By Nicole Auerbach/Special to the Journal
ANN ARBOR, Mich. – In the early parts of the 2010 season, Michigan’s electrifying sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson was pegged as the Heisman favorite.
He was breaking records left and right, and he became the first player in NCAA history to rush and pass for at least 200 yards twice in one season (Sept. 11 vs. Notre Dame, Oct. 2 vs. Indiana).
Then Robinson was slowed by injuries and better defenses. Meanwhile, at Auburn, junior quarterback Cam Newton attracted the Heisman hype – and eventually won the award – after showcasing his dual-threat capabilities and impressive consistency.
Mississippi State lost 17-14 to Auburn in early September, holding Newton to just 136 yards passing and 70 yards rushing (a season-low 206 total yards). That game’s film has been particularly interesting to Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez during preparations for the Gator Bowl.
“They probably did the best job of anybody all year against Cam Newton and Auburn,” Rodriguez said last week. “By far, they did the best job defensively against him. There were some things we saw on film, and we’ve got a little more time.”
Rodriguez was asked if watching the Bulldogs’ strategy against Newton might be similar to what Robinson will face.
“Auburn’s offense is similar in some respects but also different,” Rodriguez said. “That’s typical of the spread. Every spread is a little bit different. So we’ll watch that and maybe get an idea. But with so much time in between from that game early in the season until now you’ve got to imagine they’re going to do some different things.”
Robinson sustained a variety of injuries throughout the fall: a sprained knee, an injury to his right (throwing) shoulder, two dislocated fingers in his left hand and concussion-like symptoms. He is expected to be completely healthy and fully rested on Jan. 1 for the first time since the season began against Connecticut on Sept. 4.
“His legs seem fresher,” Rodriguez said. “He had a lingering shoulder problem, and his shoulder and arm feel a lot better, as well.”
Michigan fans hope to see the early-season version of Robinson against Mississippi State, but the Bulldogs’ shut-down of a dynamic player like Newton proves that their defense could handle even a healthy, explosive, multi-dimensional Robinson.
Robinson is one of Michigan’s banged-up players benefitting from the five-week period without games. The other players, including wide receivers Darryl Stonum and Junior Hemingway, are also healthy and practicing.
One unique part of the Wolverines’ bowl-game preparation includes the use of cowbells during practices. Players have been ringing cowbells to simulate the Mississippi State fans’ tradition to prepare centers and quarterbacks for the noise.
During a press conference on Dec. 6, Gator Bowl President Rick Catlett said Bulldog fans would be allowed to bring their cowbells to the game and would not face any restrictions on when they could use them.