by | Oct 7, 2010 | Detroit Free Press, Sports | 0 comments

Denard Robinson, as the nation knows, will not be bound by shoelaces.

Defenses are another story.

We’ll find out Saturday, in the big showdown between the Wolverines and Spartans, if a tougher opponent means the end of Robinson’s pinball numbers. Or if Michigan State is just another pair of flippers from which the kid will ping, fling and zing.

“For anybody to expect Denard to have close to 500 yards in total offense every game is a little much,” his coach, Rich Rodriguez, said this week.

To date, nobody has stopped him. His critics will emphasize the “nobody.”

So here’s the question: Are you that good if you do it against Bowling Green, UConn and UMass? Can running over and through Notre Dame really count – given that the Fighting Irish (2-3) are more “Irish” than “Fighting” these days?

U-M’s first five opponents rank mostly in the bottom half of college football defenses, in some cases close to the bottom. On the other hand, you can only play the team across the field. And Robinson hasn’t just played them, he’s often toyed with them.

“I see a difference already,” he told me last month when I asked about defenses tightening up. “A lot of teams are trying to stop the run … As soon as I came down, there’s a couple of guys coming at me.”

Not that it’s stopped him. Last week, against an Indiana team that had a month’s worth of film on Robinson, he still ran for – and remember, this is a quarterback – 217 yards.

“Oh, if I have to pull it, I’ll pull it,” he said. “And I’ll take off.”

Uh, yeah. We noticed. A one-man show worth watching

Let’s face it. Robinson may be the biggest attraction in college football. He’s leapfrogged to the front of all Heisman conversations. Little kids pretend they’re him on the sandlot. He is a reason to find Michigan on TV, even if you’re not a Michigan fan. Wherever I go, in airports around the country, people say, “That Robinson kid, he’s the real deal, huh?”

To which I say: “Is this the security line?”

No. My real answer is “How can you know?” Stats? To look at Robinson’s stats is to believe he arrived on earth in a small capsule. Over 1,000 yards passing? Over 900 yards rushing? Last week he had a quarterback rating of 269.80. I didn’t know you could SCORE a 269.80! I think that translates to a 34,000 on your SAT’s.

I do know his last drive against Indiana – Denard either ran or passed on every snap – was not something you see very often. The question is, could we see it when Michigan State is across the line?

“There’s people who complain I give him the ball too much,” Rodriguez said. “I say, ‘Too much? Sometimes I’m thinking about more!’ “

Would he hesitate to run an All-Denard drive against Michigan State?

“Not at all. I think he’s proven he’s one of the most explosive players in the country. They can do things to take him away, but when they do, he’s got to distribute to the right guys.” What we’ve all been waiting for

The Wolverines’ defense could have a lot to do with Robinson’s performance. Right now, to be polite, it’s awful. And if the MSU offense stays on the field all day, Robinson cannot.

That would be a shame. Because, let’s face it, we’ve waited five weeks to see this intrastate showdown, but along the way, it developed another story line. Now the nation wants to see if Robinson can do against the Spartans what he’s done against everyone else. MSU is undefeated and has a top-20 defense against the run. And the Spartans do not want to be embarrassed by any one player.

“They’re playing at a high level, probably had their best game of the season last week,” Rodriguez said. “… But we expect Denard to be productive.”

Which is like expecting a bird’s wings to flap, or a child to pick McDonald’s over wheatgrass. How productive? How impressive? How awesome? Those are the measuring sticks college football gawkers will be holding up all afternoon. Time has come. Robinson might indeed have an “S” on his chest. After Saturday, we’ll learn if it stands for “Super” or “So?”

Contact MITCH ALBOM: 313-223-4581 or


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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