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January 12, 2012 - Image 7

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com Thursday, January 12, 2012 - 7A
Did Robinson learn anyhin at all

Michigan's season ended
with the sight of
Denard Robinson rac-
ing across the field, mouth com-
pletely agape, screaming at the top
of his lungs.
At that point - even having
led his team to a 11-2 season and
Sugar Bowl win - Michigan fans
may have
wanted to yell
at Robinson
as much as
they wanted to
scream with
him. Though
his two touch-
down tosses
to Junior TIM
Hemingway ROHAN
were crucial,
his few mis-
takes were costly. Had Virginia
Tech not struggled itself, Robin-
son could've been the scapegoat.
What other player could evoke
such dichotic confusion?
Two reasonable people could
have a conversation about Robin-
son's Sugar Bowl performance -
one could argue Michigan won the
game because of him, the other
that Michigan won despite him -
and neither would be wrong.
The same conversation could've
been had after a miracle comeback
win over Notre Dame in Septem-
ber, or after a close - but not so
close - road win at Northwestern
in October, or after November
games against mediocre Big Ten
teams: a nail-biting loss at Iowa
and a sluggish win at Illinois.
After each game, the Michigan
brass pounded the table in defense
of Robinson. He was improving,
they said. Yet after Robinson ran
across the field at the Superdome,
once what happened had been
digested, one couldn't help but

wonder if he had learned anything
at all.
Every Tuesday duringthe
season, offensive coordinator Al
Borges met with the media. And
every Tuesday, he defended Rob-
inson, offering assurances that
there was growth.
First, Robinson dragged Michi-
gan down against Notre Dame,
throwingthree interceptions.
Then, he willed 28 fourth-quarter
points - his receivers simply
started catching the risky jump
halls he kept launching- and,
ultimately, a win. That Tuesday,
Borges diagnosed a problem that
would become reoccurring.
"Generally, when he throws the
ball bad, it is because of his foot-
work or rushing throws," Borges
said. "When he got his feet set, he
made some really good throws. He
threw just a gorgeous corner route
to Kelvin Grady - right on time,
perfect trajectory.
"He's very capable, but he's still
learning all the nuances of the
offense, and in a pressure-packed
game like that, there's a lot of stuff
going on. It's easyto forget about
some little things."
A month later, Robinson threw
three more interceptions against
Northwestern's 71st-ranked pass
defense, and Michigan fell into a
huge first-half hole. Again, Robin-
son jump-balled his way out.
Robinson said he got too
excited early on. That Tuesday,
Borges said his accuracy was
off because he wasn't following
through with his hips. Still, the
identified problems persisted:
inaccuracy, hurried throws, poor
decision making. Robinson's mad-
ness boiled over at Iowa, where
he marched Michigan to Iowa's
three-yard line late in the game -
all the Wolverines needed was a

MAR ISSA MCCL AIN/
Junior quarterback Denard Robinson must improve in Borges' second year.

touchdown to tie. In theory, he did
his job. But he went 4-for-13 on the
final drive. This time, he couldn't
convert, and he wasn't the hero.
The next week, Borges refused
to throw into the wind at Illinois.
Robinson ran for two scores,
threw a pick and left the game
with an injury, all while playing
second fiddle to an emergent Fitz
Toussaint.
That Tuesday, Borges defied
the statistics and nearly every
outsider's opinion, declaring:
"Denard's growing in our offense.
Nobody wants to hear that."
Borges' vague claims that Rob-
inson was gaining a better overall
feel for the offense were justi-
fied in season-saving wins over
Nebraska and Ohio State. Robin-
son finally looked comfortable,
finding a balance between run-
ning and passing, and his precise
passingscreamed improvement.
Without linebackers breath-

ing down his neck, it was easy to
stand at a podium and say he was
improving. He said he knew when
to run, when to throw, and who to
throw to. The other side of a tran-
sition year seemed in sight.
But that would've been too neat
an ending for the kind of year Rob-
inson had.
Instead, he regressed to mid-
season form in the Sugar Bowl
- not quite as bad as his worst
(Michigan State) but nowhere
near his best. He reopened the
conversation: is Michigan's suc-
cess because of him, or despite
him? The Hokies' athletic defense
and early lead neutralized Robin-
son's legs, so the game rode on his
arm. When Virginia Tech blitzed
and Robinson felt pressure, which
was often, his progress was most
.questionable.
Flushed out of the pocket,
where it seems lie forgets his
throwing mechanics, Robinson

lofted a jump ball - off his back
foot - towards Hemingway. The
ball should've been intercepted.
Instead it was a 45-yard touch-
down. Earlier, as an unblocked
blitzer approached, he lofted aball
towards a well-covered Heming-
way (while Roy Roundtree had
a step on his man further down-
field) which resulted in an inter-
ception. It reassured logic - not
every miracle jumpball would
go his way. Later, staying true to
the madness, Robinson - with a
clean pocket and time to survey
the field - dialed up a perfect
pass to Hemingway in the back
of the endzone, where only he
could grab it. Michigan took a 17-6
lead, but it could've been more.
On back-to-back plays early in the
game, Robinson missed adding
another touchdown. The first was
a pass - intended for a wide-open
Hemingway - batted at the line of
scrimmage, and the next was an
off-balanced, underthrown screen
pass to Vincent Smith, who had
a host of blockers set up and no
tacklers in sight.
Borges often referred to Rob-
inson as a 3-point shooter, who
needed to make a few shotsbefore
he caught fire. Then, Borges said,
the basket would look like a hula-
hoop, and Robinson could keep
firing. Rarely this season did Rob-
inson string together.consecutive
drives fueled by his passing.
For that, and the up-and-down
Sugar Bowl, Borges is as much
to blame as Robinson. The play
calling didn't give Robinson easy
warm-up passes, and Robinson
didn't get hotter as the game went
on - "luckier" may have applied;
though. Robinson's mechanics
proved as reliable as his passing
statistics: a mixed bag.
To quell the criticism at his

Tuesday press conferences, Borg-
es pointed to how quarterbacks
typically performed better in their
second season in his system. His
famous example is UCLA's Cade
McNown, who he said rose from
last in passer efficiency in the con-
ference in year one, to first in the
country in year two. Borges hopes
to see the same jump in Robinson.
Considering thatbowl games
are viewed as starting points for
next year's team, and how Rob-
inson played Jan. 3, that maybe a
stretch. What Robinson did after
four weeks of preparation - 9-of-
21 passing for 117 yards - is alarm-
ing, and should open some eyes, no
matter how respected the Hokies
defense is.
What's scarier is that Robinson
opens his second season under
Borges versus defending national
champion Alabama. Albeit, their
defense will be without Courtney
Upshaw, the championship game's
defensive MVP, and likely without
future pros Dont'a Hightower and
Dre Kirkpatrick, among others.
Though if Robinson doesn't find
a consistentbalance and comfort
inside and out of the pocket, and
in Borges' playbook, it wouldn't
matter if the season opener was
Alabama or Northwestern.
Soon after Robinson's yell,
Borges was asked what went
through his head as Robinson con-
tinued to blindly throw up jump
balls to Hemingway. The man
who had coached Robinson for
the past year, who taught him the
intricacies of the offense and built
a toolbox of mechanics, let his
guard down: "Probably prayers,"
he admitted. After 13 games, even
he didn't know what to expect.
-Rohan can be reached
at trohan@umich.edu.

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at just the right time.
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PAUL SHERMAN/Daily
Junior forward Chris Brown missed his shootout attempt against Lake Superior State on Saturday. He admitted that he didn't have his approach planned out.
'M'over-thinking shootout approach

By ZACH HELFAND
DailySportsEditor
After some thinking, junior
forward Chris Brown declared
that over-thinking has plagued
the Michigan hockey team dur-
ing shootouts this year.
The Wolverines' ineffective-
ness in that category has hurt
them in the standings this year
especially, but it's a decade-old
struggle.
"It's not like it's a lack of tal-
ent," Brown said. "I think we're
just screwing ourselves over in
our heads."
Shootouts, or, penalty shots in
general, have a habit of making
players over-think.
Forty-one years add 17 days
ago, the St. Louis Blues found
themselves in a battle against
the Minnesota North Stars in
an important game. The contest
came down to a late-game pen-
alty shot.
The shooter: a St. Louis for-
ward named Red Berenson. The
goalie: Cesare Maniago, Beren-
son's former teammate with the
New York Rangers.
"(Maniago) knew that I liked
to come in and fake the shot and
go to my backhand and roof it,"
Berenson said. "And of course, I
knew that he knew that, so I'm
thinking about this when I got
the penalty shot.

"So I'm thinking, 'Well, Cesare
knows that I'm gonna do that,
so he knows I won't do it. So
if he knows I won't do it, then
I'm gonna do it.' And so I went
through this whole thing in my
mind, so when I did it, I beat him.
He guessed that I wouldn't do it.
He was on the other side of the
net, it was an easy goal."
Got all that?
Berenson knows he took at
least one penalty shot in a 17-year
NHL career, plus three years
playing for Michigan. He thinks
he took a second one at some
point. When he played, there
were no shootouts.
Still, the level of detail he pro-
vides about a brief moment that
happened over four decades ago
shows he has a strong apprecia-
tion for what ashootout requires.
Not that that makes any differ-
ence.
"You can't coach it," Berenson
said.
The Wolverines simulate a
shootout in practice every week,
yet they dropped to 1-3 in shoot-
outs on Saturday after regulation
and an overtime period couldn't
decide a game against Lake Supe-
rior State. Sophomore forward
Luke Moffatt scored on Michi-
gan's first attempt, but the next
five skaters didn't even put the
puck on cage.
Berenson explained that the

goaltender holds a clear advan-
tage in shootouts.
"In a normal game, the average
goalie has a save percentage of 90
percent on his shots," Berenson
said. "Now he's not going to have
that same save percentage on
breakaways, but it's not going to
be under 50 (percent)."
Michigan is 2-for-15 on shoot-
out attempts. Do the math: that's
an 87-percent save percentage.
On average, the Wolverines
score 11 goals per 100 attempts in
game situations. They're on pace
for just two more goals per 100
attempts in shootout situations
than they score skating five-on-
five.
You don't need to know any-
thing about hockey to know that
that's not good.
A player can approach a penal-
ty shot from any number of mind-
sets, and each player has his own
personal style and preference.
Some players prefer to shoot
from the slot. Those with better
hands may prefer to deke. There
are skaters who come in fast.
Some try to lull the goalie to sleep
by advancing very slowly. Nei-
ther move is any more effective
than the other. The key, Brown
said, is to keep the goalie moving
and to make him uncomfortable.
And what happens when he
gets uncomfortable? Many, like
Brown, simply react to what the

goalie gives him.
"Hopefully, by the top of the
circle, you know what you're
going to do," Brown said. "If you
don't, you're kind of just throw-
ing it at the net and praying it
goes in."
Moffatt takes a different
approach. He scored in his first-
career shootout attempt on Sat-
urday, and he said he knew all
along that he would deke twice
and finish with his backhand.
"I have a few moves that I'm
very confident in," Moffatt said.
"I picked one beforehand, and
that's what I was doing the whole
time, and I stuck with it, and it
worked out."
Eventually, all of the planning
and styles, all of the machina-
tions and mental poker, can just
devolve into absurdity.
Brown said the team is simply
thinking too much - in shoot-
outs most notably, but also just in
general.
Berenson recalled someone
who once asked him why he
made the move on Maniago.
"They said, 'Well, why did you
make that move?'" Berenson said.
"And I said, 'Because he knew
that I would do it, but he knew
that I was smarter than that, so
he guessed that I wouldn't do it.'
"So there's a little bit of think-
ing in that one. Yeah."
I think so.

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