M-Rob: No Ill Will Over UW's Big Hit

Michael Robinson says he doesn't hold a grudge against Wisconsin, the team that nearly ended his football career. When Penn State plays host to the Badgers on Saturday, the quarterback insists he won't be flashing back to last year's game, in which he had to be removed from the field by ambulance after absorbing a blow to the head.

“Why would there be a revenge factor?” Robinson asked Wednesday. “It was a great hit. They were playing great defense. This is a totally different [Wisconsin] team, in some ways better. So there's definitely no revenge. I'm going to go into it like any other game.”

There's no choice but to take Robinson at his word, but some may find his nonchalance unconvincing. After all, this is hardly just another game. It will play a pivotal role in determining the Big Ten championship, with the Badgers and Nittany Lions both coming in at 5-1 in the conference standings.

Moreover, it will be the final game in Beaver Stadium for Penn State's senior class, of which Robinson is a prominent member. Senior Day is always a milestone moment, and the Lions' return to national prominence after two consecutive losing seasons has made for an even more emotionally charged atmosphere than usual.

And then there's the history. Robinson downplayed his injury last year, calling it “one of those freak accidents that just happens.” But it will surely weigh heavily in the minds of the 110,000 people who are expected to fill Beaver Stadium to capacity.

Last year, Wisconsin knocked both of Penn State's top quarterbacks out of the game in the first quarter. Starter Zack Mills lasted only two plays. He suffered a right shoulder injury when he was hit on a 49-yard completion to Robinson on the Lions' first play from scrimmage. Then, clearly hurting, he was hit again on the next play and tossed a drive-ending interception. Mills never went back into the game.

Robinson fared even worse. Bracing for the impact of hard-charging defensive tackle Erasmus James, he suffered a blow to the head that knocked him unconscious. Robinson was taken to a nearby hospital on an immobilizing stretcher where he eventually regained feeling in his extremities. He was diagnosed with a concussion and missed the Lions' next two games.

In the aftermath of Penn State's 16-3 loss to Wisconsin, there was considerable debate over the legality of James' hit. Joe Paterno stayed out of the crossfire, but when asked at his news conference on Tuesday to revisit last year's game, he implied that he had a problem with the blow James delivered.

“I hope the officials will make sure that doesn't happen [again],” he said. “One or two of the shots last year were very dubious as to whether they were legal. I don't know.”

There was less debate over Penn State's pass protection that day. It was ragged to say the least. The Lions looked helpless against Wisconsin's high-pressure defensive scheme - a scheme they are likely to see again on Saturday. Paterno is hoping the Lions fare better this time.

“We have to do our job,” he said. “Wisconsin is going to do their job, and they are going to come. They are going to be tough. They are not going to come in here and say, 'Hey, [Robinson] is a sacred cow' or anything like that. So we have to be ready to handle that. I think we will be.”

Robinson is in the midst of a strong senior season. He has thrown 13 touchdown passes and has run for 10 more scores. In so doing, he has produced an average of 15.3 points per game, 19th best in Division I-A. On Tuesday, Paterno called him “one of the best football players we have had at Penn State in the years I have been here.” That obviously encompasses a lot of years.

Despite the success he has enjoyed this season, Robinson may be approaching the end of his career as a quarterback. His 52.7 percent completion rate isn't likely to impress NFL scouts, and some may regard him as a better prospect at another position.

Robinson said he has thought about playing as a slot receiver or third-down back in the pros. He's less optimistic about latching on somewhere as a safety. “I haven't tackled anyone in five years,” he said. “I don't know if any team would want someone whose last tackle was in his senior all-star game.”

Robinson has succeeded in rebutting the criticism he received from some Penn State fans before the season began. He said he used to receive two or three anonymous email messages a week urging him to step aside as quarterback. “The slant of them was usually that the white quarterback can do better, so be a bigger man and play wide receiver or running back,” he said. While the messages haven't stopped entirely, they have slowed to a trickle. “In the last month, maybe only two,” Robinson reported.

“He's just slapping everyone back in the face with his play, and that's the best way you can do it — with actions on the field,” PSU cornerback and fellow senior Alan Zemaitis said of Robinson.

With the season winding down, Robinson is hoping to add a championship to his resume. He still talks about vying for the national title even though it would take an improbable string of upsets for Penn State to play in the Rose Bowl. He also talks about winning the Big Ten crown, a feat that only one previous Penn State quarterback — Kerry Collins — has ever achieved.

Asked earlier this week how he wanted Penn State fans to remember him, Robinson didn't hesitate. He said he wanted to go down as “the type of guy who was patient, waited his turn and did what he could to help his teammates. And someone who, when given the chance, succeeded in winning games.”

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