All Eyes on Denard

All Eyes on Denard

Illinois faces one of the college football's premier offensive threats this weekend...

CHAMPAIGN – Michael Buchanan has prepared this week for his fourth meeting with Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, one of college football's premier offensive threats.

The Illinois senior defensive end says Robinson, who rushed for 235 yards last week against Purdue, doesn't talk much during games.

"I know a couple times he's had a few big plays and he'll get up and do his end zone celebration and things like that," Buchanan said. "I think he takes a knee or something like that. He doesn't really say too much."

Robinson's stats are plenty loud.

The nine-time Big Ten Player of the Week (most in conference history) is averaging 323 yards of total offense in five games this season. By comparison, the entire Illinois offense puts up just over 12 yards more per contest.

He's a dual threat – a true challenge for Buchanan, defensive coordinator Tim Banks and the rest of the Illini defense.

"Yeah, I tell you what man, he's a talent, as we all know," Banks says, the respect of his opponent clear in his voice.

Speed is the skill that sets him apart. Plenty of players run fast – but not many touch the ball on every play like Robinson. At 135 yards gained on the ground per game, he's the most prolific rusher in the Big Ten. The Wolverines offense is considered a Pro-Set, but fakes from every direction provide Robinson with lanes and creases. It doesn't take much, as the slightest hesitation by a defender can lead to a big play. Linebacker Jonathan Brown estimates the Illini have only two players who can beat Robinson in a foot race, receiver Ryan Lankford and corner Justin Green. And he stresses the word maybe when asked if they could really take Robinson.

"When he's right there in front of you you've got to make the tackle," Brown says. "That's the hard part."

For all of his accomplishments, Robinson has struggled, at least rushing-wise, against Illinois in the past.

In three games against the Illini, he's rushed for only 86 yards and two scores, averaging less than 2.5 yards per carry. Given past experiences, Buchanan notes the blueprint for limiting Robinson's playmaking.

"From a pass rusher's standpoint, you really can't get up the field," he said. "We have to close our rush lanes and stuff like that and just always keep our eye on him."

Added safety Steve Hull: "We have to do a good job with our keys and with our eyes to make sure we're in the right place at the right times with him."

Robinson's passing stats aren't on par with his rushing totals, with eight interceptions to his credit. In place of a consistent aerial game, Robinson is known as a dual-threat because of his tendency to make big plays through the air, mostly due to teams paying added attention to what he can do with his legs. Of his eight passing touchdowns this season, five have been at least 26 yards or more.

"He's throwing the ball obviously better," Banks said. "He's developed as a passer… I think they're starting to take a little more advantage of that, especially early."

With one rushing touchdown this weekend, Robinson will become the eighth player in NCAA history to rush for 40 touchdowns and pass for 40 scores. The speed, the stats and history in the making – this is now Illinois' challenge to face.

"What can I say? It's Denard. He makes plays," Banks said.

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