STARKVILLE — Some experts of college football hail University of Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson as a compressed version of Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton.
Both have speed and have dazzled as both runners and passers this season, and at one point in the year Robinson was mentioned as a Heisman frontrunner.
Newton is built like a tight end at 6-foot-6 and 250 pounds, and has made a habit of running around and through defenders. He has been equally impressive through the air.
Robinson, on the other hand, has the look of a decent-sized cornerback at 6-foot and 193 pounds.
How he was able to set the NCAA single-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback (1,643) and still manage to throw for over 2,300 yards is remarkable considering the punishment he took from 245 carries.
Robinson fought through a sprained knee, an injury to his right (throwing) shoulder, two dislocated fingers in his left hand and concussion-like symptoms.
On the flip side, Newton”s iron-man performance saw him play every meaningful snap of Auburn”s march to the BCS National Championship game.
Basically, the only thing Newton and Robinson have in common is their big-play capability.
Newton and Robinson do have one thing in common, though: Mississippi State as an opponent.
Robinson, who is back to full fitness after nearly a month of rest, will try to crack an MSU defense that held Newton to his lowest total offense output this season (206 yards). The Bulldogs held Auburn to a season-low 17 points in a three-point loss on Sept. 9.
MSU”s defense feels fine comparing the two quarterbacks ahead of their matchup against the Wolverines in the Progressive Gator Bowl on New Year”s Day,
“[Newton] is the best player I”ve ever seen play college football, so if we can stop him we can stop anybody,” MSU defensive end Pernell McPhee said.
Game-planning for Robinson won”t be as challenging at this point in this season as it would have been at the beginning of the year, defensive coordinator Manny Diaz says.
The No. 21 Bulldogs have faced spread offenses in games against Auburn, UAB, Florida and Houston.
While all run different versions of the spread, facing different elements over the course of the year — including practicing against its own offense — the Bulldogs won”t be blind going into Jacksonville.
Though the collective opinion of MSU coaches is that Robinson is impossible to simulate, they all agree freshman Jameon Lewis gives them a stellar replica in practice.
At 5-foot-8 and 180 pounds, Lewis, a former high school quarterback at Tylertown, resembles Robinson in size, foot-speed and play-making ability. Lewis played a similar role on the scout team when the Bulldogs faced Kentucky”s Randall Cobb.
One aspect in which the Bulldogs will have to adjust in-game is Robinson”s speed.
“That”s what makes him dangerous,” MSU head coach Dan Mullen said. “When he gets in the open field, see you later. He”s a legit 4.3-40 guy. I know that because I timed him at camp when he was in high school.”
Diaz fears a month-long layoff and the absence of playing at game-speed could give Robinson an advantage.
“That is always a big concern going into a bowl game no matter who you”re playing, ” Diaz said. “And with his speed, you get surprised once or twice and it”s 14-0.
“I won”t know until we go out there to see if we”re up to game speed.”
Robinson ran for 100 yards in each of the final two games of the season against Wisconsin and Ohio State. He”s had games where he”s carried the ball 27, 28 and 29 times.
With the Bulldogs looking to see a steady dose of the run, they”ll do so in a fashion they haven”t seen thus far, MSU middle linebacker Chris White said.
“It”s a numbers game — they always have a hat on a hat,” White said. “Most of the time, the quarterback just hands the ball off, but for Michigan they run with the quarterback so they can block everybody on defense. It”s 11 on 11 every play.”
Getting multiple players to the football will be paramount in limiting Robinson, especially in the big-play department.
Diaz said the Bulldogs have continued to work on tackling like they”ve done all season, though it doesn”t mean they”ve been taking players to the ground in practice. He feels the basic tackling principles of running to the ball and taking proper angles can still be covered without 100 percent live tackling.
Diaz”s plan is for his defense to “build a wall” around Robinson, and for every defensive player to do their role.
“The number one thing of all is avoid one on ones — that”s playing Russian roulette,” Diaz said. “If we get multiple guys to the ball we should have a better tackling day.”