TIDE, TAKE THREE
Three tidbits regarding Saturday night's game between Alabama and Michigan at Cowboys Stadium:
1. Alabama enters having been ranked 65 consecutive times in the Associated Press poll, a streak that leads the nation. Boise State is next with 61.
2. Michigan is a stout 23-6-1 against teams from the SEC, but its last such encounter was a 52-14 Gator Bowl loss to Mississippi State during the 2010 season.
3. Alabama had been tied for the fewest scholarship seniors nationally with eight until long-snapper Carson Tinker was awarded one Aug. 20.
Nine months after turning LSU's Jordan Jefferson from a dual-threat quarterback into no threat whatsoever, Alabama's defense will try to do the same to Denard Robinson.
When the revamped Crimson Tide take the field Saturday night at Cowboys Stadium against Michigan, containing Robinson's talents will be the chief objective. Alabama was last seen harassing Jefferson to the tune of 53 passing yards and 14 rushes for 15 yards in a 21-0 Tide trouncing in January's BCS title game, but it wasn't Jefferson who Tide coach Nick Saban evoked Monday when discussing the Wolverines.
"They have probably as significant a player as we've played against since maybe [former Auburn star] Cam Newton as far as the quarterback position in terms of what he can do in a game and how the offense is sort of built around and features him," Saban said. "They have lots of good players, but he's the guy. Whether it's a zone-read play or a quarterback power or a pass play, he makes a lot of significant plays that impact a game.
"He's become a better and better passer each game and each year, and I think that's a real key."
A 6-foot, 197-pound senior from Deerfield Beach, Fla., Robinson has been a household name in college football since jumpstarting his sophomore season by rushing for 258 yards and throwing for 244 yards in a 28-24 victory at Notre Dame. He set the NCAA single-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 1,702 two years ago, when became the first to throw for 2,500 yards and rush for 1,500 and finished sixth in the balloting for the Heisman Trophy that was claimed by Newton.
His heroics in 2010 occurred on a Wolverines team that went 7-6 in the third and final disappointing season under coach Rich Rodriguez.
Robinson's passing and rushing numbers dipped slightly last season when Brady Hoke took over and provided a better supporting cast, but the number of big wins skyrocketed. Robinson completed 14 of 17 passes for 167 yards and three touchdowns as the Wolverines ended seven years of frustration against Ohio State, and he rallied Michigan to a win over Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl to cap an 11-2 season.
Though he has thrown for 4,743 yards the past two seasons and had a career-best 338 last year against Notre Dame, Robinson still lives with the label of a running quarterback.
"He is super fast, and he doesn't get credit for how good he really is," Tide senior linebacker Nico Johnson said. "He really is a better passer than people think he is. We just need to take advantage of every opportunity we get and try to contain him."
Said Robinson: "I feel like everybody on our team knows I can throw the ball. I feel like I can go out there, have fun and play loose, like I normally do."
Saban believes Robinson's improved accuracy in the pocket makes him more dangerous than ever. He said that new Tide starting cornerbacks Dee Milliner and Deion Belue will be challenged not only in their coverage skills but in containing the run.
Safety Robert Lester, the senior citizen of Alabama's secondary, recognizes that facing Robinson is no way to ease into a season.
"One thing that he can do that we haven't played against a lot is that he can extend the play much longer and make a big play out of nothing," Lester said. "We need to play until the whistle. If we can do that, I think we will have a great chance of containing the big plays.
"The average time of covering a receiver is probably four to five seconds, and I don't think a lot of people understand that covering a receiver for longer than that can get exhausting and very difficult."
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...