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Michigan’s Denard Robinson adjusts to new offense under Brady Hoke

Andrew Owens | Thursday, September 8, 2011

In his inaugural season as Michigan coach, Brady Hoke is relying on junior quarterback Denard Robinson to display some of the explosiveness that transformed the undersized quarterback into a Heisman candidate last September, due in large part to his performance at Notre Dame Stadium in a 28-24 Michigan victory.

“They have another player detached,” Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said. “You have to respect that. It’s not like Wildcat — there is a loose player who can throw the ball … You kind of feel like they have 12 [players].”

Diaco learned firsthand just how dangerous a quarterback like Robinson can be when the Irish defense allowed 502 yards of total offense to the Michigan signal-caller in 2010, including the longest run in Notre Dame Stadium history, an 87-yard scamper that gave the Wolverines a 21-7 lead just before halftime.

Robinson’s challenge this season has been adjusting to a new offense — a pro-style system, compared to the spread that Robinson thrived in last year. In Michigan’s rain-shortened 34-10 win over Western Michigan Saturday, Robinson completed 9-of-13 passes for 98 yards and carried the ball eight times for 46 yards, tame numbers compared to what he was regularly posting last year.

Despite the numbers, Hoke said he felt Robinson had a strong grasp of the offense in the win.

“I thought he made good decisions,” Hoke said. “He threw the ball well. It was good to see some vertical runs by [running backs] Fitz [Toussaint] and Michael [Shaw] when he was in there.

“But I thought he felt comfortable. I thought his timing on — I think there was an out to the field to [Jeremy] Gallon that was well-timed and well-thrown.”

Irish coach Brian Kelly said Robinson is just as much of a big-play threat this year as he was in 2010.

“They have kept a lot of similar principles for Denard Robinson to have the ball in his hands,” he said.

“So there are some things we can build off from last year and certainly it was the big plays that hurt us. Minimizing the big plays and clearly knowing that he has elite speed, we obviously have to slow him down.”

For Hoke, the game will mark the first true test of his Michigan coaching career. It will not, however, be the first time he has experienced the rivalry, as he served as Michigan’s defensive ends coach and then defensive line coach before taking head coaching jobs at Ball State and San Diego State.

“This is a great rivalry game and one that we’re excited about,” Hoke said. “Obviously, there are some other things that go along with this game this year with playing at night, the first night game, and the throw back uniforms and all those things.”

Diaco said the change in leadership has made preparing for the Wolverines unique in that they have a completely new system to face Saturday.

“There is no commonality [between the two systems],” Diaco said. “Some of these teams, the same staffs will play each other five or 10 years in a row. There is a much higher comfort level there.”

The combination of Robinson’s athletic ability and Hoke’s track record as a coach is a dangerous combination for opponents, Diaco said.

“They’re a dynamic offensive outfit … His players produced an average of basically 35 points a game and 500 yards,” he said. “They did the same thing at San Diego State.”