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Irish face ‘one of the best athletes’ in Robinson

Douglas Farmer | Thursday, September 9, 2010

In its first game, Notre Dame held Purdue’s Robert Marve, a dual-threat quarterback, in check, only giving up one play of more than 20 yards.

In Saturday’s game against Michigan, Notre Dame will face another dual-threat quarterback, one who was involved in three plays for more than 20 yards — 383 yards total — in a 30-10 win over Connecticut.

Wolverines sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson rushed for 197 yards and threw for 186 more in his first career start. He will pose a unique challenge to the Irish defense, from the defensive line to the secondary.

“He’s probably one of the best athletes we’re going to face,” Irish defensive line coach Mike Elston said.

With a quarterback as versatile as Robinson, Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said it is similar to playing against a team with an extra player.

“It’s a real challenge,” Diaco said. “He’s as talented as all the ball carriers on their team and on our team with the ball in his hands. When you think of him as a quarterback and not as a ball carrier, when he becomes a ball carrier it is like they have 12 guys.”

That being said, Diaco does not plan to alter his defensive approach in order to contain Robinson on the ground or in the air.

“There are no new defenses to put in, just a selection from what we already have,” Diaco said. “When a player shows up in an area with the ball, [our defense has] to be able to produce and make the play.”

A stable of swift receivers, including Martavious Odoms, supplemented Robinson’s playmaking.

“It’s not just [Robinson],” Diaco said. “I love [Odoms]. I’d love to coach [Odoms]. He’s like a little tiger out there. He’s just an animal.”

Odoms, Robinson and the rest of the Wolverines’ offense relied on speed to score against Connecticut. Diaco said he expects to slow the Wolverines down with his typical “gap-control.”

“They’ll punish you. Every one of their players has electric speed,” Diaco said. “We try to be sure that everybody has their proper gap fit and they understand their assignments. Each particular guy has his job to do in each particular call, and he has to do that job. [Nobody] can be looking for the football.”

Irish coach Brian Kelly expects Robinson to pose a threat, but he said he sees that threat beginning mostly through short-yardage attempts.

“Their offense, obviously, is set to run the football,” Kelly said. “Now, [Robinson will] throw the ball and he’s very accurate. Most of his throws are contained within five or 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, but if you fall asleep on him he can throw the ball over your head.”

Indeed, against Connecticut, Robinson completed only one pass for more than 16 yards. That one play, with sophomore receiver Terrence Robinson on the other end, went for 43 yards and set up Michigan’s final touchdown of the game, an 11-yard touchdown pass.

“He has a strong arm, throws a nice tight spiral and can make all the throws,” said Diaco, citing a game last year when Robinson, who played sparingly as a freshman last season, entered the game for one play solely to throw a deep pass.

The Irish defense will be able to handle Robinson and the Michigan offense, on one condition, Diaco said.

“All we are going to do is do the best we can in selecting from the menu of installations that we have and preparing the players mentally. Then, they need to clearly know their assignment and do their assignment the entire time.”