Denard Robinson grew up revering Virginia Tech's quarterback tradition, but it also might hurt him
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
The Wolverines' electrifying quarterback grew up idolizing Michael Vick, who led the Hokies to the 1999 national championship game and helped cement the program's place among college football's elite.
"It looked like he was playing against little kids," Robinson said recently, laughing. "He was a man amongst little kids, it seemed. I rooted for him."
The flip side of playing like Vick, though, is Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer and defensive coordinator Bud Foster are familiar with that style. In fact, Beamer said the Hokies could have an edge in game planning for next month's Sugar Bowl (8:30 p.m. Jan. 3, ESPN) because of the long list of mobile quarterbacks his program has featured.
That includes Vick, Bryan Randall, last year's starter Tyrod Taylor and current starter Logan Thomas, who gives the Hokies' defense plenty of reps against a quarterback who moves well.
"The highlights I've seen, (Robinson) can go," Beamer said shortly after the matchup was announced earlier this month. "Us having that type of guy gives us some experience, but it all goes back to the players being able to tackle the guy when you get him there."
Although Robinson has drawn comparisons to Vick, Foster likens Robinson more to Taylor. The former Hokie and current Baltimore Ravens quarterback began his career as a run-first player before evolving into a more balanced signal-caller.
Robinson underwent a similar transition this year under offensive coordinator Al Borges.
Foster said Robinson might be even better than Taylor, who was the ACC Player of the Year last season and a sixth-round NFL draft choice.
"(He's) faster, more explosive with his feet than Tyrod was," Foster said at a news conference Saturday. "He’s basically another tailback in the backfield, and we have to do a good job of negating his abilities to create big plays and explosive plays."
Robinson has rushed 208 times this season for 1,163 yards, which trails only Northern Illinois' Chandler Harnish nationally among quarterbacks. He is 133-for-237 passing (56.1 percent) for 2,056 yards and accounted for 34 total touchdowns.
He led the Big Ten in total offense.
"Let me say this about Denard: He’s probably the most athletic, dynamic athlete at that position in the country," Foster said.
Foster said Robinson also is similar to the quarterbacks Virginia Tech faced when former Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez was at West Virginia.
The Hokies' defensive coordinator has faced seven Rodriguez-led offenses (including two when Rodriguez was the offensive coordinator at Clemson), and had success. He went 5-2 against Rodriguez and allowed just 15.7 points per game.
That includes an impressive 34-17 win in 2005, when Foster's defense thumped a West Virginia offense that featured quarterback Pat White and tailback Steve Slaton. The Mountaineers were 11-1 that year, their lone loss coming to the Hokies.
Now, Foster will try to replicate those results against Michigan with another stingy defense that allows 17.2 points per game, seventh best in the country. Rodriguez is gone, but his protege, Robinson, and remnants of his spread-option offense remain.