Published October 05, 2010
EAST LANSING, Mich. – For the last month, Denard Robinson has been all over the highlight shows, dashing into the Heisman Trophy conversation and leading a swift resurgence at Michigan.
Michigan State's Eric Gordon hopes to bring all of that to a halt.
"It's always fun to play a player that has all this hype, and he deserves all the hype, obviously," Gordon said. "It gives us a great opportunity."
Something has to give Saturday when the 18th-ranked Wolverines host the 17th-ranked Spartans in a matchup of unbeaten teams.
If Michigan State wants to emerge with a third straight victory over Michigan, Gordon and his teammates will have to do what nobody else has been able to: Contain the Michigan quarterback whose electrifying runs have given a much-needed boost to the Wolverines' offense.
Michigan State (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) has already faced Notre Dame's no-huddle offense and Wisconsin's bruising running game, but this will be an entirely different challenge.
"The one thing about playing them is if he makes a guy miss, he has the ability to go the distance," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. "That's what you see when you watch the film. ... Four, five plays in a row, they've got some semblance of containment there, and then boom."
Robinson, a sophomore, is second in the nation in total offense. Sometimes when a quarterback is near the top of that list, it's because he's thrown for a bunch of yards — but Robinson is averaging 181 yards a game on the ground, the top mark in the nation.
His Heisman resume already includes touchdowns in the final seconds to beat Notre Dame and Indiana, and each thrilling play helps Michigan fans shake off the frustration of Rich Rodriguez's first two seasons as Wolverines coach. Michigan (5-0, 1-0) is second in the nation in total offense.
About 50 miles to the northwest, Michigan State is in the middle of its own satisfying winning streak. Robinson is the biggest threat to that run.
"It's kind of a bend, and then the other team just breaks. ... Guys kind of get tired of chasing," said Michigan State linebacker Greg Jones. "Stride for stride, he's very, very fast."
Jones, an All-American, is always a big part of the Spartans' defense, but all 11 players will be crucial. Robinson is so fast that having someone "spy" on him might not be that useful.
"He's fast, so he can get outside, off the edge," said Gordon, a Spartans linebacker. "The corners and the safeties are going to have to be able to fly down and help us with outside support."
Wide receiver Tony Lippett will try to mimic Robinson in practice this week.
"He was a spread-type quarterback in high school," Dantonio said. "He's extremely quick."
Of course, the more Michigan State tries to cut off Robinson's running lanes, the easier it will be for Michigan's receivers to get open. Robinson has completed 70 percent of his passes and been intercepted only once this season.
The Spartans faced a different pick-your-poison dilemma last weekend against Wisconsin when they snapped John Clay's streak of 10 straight games with 100 yards rushing. James White hurt Michigan State instead, running for 98 yards and two touchdowns, and the Spartans held on for a 34-24 win.
This week, the Spartans have a pretty good idea who will have the ball, but they have to be careful not to let Robinson's elusiveness force them to play too passively.
"Our defense is really all about hitting downhill and taking a shot. With him, we've still got to play our game," Gordon said. "We can't really be on our heels, or else he's going to get us with his arm."
The key will be preparation, and making sure every player knows where he's supposed to be. If there's an opening, chances are Robinson will find it.
"There's no guessing involved," Jones said. "You've got to trust your teammates this week."