1. Denard Keeps The Drive Alive
It was telling that the first drive on Saturday was so run heavy after the debacle that was the Notre Dame game two weeks ago. Al Borges consciously kept the ball on the ground as much as possible. However, he was forced to look to the pass in a few key situations, and two of those came very early in the game.
The first drive covered 78 yards in 17 plays and put Michigan up seven early. More than that, the drive set the tone for the rest of the game. Michigan's offense would move the ball. It wouldn't be flashy, and it would come from the effort of Denard Robinson on the ground.
Still, that first drive could well have ended without any points had it not been for two very smart playcalls from Al Borges and two very good completions from Robinson.
The first came on a third-and-seven from midfield. Roy Roundtree, lined up to the left of the formation comes loose on a quick slant right behind the defensive line and underneath the linebacker coverage. He is able to get across the formation and take a solid angle to get plenty of yards for the first down. It was a quick, easy throw that counted on Purdue's defenders immediately stepping back on the long-ish third down.
The second conversion came on fouth-and-four from the Purdue 22-yard line. Michigan eschewed the field goal attempt to try and keep the drive alive. This time it was Robinson throwing out to the flat to Devin Gardner on a curl route past the sticks.
The first drive was heavily dependent on the running game, but it was Denard Robinson and Al Borges coming together on two important conversions that kept the drive going and ultimately led to the field goal. However, Robinson wasn't done yet.
2. Funchess at the Goal Line
Devin Funchess has made himself into quite the appealing target over the beginning of this season, and he proved why once again with this catch in traffic. However, props go to Robinson for stepping up in the pocket to avoid pressure, then firing an accurate pass between three defenders that allowed Funchess to get good position for the catch in the first place.
While Robinson's big run to start the drive was important, this drive ends in a field goal if Robinson and Funchess can't connect on this play.
3. Robinson To Gardner For Six
The maddening thing about Denard Robinson is that for all the times he tries to force passes when he should throw the ball away, or when he sits in the pocket too long before taking off, that he is still capable of making some very impressive throws down the field.
Midway through the second quarter, Robinson once again showcased that ability. It was third-and-seven from the Purdue 23-yard line and Michigan had just missed a field goal and then allowed Purdue to drive 51 yards for a field goal of its own. Coming up short in this situation would have given Gibbons another long field goal try and possibly given Purdue the chance to make it a two score game going into half.
Michigan lined up with four wide receivers. To the wide right was a flanker and inside him in the slot two players were stacked. On the other side of the formation was Devin Gardner. The corner on that side gave Gardner a huge cushion and on the snap the safety on that side immediately took a few steps forward. By the time the safety stopped Gardner was already to him and moving at full speed toward the corner. Robinson A) sees that the safety has taken himself way out of position on the post route and B) puts enough touch on the ball to get it over the safety -- who is now scrambling to recover on the deep route behind him -- while keeping the ball out in front of Gardner whose break gave him inside position on the corner.
The pass is perfectly thrown and it gives Gardner a chance to catch the ball with the defender on his back and keep his balance on the way to the end zone. This touchdown would be even more important after the next Michigan possession would end in a fumble that set Purdue up with a short field and eventual touchdown.
There was a lot of hand wringing after the Notre Dame game about Denard Robinson's "regression" as a passer, but to a certain extent it was unwarranted. That isn't to say he didn't have a bad game, or that I think he is actually Joe Montana with dreads. Robinson is prone to mistakes and he doesn't deal well with pressure. However, when he gets the right play call and time to execute, he is as capable as any quarterback in the country of throwing a good pass down the field to his receivers.
This game doesn't provide a big sample size, but the low number of passes attempted and passes completed obscures just how effective Robinson was when it really mattered. The run game was responsible for Michigan's success against Purdue, but the run game also set Robinson up with solid opportunities to create big plays in the passing game -- big plays that ultimately led to touchdowns.
If Michigan is going to keep winning in the Big Ten it will need the run game to keep working. Thankfully, the better the run game is, the more chances Denard Robinson will have to make teams pay in the passing game.