COLUMBUS, Ohio — There’s this problem Ohio State has this week in preparing for Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson.
You see, the problem is the No. 8 Buckeyes can’t really prepare for him.
“It’s impossible to simulate him because there’s no one like him,” Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said.
Only one player in college football history has ever rushed for more than 1,500 yards and passed for more than 1,500 in the same season — and he wears No. 16 for the guys in the winged helmets.
Even the player they call “Shoelace” — remarkably, he doesn’t tie his shoestrings on his cleats — can’t wrap his head around going where no collegiate athlete has gone before.
“That’s crazy and that’s a great accomplishment,” said the hybrid 6-foot, 193-pound sophomore from Deerfield Beach, Fla. “I don’t know what to say about that.”
What makes Robinson so unique — and so hard to defend against — is his unpredictability.
Even his own coach acknowledges as much.
“There have been times when there are some plays that he looks like he’s starting for the first time,” Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said. “But there are a lot of times when he looks like this guy’s been there for years. That is the exciting part about him.”
Tressel said the only way for the Buckeyes to really get an idea of what they’ll be facing is to test their defense in practice with several different players. They’ll throw a quick, catlike runner at their first-team defense this week, then change up with a rollout, mobile quarterback. Then they’ll bring in another player who’s more of a pocket passer.
“It’s a tremendous challenge because it gives you all of the problems that a wildcat offense gives you with a great running back back there, but along with it, it has all of the passing problems,” Tressel said.
Ideally, the Buckeyes would love to force Robinson to stay in the pocket, although that’s unlikely. Michigan’s offense is predicated on Robinson with the ball in his hands making a decision to either throw it, run out of a designed play, or freelance. He’s dangerous in all three areas.
Ohio State has relatively mobile linebackers, which should help in tracking down Robinson before he can get into open space where he can turn 2 yards a 92-yard gain.
“If a quarterback wants to run the ball then our coaches tell us we’ve got to punish him,” said linebacker Brian Rolle, who said he didn’t think there were many players in the country who could run away from him. “So if he breaks the pocket, regardless of how good he can run, he’s still the quarterback and no quarterback likes to get hit.”
Cornerback Devon Torrence also fears what Robinson can do with his arm.
“His arm is nothing to overlook,” he said. “He can definitely throw a deep ball and throw quick passes all day long. I really don’t think any part of his game is weak at all.”
Of course, if Robinson goes off and matches his averages (140 yards rushing, 203 yards passing per game), most of the blame will rest on the shoulders of Ohio State’s linemen. They’re stuck with the task of trying to contain someone 100 pounds lighter who can seemingly run through a storm and avoid all the raindrops.
“You just have to go and try to get him on the ground and if you miss, hope your friends and teammates are going to be there,” said tackle Dexter Larimore. “Guys are going to miss. But if we swarm to the football like we want to, like we can do, that’s the way you limit those huge plays.”
Robinson is mentioned as a potential Heisman Trophy finalist, but to earn an invite to New York for the ceremony, he’ll have to have a big game against the Buckeyes.
“That would be a big deal,” he said of his candidacy. “But the season is still going on.”