Sugar Bowl pre-game notes: Big games have meant big results for Robinson
Whether it was leading Michigan back from a 24-7 deficit in 15 minutes against Notre Dame in the first night game ever played at the Big House, or closing out the season with arguably the best performances of his career in back-t0-back weeks against Nebraska and Ohio State — Robinson has showed a flash for excelling on the big stage.
Robinson's season stats aren't great: He's completed 56 percent of his passes for 2,056 yards, 18 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He's also rushed for 1,163 yards and 16 touchdowns (with the occasional fumble mixed in).
But the kid who went by the nickname "Shoelace" the past few years has taken on a different name under the new Michigan regime.
"I would classify Denard Robinson as a pure baller," Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges told the media this week in New Orleans. "He balls. When it's time to line up and go, he goes. He's going to perform. That's what he is."
It's what his teammates and coaches love about him. He never loses his composure, whether it be during an interception and incompletion loaded first half against Notre Dame or Northwestern, or a post-game press conference where he's getting peppered with questions about his accuracy, he just goes about his business.
It's a trait he's always had, as his former high school coach in Deefield Beach, Fla. explained to ESPN's Adam Rittenberg, Robinson just has "the look."
The Wolverines turnaround this season is also strongly attributed to the team's defense. The same group of players that ESPN analyst Chris Spielman said would be "a bunch of guys who would be nice little subs at Indiana," the Wolverines have become the 17th-ranked defense in the country this season under new defensive coordinator Greg Mattison.
Beating Virginia Tech in tonight's Sugar Bowl would serve as the ultimate validation for the job Mattison and head coach Brady Hoke have done "coaching up" a group of defensive players that they didn't recruit.
Defensive lineman Craig Roh and Ryan Van Bergen said the improved Wolverines defense is a credit to the approach that the new coaches brought this season.
Adding to the intrigue of tonight's game is the fact that both Michigan and Virginia Tech have so much in common. It's not out of bounds to say that the Wolverines play more like a ACC team than a Big Ten team — which given the Big Ten's track record in bowl games might not be a bad thing. Virginia Tech has a dual threat QB as well in Logan Thomas but also has the ACC's Offensive Player of the Year in running back David Wilson. And like Michigan, the Hokies are starving for success in a BCS bowl — they were blown out by Stanford last season.
While Michigan's turnaround has drawn much of the national attention around this game, there's also considerable pressure on Virginia Tech and coach Frank Beamer to start producing wins, not appearances, at the BCS level.
AthlonSports.com put together a statistical comparison of the two teams.
The Sugar Bowl kicks off tonight at 8:30 p.m. on ESPN.