Michigan 'Ask Kyle' questions answered: Can Denard Robinson throw accurately against MSU's defense?
ANN ARBOR -- A game that hinges on the run will feature the Big Ten's two leading rushers.
Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who edges Michigan State tailback Le'Veon Bell to pace the league at 134.0 rushing yards per game, has thrived the past two weeks under Michigan's new rush-heavy offensive philosophy.
But he's also struggled to run against Michigan State, which means Robinson could have to establish a threat through the air. What happens then?
We talk that and a whole lot more in this week's mailbag (questions edited for brevity/grammar):
Question: As this season continues on, Denard is going to have to show that he can throw the ball with accuracy. What can we expect when teams force the issue by playing seven in the box? -- Dave Robinson
Answer: Michigan can manage seven in the box -- it's when teams load up with an extra man or two that has presented problems for Robinson, who, against premium defenses, has struggled to run against loaded fronts. And more importantly, hasn't made them pay through the air.
That's what Michigan State has done in the past. Purdue and Illinois didn't have the personnel to slow Robinson, but Notre Dame and Alabama did, and the Spartans might. They have in the past, and surely will stick with what has worked.
Michigan's new offensive philosophy of "run, run, run, short pass and then, hey, why don't we run some more?" has worked brilliantly the past two weeks. But predictability is the death knell for offenses, and Michigan State surely has seen the same things we've seen. It'll be prepared to stop the run first.
Robinson, at some point, will need to loosen things up by attacking vertically through the air. Can he do it? The answer, so far, has been a no. That's not to say he can't do it -- but his track record suggests he's not going to put up video-game numbers against MSU unless his accuracy and decision making improve in the passing game.
Question: As much as I'd like to say Michigan will win by two touchdowns, I hesitate because MSU has the recipe to stop Denard. Do you think Borges will finally put a game plan together that will use Denard's strengths and not his weaknesses and get Denard some yardage? He obviously adjusted well against Purdue and Illinois, but those teams didn't have near the defense that MSU has. -- gobluefan247
Answer: First, I'd say Borges has done a fine job the past two weeks of maximizing Robinson's skill-set. People like to dog Robinson for his passing, for his turnovers, for not being a traditional QB -- but fact is, used appropriately, he can move an offense as well as anyone in the country. And in a game when points could be a premium, which I suspect they will be Saturday, you want a big-play threat such as Robinson that can change a game with one play.
But, as you mentioned, Michigan State kind of has written the book on how to stop Robinson. Its defensive line really misses Jerel Worthy anchoring the middle and isn't as powerful as last year, when they really took it at Michigan's QBs (42 yards on 18 carries for Robinson, seven total sacks), but still is good enough -- and even better at linebacker -- to make life unpleasant for Robinson.
So where do I land? I think Robinson will be better against Michigan State this year than he was either of the past two, and I think Borges will put him in positions that minimize the risk for turnovers. But his overall numbers won't be outrageous, considering what MSU can do with its front seven.
The key for Robinson: Limit turnovers. In a low-scoring game, one miscue like that can swing things considerably.
Question: Is Michigan better this year at this time then last year, and does it have a real shot at finally beating Sparty? -- Scott Schlaack
Answer: Michigan, much like last year, has improved each week. That's particularly true on defense, where the line and linebackers have consistenly elevated their games. Desmond Morgan, Kenny Demens, Raymon Taylor and Quinton Washington are names that come to mind, as well as Craig Roh.
Are the Wolverines ahead of where they were last year? I think so. The defense seems to have turned a corner it didn't reach until probably last year's Illinois game, which came in the 10th week of the season. The offense is about where it was last year, but has another year under its belt.
The biggest regression has been tailback production, where Fitz Toussaint remains mired in a season-long slump. He was just ascending to featured-back status at this point last year, but had been productive at key moments by now. That hasn't happened this year.
You could also argue Michigan's had a tougher schedule to start this season, with three games already played away from Ann Arbor, two of which came against top-five teams. Michigan's only road game at this point last year was at Northwestern, where it faced a double-digit halftime deficit.
Both teams have similar progression arcs, but I'd say this team, at this time, is better than last year's team at this time.
Question: Based on his current performance to date, do I still need to be in dire fear of Will Gholston this Saturday? -- @cjane87
Answer: Gholston hasn't live up to expectations this year, playing inconsistently and getting tagged for penalties. He didn't play for half of the Eastern Michigan game, and although Mark Dantonio wouldn't say the defensive end was benched, it's assumed he was. He's been subbed periodically by Joel Heath.
Not exactly what you'd expect from a guy who is a Lombardi Award quarterfinalist, and expected to be one of the Big Ten's best defensive lineman.
Having said that, Gholston remains a freak athlete capable of turning it on at any moment. He also was a terror last year against Michigan. His, let's say, "extracurriculars" against the Wolverines -- which included punching left tackle Taylor Lewan and twisting Robinson's helmet after a play had stopped -- ramp up the interest factor here.
The Gholston/Lewan matchup should be a fun one to watch.
Question: Does Brady Hoke utilize bulletin board material with his team such as Mark Dantonio's comment, "Where's the threat?" or is he the kind of coach who doesn't pay attention to this sort of thing? -- TulsaTom
Answer: Hoke would say he doesn't use that stuff, but I don't buy it. He went as far as to paint a Dantonio quote on his team's weight room wall. He's surely aware of what is said from that side of things, and clearly is using it. But it's also Hoke's style to keep as much of that stuff in-house as possible.
Question: What's your feeling on this Michigan defense completely shutting out MSU this Saturday? I'm old school, where defense was Michigan's signature and although early, I'm getting that 'good ole' feeling again. -- Terry_Star21
Answer: It's certainly possible Michigan shuts down Michigan State offensively. Just look at what it did to Notre Dame, Purdue and Illinois ... and is the Spartans' offense really much better than any of those? It's not as self-destructing as Illinois, but in terms of playmakers, it's similar.
Michigan State's offense is a little different than those three, in that it's more of a pro-style scheme geared to run the football and take a few shots deep. Illinois and Purdue were more spread teams looking to move laterally. So, it's apples and oranges a bit.
But the Wolverines' defense is becoming a strength. It's hard to imagine MSU doing much through the air, and the linebackers and defensive line have showed teeth in stopping the run. Le'Veon Bell will be a load ... but will he be enough?
I don't think so.