LINCOLN, Neb. – Nebraska defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski was 3-0 against Michigan's Denard Robinson during his time with Iowa. While the Hawkeyes might not have had the ultimate blue print to stop Robinson, Kaczenski has made sure to share with his lineman on how to slow down the senior quarterback.
“You can't be out of control. You have to bring your feet and stay square. One you turn, he's going to out leverage you, because he's fast and quick,” said defensive end Jason Ankrah. “ It's a challenge, but I think we will be up to it.
“You have to play disciplined. You have to fit your gap and stay square on him during the quarterback option.”
Nebraska (5-2, 2-1 Big Ten) and No. 22 Michigan (5-2, 3-0 Big Ten) square off on ESPN2 at 7 p.m. CT on Saturday night in Lincoln, Neb. The winner will be on the fast track to win the Legends Division and head to Indianapolis, IN, to play in the Big Ten title game.
Robinson combined for 260 yards and four touchdowns last year in a 45-17 victory over Nebraska in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His play left a bad taste in the mouth of the Huskers' returners on defense.
“We definitely want to play them again. We have been watching them ever since the first game against Alabama,” said Ankrah. “We haven't let the game last year go. We can't wait until Saturday.”
Robinson is averaging 7.4 yards per carry in 2012
While through the air Robinson has struggled this season, throwing nine touchdowns to nine interceptions and only a 53.5 percent completion rate, his numbers on the ground have gone up. Currently the senior quarterback has rushed 121 times for 900 yards – an average of 7.4 yards per carry. Four times this season he has gone over the century mark.
“Denard is extremely dangerous. Every time he touches the ball he is a threat to take it the distance,” Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis said on Tuesday. “The biggest keys to stopping him are tackling well and being assignment sound. The quarterback run game comes down to being disciplined and playing assignment-sound football. Everybody has a responsibility.”
While Nebraska seemed to do a good job against Robinson last year on the ground, holding him to just 3.6 yards per carry, returning running back Fitzgerald Toussaint gave the Huskers trouble. He rushed 29 times for 138 yards and and two scores.
Robinson has to be the defense's main focus, but they can't forget about Michigan's other weapons.
“You can’t spend all of your time worrying about Denard Robinson,” Papuchis said. “But at the end of the day, he is 68.2 percent of their total offense.”
After struggling with Ohio State mobile quarterback Braxton Miller (16 carries, 186 yards) in early October, Nebraska shut down Northwestern dual-threat Kain Colter (14 carries, 35 yards) last week – a quarterback who hurt the Huskers in 2011.
Ankrah feels their efforts over the weekend could be a small example of how they handle Robinson on Saturday at home.
“I would say they are similar, they are both fast, but Denard is more shifty,” said the junior defensive end. “He's (Robinson) like Braxton Miller from Ohio State. It was a nice preview, because they run a similar type of quarterback run offense, but Denard is more of a shifty type of guy.”
Stopping Robinson won't just be on the defensive line. Linebackers Will Compton, Alonzo Whaley, and speedy David Santos will have to come up big as well.
“You have to be patient with this kid. You can't just go all out every single play because if they find one type of combination block that your short a gap, they will find it and hit it,” said Nebraska linebacker coach Ross Els. “We need to mix things up on him.
“He's very similar to Braxton (Miller), he's got that agility which is scary. Every play looks like a punt return with him. They want to spread it out and find a crease. If we make that crease wide enough, we are probably going to miss. That's the scary part of it.”