Michigan vs. Nebraska: Containing QBs Denard Robinson, Taylor Martinez Is Tricky

Adam Biggers@@AdamBiggers81Senior Analyst IIOctober 25, 2012

Denard Robinson is pinball-like when weaving through defenses.
Denard Robinson is pinball-like when weaving through defenses.US PRESSWIRE

The question isn't if Michigan Wolverines quarterback Denard Robinson can do damage Saturday against the Nebraska Huskers, it's more of a question of just how much.

Last season in the Wolverines' 45-17 victory, Robinson didn't exactly let loose in true form, but he was a dangerous playmaker that kept Nebraska on its heels, nonetheless.

Robinson had 183 passing yards and 83 on the ground, resulting in four combined touchdowns in a somewhat quiet, but impressive, exploit over the then 16th-ranked Huskers.

Can he do it again this season? But that question has another side—Nebraska's Taylor Martinez can create madness, too.

What can he do against Michigan? If 2011's game is an indication, the answer is "not much". Martinez connected on just 9-of-23 passes, resulting in a paltry 39.1 percent completion rate. Making matters worse, the Wolverines defense puts its foot down, allowing Martinez a modest 49 yards via running.

So many examples to look at, so many numbers to crunch and think about. Sometimes it's an apples-to-oranges comparison. But with two similar quarterbacks, it's logical to at least skim over previous performances to get an idea of what's going to happen Saturday.

Nebraska's defense may not be able to handle Robinson

The Huskers defense is a middle-of-the-road ensemble this season, giving up 357 yards (187 rushing) each game, and it had a fit trying to contain Ohio State's Braxton Miller, the other Robinson-like quarterback in the Big Ten.

Miller stormed past the Huskers with a 186 rushing yards and 127 through the air in the Buckeyes' resounding 63-38 triumph three weeks ago at "The Shoe" in Columbus. Much like Robinson, Miller found daylight by running an option-read play.

Simply put, the option-read gives a quarterback, well, an option to either hand off the ball to a running back or take off himself. When and if the defensive end crashes toward the running back, that gives the quarterback the green light to scatter.

And Miller did.

Several times.

And if the Huskers had that much trouble with Miller, imagine how mind-boggling it will be to contain Robinson—a streak of Maize and Blue that routinely embarrasses opponents each Saturday with nearly the same play.

Martinez and Robinson are similar, but different

Obviously, the Robinson vs. everyone Nebraska has on defense-battle is the one to watch.

But don't solely focus on what Robinson could do to Nebraska. That wouldn't accurately summarize what's bound to happen in Lincoln—a duel between two mobile quarterbacks with a knack for making defenders miss.

Yes, Martinez is fast on his feet, too.

But Ohio State shut him down on the ground, allowing him to gain just 40 yards. That's the way to make him nearly useless or ineffective (win or lose), right?

Not always.

When Martinez couldn't get it done with his feet, he's found ways to shatter and splinter defenses with his arm. As mentioned, that doesn't always result in a Nebraska win, but Martinez has the ability to keep from fading away no matter the outcome.

Quick look at examples (Martinez's game log on ESPN.com)

Martinez rushed for 15 yards in a 73-7 blasting of Idaho State. He didn't play the entire game, obviously, but he played long enough to let the Bengals feel the wrath of his arm, tuning them up through the air with 165 yards on 9-of-13 passing.

Although the Buckeyes limited Martinez to 40 yards on the ground, they couldn't fully take his arm out of the equation. Martinez threw for 214 yards in the loss, his third-highest total of the year.

And take a look at Nebraska's 29-28 come-from-behind win over Northwestern, which capped Martinez's ground attack to a feeble 65 yards. However, he exploded for 342 yards and three touchdowns on 27-of-39 passing.

How's that for making do?

The Robinson factor 

Michigan is 1-2 this season when Robinson goes for less than 100 yards rushing (Nebraska is 1-1 this fall when Martinez hits the century mark).

Take out "Sholeace's" legs, take out the Michigan offense, right?

That's correct most of the time. 

Robinson doesn't have the arm that Martinez has, but he does have receivers like Jeremy Gallon, Drew Dileo and Roy Roundtree that have emerged—although sporadically—as go-to wideouts.

Advantage goes to Michigan in that department.

Robinson doesn't have the luxury of switching gears like Martinez does. Throughout his career, it's been rush for gobs or suffer a loss. That's the nature of the beast, unfortunately, for the Wolverines.

While he's a dynamic threat, Robinson will likely have to rely on his feet to down the Huskers. His arm has improved this season, but an air show with Martinez isn't the way Michigan wants to approach Saturday's game.

Make it a track meet—that's a race Robinson will win.

Prediction time (do I have to?)

OK. So I couldn't have been further from being right last week. Predicting a 35-10 Michigan win over Michigan State was a bit much. At least I was right about the Spartans' point total. I'm taking comfort in that.

This week, I'll take the Wolverines on the road, 28-17.

Robinson should accumulate a Miller-like stat line for a couple reasons: 1. Not that he's been incredibly accurate this year, but Robinson's throwing mechanics have kicked up a couple notches. I can see 200 passing yards, but only because I can see Gallon being wide open for a 50-yard plus play.

The same could be true for Devin Gardner, too. Even Dileo. Let's just say that a couple deep throws or Nebraska miffs on screen passes will result in long touchdown receptions for Wolverines receivers.

Reason No. 2 is this: Robinson is coming off a 96-yard rushing day against Michigan State, which has the Big Ten's top run-stopping defense (100 yards). If Robinson went for nearly 100 against the Spartans, it's quite possible, even likely, that he'll torch the Huskers for 180 or so.

Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81


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