Tuesday, September 17, 2002

Secret out on Penn State's Robinson

Associated Press Writer

        STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Penn State backup quarterback Michael Robinson kept the secret for a month. With two touchdown runs against Nebraska, the secret's out.

        Coach Joe Paterno first started using Robinson as a running back in preseason drills, but the coach waited until Saturday's game against the Cornhuskers to give the ball to his talented redshirt freshman.

        After first serving as an effective decoy as quarterback, Robinson carried four times for 56 yards, including two second-half touchdowns in the Nittany Lions' 40-7 victory.

        “I told my mom to be in for a surprise,” Robinson said. “I didn't think it would be this kind of surprise.”

        Paterno has made no secret about his desire to get Robinson some game experience. Robinson was a prized recruit out of high school. When fans lost faith in Matt Senneca last season, some were calling for Robinson to start as a freshman.

        Most got their first look at the 6-foot-3, 231-pound Robinson during Penn State's Blue-White scrimmage last spring. It wasn't the best throwing day for the freshman, but he showed off his ability to elude defenders.

        Robinson did that again Saturday. In the first quarter, starter Zack Mills faked a reverse to Robinson before handing off to Larry Johnson. Robinson got his first touch in the second quarter, going 28 yards on a reverse. He'd have gone farther had he not tripped himself up along the sidelines.

        “It's good that Michael is getting his feet wet,” Mills said. “I went through it last year. It's just good to get out there and play.”

        In the third quarter, Robinson took an end-around 12 yards to the end zone for a 19-7 Penn State lead and later blasted through the middle for 11 yards to make it 33-7.

        The game showed how versatile Paterno's offense has grown in the last couple years, first with Rashard Casey quarterbacking from the shotgun, then spreading the offense to make better use of Mills' passing skills.

        With Mills, a sophomore, firmly in control of the quarterback spot, it would have been easy for Robinson to get overlooked, except for his natural talent. During preseason practices, Paterno began inserting Robinson into some running plays.

        “I'm not the smartest guy in the world, but I'm smart enough to know when you've got a kid like Robinson, you put him in the game,” Paterno said after Saturday's victory, which allowed the Nittany Lions to enter the rankings at No. 15. Penn State plays Louisiana Tech on Saturday.

        Paterno also is crafty enough to know that Robinson opens the offense in ways few others on the team could. With Robinson and Mills side by side in the backfield, Penn State has two strong runners who have proven they can take a hit and also throw the ball.

        Despite his success at tailback, Robinson is still a quarterback first and the primary backup for Mills. But until his turn comes to lead the offense, he'll simply savor his time at Mills' side.

        “It's unbelievable. It's a dream come true,” Robinson said. “I would have never thought in my wildest dreams I'd score two touchdowns against Nebraska.”


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