Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson chases NCAA record held by former Air Force QB Beau Morgan
Photo courtesy Air Force Academy
Still, it’s been hard for him to ignore Denard Robinson.
“He’s just been a spectacular player,” Morgan said Thursday. “He’s getting huge chunks of yardage, and using his speed in a system that’s perfect for his skills.”
Beau knows dual-threat quarterbacks.
As the leader of the Air Force offense in the mid-1990s, he perfected the team’s triple-option offense. As a senior in 1996, he ran it so well that he set the NCAA's FBS record for rushing yards by a quarterback in a single season.
Fifteen seasons later, that mark of 1,494 stands.
Robinson, currently the nation’s leading rusher, could surpass it as early as this Saturday when the Wolverines face Purdue (12:01 p.m., Big Ten Network) at Ross-Ade Stadium.
With 1,349 rushing yards, Robinson trails Morgan by 145 yards. Through nine games, Robinson is averaging 149.9 yards per game.
Concussion-like symptoms sidelined him for the fourth quarter and three overtime periods against Illinois last week, but Michigan coaches expect Robinson to start Saturday.
Robinson has run for at least 100 yards in seven of nine games this season and rushed for more than 145 yards four times. Even if he misses the mark this weekend, he’ll presumably have three more chances to reach it in two remaining regular-season games and a bowl appearance.
“I wish him the best,” Morgan said. “I hope he does break it. From my perspective, it would be an honor for someone of that caliber to take it over.”
For Morgan, who spends most of his time working as a senior vice president for Colorado-based Woodmoor Group, the surprise isn’t that Robinson has the record in his sights. It’s that no one has challenged it sooner.
Since he set the record, not only have college teams added a 12th game to their schedules, the spread offense has proliferated throughout college football, placing an emphasis on quarterbacks who can run.
It wasn’t that way when Morgan started his college career.
Much like Robinson, most schools viewed him as an athlete more than a quarterback during the recruiting process. But he was determined to play quarterback. He had a handful of options in Syracuse, Vanderbilt and the service academies.
In Fisher DeBerry’s offense at Air Force, he found a home, albeit one where he needed to adjust to a more complex passing game at the college level, as well as the rigors of carrying 25 times per game.
“The challenge is to have the aggressive mindset that you want to run the ball and, at the same time, on the next play, having the composure and discernment to sit in the pocket and deliver a strike,” he said.
“Those are two different mentalities, and you have to mentally have some flexibility in switching back and forth.”
Morgan had that flexibility, carrying 594 times for 3,379 times over the course of his career. He became the first player in NCAA history to rush and pass for more than 1,000 yards in a single season twice.
He paid a price for being the workhorse, one that will sound familiar to Michigan fans already accustomed to watching Robinson’s weekly encounters with team trainers. “The fact is you’re going to take a beating along the way,” Morgan said. “I can remember toward the end of my senior year, I didn’t practice a whole lot. I had a hamstring injury. Something else came up. There were a couple of weeks where I barely took any reps.”
Robinson can empathize. Although he’s started all nine games for Michigan this year, he’s only completed three full games. He’s played through lingering knee and shoulder injuries, and added dizziness to his medical list last week.
In that sense, Robinson’s pursuit of the record is about staying on the field as much as it is accumulating the statistics.
“It’s almost a test of endurance,” Morgan said.