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Irish Insider: Freshman Forcier, Robinson pose dual threats at QB

Matt Gamber | Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Notre Dame defense should be confident as can be after shutting out a highly-touted Nevada offense led by one of the nation’s best dual-threat quarterbacks in Colin Kaepernick.

But one look at last week’s highlight reel – and specifically, the performances of Michigan freshmen quarterbacks Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson – might have the Irish defensive coaches and players a little worried once again.

“Between the two of those guys, you’ve got your hands full,” Irish coach Charlie Weis said. “I think if you’re overly aggressive, you could leave yourself vulnerable to what they do.”

Finding that balance – going after the quarterback without being reckless – could be the key to stopping Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez’s spread attack. Irish defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta is known for running an aggressive, blitzing defense that confuses opposing offenses, especially those with young quarterbacks – just look at Notre Dame’s 2007 opener, when Tenuta led a Georgia Tech defense that wreaked havoc on a trio of Irish signal-callers.

“I think that it will be interesting with some of the stuff that the defensive staff will throw at [Forcier],” Weis said. “It won’t be the same as it was last week, that’s all I can tell you.”

Irish linebacker and special teams captain Scott Smith said the defensive scheme is designed to put the opposition on its heels.

“That’s the plan,” Smith said. “We want to be aggressive, and really the goal is to execute what the coach is asking, and to play our defense.”

Though still a freshman, Forcier did get a head start by enrolling early and participating in spring drills with the Wolverines. Weis said that experience is one advantage Forcier possesses over a typical freshman quarterback – and it showed last week.

“Forcier had an impressive opener, showed a lot of poise for a freshman,” Weis said. “Good athlete, not only a strong arm, but more than that, he showed a lot of poise for his first game.”

Senior safety Kyle McCarthy echoed that sentiment, but he expressed confidence in Notre Dame’s ability to stop the freshman.

“One thing was that you couldn’t tell that it was his first collegiate game. He really ran that offense well,” McCarthy said. “You see plays where his instincts kind of took over after the play broke down.

“He’s got the ability and talent to take a game over. But I think our defense is pretty good, so it will be fun to watch on Saturday.”

Though Forcier will start for the second straight week, Rodriguez has again pledged to use Robinson with some regularity. Robinson led the Wolverines in rushing last week with 74 yards – including one SportsCenter-worthy scamper on his first collegiate snap – but Weis cautioned against labeling him as solely a runner.

“He’s fast and athletic, and he’s capable of making a big play every time he gets the ball in his hands,” Weis said. “Although he’s dynamic as a runner, he’s capable of throwing the ball as well.”

McCarthy said keeping gap responsibilities and maintaining defensive assignments are particularly crucial against a quarterback with Robinson’s athletic ability.

“First thing when you him on film is he has phenomenal speed,” McCarthy said. “You know, anything – he can take a ball and his first touchdown run was, I think, a broken play. So those guys have the ability to make something out of nothing, which is pretty special.”

Much like Notre Dame with Evan Sharpley, Michigan has a unique luxury with a third-string quarterback with competitive game experience. Redshirt junior Nick Sheridan started at times for the Wolverines last season, and he also received playing time in last week’s opener.

While Forcier and Robinson are surely the top two to watch heading into Saturday, Sheridan could be a factor if the youngsters struggle.

But as far as Notre Dame’s defensive preparation goes, much of the focus is on Forcier and Robinson.

“It’s going to be a challenge for us to shut down that offense, as you guys saw last week,” McCarthy said. “I think they’re really clicking on all cylinders. But that’s a challenge for our defense, and we’re excited to really take that to heart.”