As South Carolina’s Damario Jeffery surveys Michigan, today’s opponent in the Outback Bowl, he sees one area for concern.
“We stack up very well,” the senior linebacker said. “The only problem we might see is Denard Robinson.”
That one problem can manifest itself in a lot of ways, though. Robinson made his name the past three seasons as a dual-threat quarterback, but an elbow injury that affects his grip on the football forced a position change — a couple of them, really — last month. Robinson played running back, wide receiver and quarterback in the No. 19 Wolverines’ past two games, and the No. 11 Gamecocks expect a similarly diverse performance today.
“I don’t know that we’ve faced a guy quite like him that can throw and run and do what he does,” South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. “It’ll be a heck of a challenge for our team.”
Robinson, a 6-foot, 196-pound senior, is fourth in Michigan history in career passing yards (6,250) and third in career rushing yards (4,395). He is second in NCAA history in rushing yards by a quarterback, and he is one of eight players in NCAA history to rush for 40 touchdowns and pass for 40 touchdowns in his career.
Robinson is returning to his home state this week. He grew up in Deerfield Beach, Fla., and he brought that South Florida speed to the Big Ten. He ran a 10.56 100-meter dash in high school and is fast enough that he boasted earlier this year with a slightly straight face that he could beat Olympic 100-meter champion Usain Bolt in a 40-yard dash.
Most of South Carolina’s defensive players, like most college football fans around the country, knew of Robinson well before this matchup was set. He first emerged in 2010, when he set the NCAA record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 1,702, and his childhood nickname “Shoelace,” earned because he often leaves his untied and he sometimes leaves defenders grasping futilely for them as he scampers away, became a household name.
“You see him on ESPN every week running 80-yard touchdowns,” defensive tackle Byron Jerideau said.
Safety D.J. Swearinger is the only Gamecock who claimed never to have watched Robinson play before turning on the game film to prepare for today’s game. Robinson has his attention now, though.
“We will identify him every time he is on the field,” Swearinger said. “When 16 is on the field, we will be alert.”
Michigan coach Brady Hoke has been careful this week not to give any clues how his team plans to use Robinson, but he indicated there’s no reason to think the position juggling will stop today. South Carolina has faced dual-threat quarterbacks before, but none quite like Robinson, whose future in the NFL is expected to be at running back or wide receiver, Jeffery said.
“We don’t like game-planning for them because up until you play them you are like, ‘OK, I have the perfect game plan. This is going to work,’ ” Jeffery said. “And then, sometimes, you get in there and they run for 200 and throw for 200, and you’re like, ‘Dang, what happened?’ ”
Robinson’s flexibility is complemented by that of teammate Devin Gardner, who is expected to start at quarterback today. The 6-4 Gardner played wide receiver the first eight games of the season and has started at quarterback since. He has 266 receiving yards, 77 rushing yards and 1,005 passing yards this season.
“You have two quarterbacks on the field,” South Carolina defensive end Devin Taylor said, “so there is more possibility of plays that could occur.”
Spurrier-Hoke press conference