Notebook: Robinson answers the call
Michael Robinson no longer has any doubts he can do the job as Penn State’s starting quarterback.
“The team has always been confident in me,” he said. “Even last year’s seniors, when I stepped in during the (Capital One) Bowl game, they were like, ‘OK, let’s go do this.’ So, I don’t feel it was the team’s confidence that needed to go up. It was my confidence.”
Robinson took over in the second quarter Saturday after Zack Mills sprained the left medial collateral ligament in his left knee. Minnesota won, 20-14, when Robinson’s final two passes of the game fell incomplete in the end zone.
Robinson helped direct a pair of touchdown drives, but could not muster any points in the second half. He completed 16 for 27 passes for 178 yards and also rushed 12 times for 42 yards and a score.
“I thought Robinson did a good job,” coach Joe Paterno said. “He was off a little bit here and off a little bit there, and we dropped some passes.”
Penn State (2-3, 0-1 Big Ten) piled up a season-high 419 yards — 346 of them while Robinson was in the game. It was the first time the redshirt sophomore had gotten extensive playing time.
The physical tools always have been there for Robinson. He’s faster, stronger and brawnier than Mills, and puts more oomph on his passes. Mills has a softer touch on his throws and is more savvy under pressure.
“We have faith in both quarterbacks,” center Dave Costlow said. “They both do a lot of things very well. Zack might have more experience, but Mike’s a good player too.”
Saturday, Robinson proved that’s true.
“I learned I can make this offense work,” he said. “I learned I can throw the ball against defenses. And I learned I can read defenses fast enough to let the ball go.”
The Nittany Lions had four possessions in the second half. Each time, they came within inches of busting a play that could’ve turned the game around.
In the third quarter, safety Justin Fraley’s shoestring tackle held Robinson to a 1-yard gain when there was nothing but 40 yards of open field ahead of him.
“We were a little on our heels, and (Robinson) caught us off guard on some of the passing plays,” Fraley said.
Later, wideout Gerald Smith dropped what would have been a catch for a first down. The Lions were forced to try a 45-yard field goal into the wind, and it sailed wide right.
Robinson was picked off on the next drive when Donnie Robinson, a converted running back, let Fraley get inside position on a post pattern.
“When the ball left my hand, I thought it was money,” Robinson said.
Confusion on the sideline, which delayed the play calls reaching the huddle, also stymied Robinson. As has been the case all season, it often seems the coaches aren’t confident about what will work.
“It’s frustrating,” Robinson said. “But at the same time, you have to say, ‘Hey, we’re that close, guys.’ You can’t get down on yourself, because that’s when things really start to go wrong. We’re so close right now, we just have to keep working hard during the week.”
Mills was examined by doctors yesterday morning. Team spokesman Jeff Nelson did not say if there was any change in the diagnosis, and he could not confirm whether Mills had a magnetic resonance imaging exam.
Mills is listed as questionable for Satuday’s game against Wisconsin, although Robinson said the coaches already have told him he will start.
“They told me Zack is still the starter, but this week, I have to step in and try to replace him,” Robinson said.
When Mills recovers, Robinson does not expect there to be a quarterback controversy.
“I’m a pretty competitive guy, but I don’t think that kind of competition right now is good for the team,” he said. “We need to win games. Whoever can go in there and do it, I’m happy about it. If I go in and make plays, and I keep the job, then so be it. If Zack comes back and beats me out, so be it.”
Upon futher review …
Umpire Rick Nelson overruled line judge Julius Livas and gave Minnesota an interception near the end of the second quarter. However, video replays clearly showed linebacker Terrance Campbell had trapped the ball against the grass.
As it did after suffering two blown calls last season, Penn State could lodge a complaint with the Big Ten. As of yesterday afternoon, no action had been taken.
“There’s nothing that I’m aware of at this point,” Nelson said.
No one was available for comment at the Big Ten offices in Chicago.