Catch him if you can

The Badgers will try to slow down multi-talented quarterback Michael Robinson this week

Northwestern coach Randy Walker knows all too well what Penn State quarterback Michael Robinson can do to an opposing defense.

"He's a time bomb," Walker said. "When you are playing him, even if things aren't going well, you know he has a chance of exploding at any time."

Containing Robinson will go a long way toward keeping No. 14 Wisconsin (8-1 overall, 5-1 Big Ten) atop the Big Ten standings when it travels to face No. 10 Penn State (8-1, 5-1) Saturday.

Back on Sept. 24, Walker's Wildcats had the Nittany Lions beat. With less than two minutes left in the game, PSU faced a fourth-and-15 from its own 15-yard line, trailing 29-27. Robinson had turned it over four times, but he stepped up and delivered a 20-yard strike to tight end Isaac Smolko. With 51 seconds left he found receiver Derrick Williams for a 36-yard game-winning touchdown. It was his third touchdown pass of the game.

"It just shows that we can go out there and take care of business when we have to," Robinson said. "… It definitely gave us confidence and gave our defense more confidence in our offense."

After the 2004 season, when Penn State ranked last in the Big Ten in scoring offense and total offense, there was plenty of reason for doubt. In that regard, Robinson's ability to make plays with both his arm and his legs has been a revelation. He is third in the Big Ten in total offense (258.2 yards per game), having thrown for 1,754 yards and 13 touchdowns and rushed for 570 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Robinson is far from a new addition to Penn State's attack, but as a fifth-year senior he is enjoying his first season as a full-time quarterback.

"When we delegated him to be a running back and a wideout and everything else, he hung in there with it," PSU coach Joe Paterno said. "To see him come through as he has as a quarterback has really been a lot of fun for all of us on the staff. Michael is a wonderful young man and right now is playing really well.

"It would be tough for me to tell you there's a better quarterback around than Michael Robinson. I know there's this guy at Texas (Vince Young) and there's (Matt Leinart) out at (USC). But what Michael Robinson has brought to this football team in his senior year, his leadership and everything else, has been something special."

In his first three seasons, Robinson accounted for 2,641 yards and 18 touchdowns. Last year, he led PSU in receiving yards (485) and receiving touchdowns (3). But his career passing résumé was shabby; he had completed just 44 percent of his passes. Primarily a backup to Zack Mills last season, Robinson started three games at quarterback and had an abysmal 55.3 pass efficiency rating.

This season he boasts a respectable 131.4 rating.

"He can beat you with his feet," UW coach Barry Alvarez said. "… And I see him as a much improved passer. I just think that he's just made tremendous strides."

"I still think Michael is underrated as a quarterback," Walker said. "He threw some long balls (against us) with great accuracy and great touch. That's not an easy thing to do."

Wisconsin has had little success defending dual-threat quarterbacks. In the past month, Northwestern's Brett Basanez, Purdue's Curtis Painter and Illinois' Tim Brasic combined for 245 yards rushing and 850 yards passing.

"You don't want to play much man coverage with (Robinson) because if he breaks the line of scrimmage… and you have defensive backs that are with their backs to the quarterback, he has the potential to get a lot of yardage (scrambling)," Alvarez said.

Revenge not in Robinson's gameplan

Robinson does not have pleasant memories from facing Wisconsin last season. Early in the Badgers' 16-3 win in Madison, then-senior defensive linemen Erasmus James and Jason Jefferson sacked Robinson, hitting him violently from each side. Robinson was taken off the field in a stretcher and treated at a local hospital for a concussion. He missed the next two games.

Robinson, though, said he is not using the event as motivation this time around.

"I try not to think about it," he said. "That was last year. Totally different team we're playing. We're a totally different team they're playing. I'm just focused on what we have to do this Saturday."

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