a David Brandon Blast of Scald-O to the lips and face. (Can just imagine him watching on closed circuit TV and snickering as the crying tot drags his dad over to the $4 water stand, and a 40 minute wait!) (Grade: F-)


Tue, Sep 6, 2011 : 2:23 p.m.

Jim Brandstatter had Dave Brondon on at the start of his locker room post game show to which DB said something about the computer that generates the game stats was not working and they would have much more game stats up for the next game. I was very dissappointed not seeing anything more than the clock, score, down and yds to go. Yes, the water was really hot at the drinking fountains at the stadium, but I kept thinking, it is still wet and better than paying $4 for a bottle of it. I have a real issue with our beloved Athletic Dept new polies about taking in bottled water. Something I will have an issue with for a long time, other than that...Go Blue!!!


Mon, Sep 5, 2011 : 4:57 p.m.

You're OK in my book, Don. (Next, we need to work on that little 1st down fella...)


Mon, Sep 5, 2011 : 3:38 p.m.

I do embrace the modern era ... just not as your "King" manifested it. His reign was an abject failure. The simple truth is the Big 10 will *not* get the elite talent in sufficient quantity to be like the top teams in the SEC. Just not going to happen. That talent will stay where they were raised ... particularly true when the "local" teams (Alabama, LSU, Florida, Auburn) are good year after year. The "spread" (as you envision it) is only good if you have the talent to implement it properly. Otherwise you get what RR produced -- a mediocre to bad team. And even if you're a team like Oregon, that offensive scheme can only go so far ... as we witnessed by LSU just spanking them with superior strength and agility. What we're going to see in the Big 10 is what you see Hoke / Borges trying to implement -- a hybrid system where ball control and power is available (because that's needed during poor weather) with whatever speed and athleticism they can get during recruiting. I'm perfectly relaxed. And I don't think Notre Dame is going to mop us up.


Mon, Sep 5, 2011 : 3 p.m.

It was pretty boring, my son. Just like I predicted. ND will trounce us unless Hoke (Brutus Beefcake) and Borges (King Kong Bundy) step it up. Love your comments, Don. You're a Big Blue fan, like me. But you just gotta embrace the modern era, then you'll be able to relax...


Mon, Sep 5, 2011 : 2:29 p.m.

By the way ... what did you think of the 100% under center off-tackle offense ... you know, the one you predicted Borges would run? Hmmm?


Mon, Sep 5, 2011 : 2:25 p.m.

Your "ideal team" concept -- Oregon -- kinda got spanked, didn't they? Did you read the reports of that game? LSU's offense line dominated. Strength overcomes quickness.


Mon, Sep 5, 2011 : 10 a.m.

only first game. some good some needs work. overall i think they did fine. just remember when you went to work the first day on the job. little bit tight. i think you will see a little improvement each week. they should do fine. how many i have no idea. but imporvement is what i am looking for. oh yes kick msu and osu you know what!


Mon, Sep 5, 2011 : 8:06 a.m.

Nice summary, Kyle, thanks. Good stats breakdown. I like the way the coaches are easing Denard into the new offensive scheme. He's expected to QB (read: lead) the offense, not carry it all on his own back. He did indeed seem a steadying force. He'll do okay as long as he doesn't try to force his passes.


Mon, Sep 5, 2011 : 3:12 a.m.

It's Nice to see Denard don't have to carry Michigan every game. The defence handle its own this game.. GO BLUE!


Mon, Sep 5, 2011 : 2:09 a.m.

i'm starting to get real excited about this team. shoelace is definitely a leader and doesn't need video game stats to sooth his ego. the coaches know what they have in denard and don't have to try to fit square peg into round hole to sooth their ego's either. the first drive by western had me a little nervous but after that they settled down and brought the wood. 10 wins is not out of the question.

um ann arbor fan

Mon, Sep 5, 2011 : 1:56 a.m.

Let me get this straight, roughly 110,000 fans at the game yesterday... add in Washtenaw county folks who were listening on radio, internet or watching this game for themselves on TV. Ann wants to sell newspapers to this area (or maybe not). So how is it that I am reading about how similar the game was to games under Rich Rodriguez. ABOVE THE FOLD, on the front page of the paper this morning. This piece should be in the op/ed section of Lansing or Columbus. Where did you get this guy and how did the decision get made to lead with this piece?? I could not disagree more with the opinions of this writer. Denard did not carry the game yesterday like last year. This team looks nothing like anything we saw the last 3 years. If you don't know Wolverine football, why are you writing like you do??? If you don't know Wolverine fooltball, why are you an editor for the Ann Arbor paper?? Hint: you could maybe sell more papers in this town if you get it right. Just a thought.


Mon, Sep 5, 2011 : 2:04 a.m.

WTH are you talking about? Strategy for selling newspapers is what you decide to comment on? I thought Kyle summed it up pretty accurately. I watched the game and saw it played out how he described. "um ann arbor fan" or writer for a competing newspaper perhaps?


Mon, Sep 5, 2011 : 2:03 a.m.

Wow. No need to go all Brian Kelly on the guy.