Sugar Bowl Key Matchup
Posted on: December 27, 2011 4:16 pm
Posted by Tom Fornelli
A look at the key matchup that could decide the Sugar Bowl.
Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan vs. Virginia Tech defense
When it comes to stopping the Michigan offense, you essentially have to cut the head off the snake, and Denard Robinson is clearly that head. When considering that Robinson is a dual-threat, it's up to your entire defense as a whole, not just the defensive line, linebackers or secondary. Since Robinson can beat you in so many ways, it takes all 11 players on defense to stop him. Something that isn't very easy to do considering that Robinson finished the regular season averaging 268.3 yards per game.
The best way for Virginia Tech to keep Robinson in check would probably be to force him to throw the ball more often than not. While Denard threw for 2,056 yards and 18 touchdowns this season, he also threw 14 interceptions and completed only 56% of his passes. So while his arm is dangerous, it's not nearly as dangerous as the legs that help him scoot down the field at lightning speed.
How do you do this? Well, it starts with the defensive line. First and foremost, the Hokies have to shut down Fitzgerald Toussaint and put Michigan in passing situations. If they can do that, then the focus turns on to how to handle Robinson.
When facing a quarterback like Robinson, it's probably better not to get too much pressure on him. Yes, that seems to be counter-productive to what a defensive line's job is on passing plays, but the fact is, if you pressure Robinson he's fast enough to get away, and you generally leave a lot of open lanes for which he can escape through. Then once he gets into the open field against your linebackers and secondary, well, advantage Robinson. So more so than penetration, the Virginia Tech defensive line will be better served to maintain gap integrity. If he wants to scramble, make him go outside where linebackers and defensive backs can try and force him toward the sideline.
Better yet, if you give Robinson time to throw then he's a lot more likely to throw. And while time is not a defensive back's best friend, Robinson's accuracy issues make up for some of that. Yes, you may get beat in coverage but Robinson still has to put the pass on target.
For an example of this, look at Michigan's loss to Iowa. The Hawkeyes followed many of these same principles and let Robinson throw the ball 37 times. He completed only 17 of those passes and rushed for only 55 yards on 12 carries. The result was a 24-16 victory for Iowa.
Now, obviously, you can't afford to give Robinson all day to pass even with his accuracy issues as sooner or later the Wolverines will begin going to short underneath passes, so occasional blitzes need to be part of the game plan as well. If for no other reason than to keep Robinson guessing. Odds are that Bud Foster has more than a few types at his disposal and ready to use.
While it won't be easy for Virginia Tech to keep one of the most dynamic players in all of college football in check for a full 60 minutes, if the Hokies use some of these methods to at least slow him down and limit his effectiveness, then it will go a long way toward a Virginia Tech victory. If not, it may be a long night.