UW defense preps for Robinson, Lions

Badgers confident their scheme and personnel can tighten leaks versus a dual-threat quarterback.

Dontez Sanders flashed a mischievous smile.

"I can't tell you everything," the senior linebacker said. "…But this week we have a pretty good scheme to correct the things that last week wasn't right."

The University of Wisconsin football team needed to go back to the drawing board after Illinois quarterback Tim Brasic rushed for 116 yards and passed for 277 yards in UW's win last week. Brasic was just the latest in a line of dual-threat quarterbacks that have given the Badgers fits this season.

Now, along comes Michael Robinson, who will direct a potent Nittany Lion attack Saturday, when the Badgers visit State College, Pa. for what amounts to a Big Ten Championship playoff game. No. 14 Wisconsin (8-1 overall, 5-1 Big Ten) kicks off with No. 10 Penn State (8-1, 5-1) at 2:36 p.m. Central on ABC.

Brasic proved to be faster than advertised, but Robinson is more elusive. He has played running back in the past and still does a good impersonation. He has 570 yards and 10 touchdowns rushing this season.

"(Robinson) is a strong runner," defensive coordinator Bret Bielema said. "He made some people look silly on film with just his ability to lower the shoulder. He's another running back back there. He isn't going to run out of bounds. He's not looking to take a knee or a slide."

Part of the problem last week was that UW was playing without middle linebacker Mark Zalewski, which limited what the Badgers could do defensively. Zalewski, who is expected to start this week, has the athletic ability to potentially serve as a spy on Robinson.

"Mark brings a different element to the table as far as his ability to close on the football," Bielema said.

The Badgers are not about to tip their hand, but Wisconsin's gameplan has to center on corralling Robinson. With his ability to run and pass effectively, the fifth-year senior puts considerable pressure on a defense to maintain discipline while challenging its ability to play without hesitation.

When the defense reads pass, the Badgers' front four wants to bring pressure in a hurry. But someone has to be responsible for containment or Robinson will be able to slip into the open field, as Brasic did often last week.

"It is kind of hard because you want to penetrate, but at the same time you got to look to see where the quarterback is, especially if he uses his legs as a weapon," said defensive tackle Jason Chapman, who is questionable this week due to an elbow injury.

Defensive tackle Nick Hayden, however, said that the linemen cannot get so wrapped up in containment that they fail to apply pressure.

If that happens, "we're giving him all the time in the world and leaving the D backs out to dry," Hayden said. "I just try to go nuts out there and just try to get back as fast as I can to try to sack him."

The challenge for the linebackers and defensive backs is to stick with their coverage responsibilities rather than becoming preoccupied with Robinson's scrambling prowess.

"That can be a factor because you never want to give up a big play, but you always just have to go out there and do your job," Sanders said. "You can't worry about something that's not your job."

All 11 players have to be focused on their assignments, but if Robinson does break containment, "it's a team tackle after a certain point," Bielema said. "If he breaks the initial phase of what we're trying to accomplish up front or with the linebackers than it's a team reaction to the play."

The trick is to find the solution to Robinson without opening the floodgates for his teammates. Running back Tony Hunt has 807 yards rushing and a 6.2 yards-per-carry average, contributing to the No. 3 rushing offense in the Big Ten (216.1 yards per game).

Robinson does not scramble simply to run with the ball; he has several talented targets that have helped him pass for 1,754 yards. Freshman receivers Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood lead the team with 27 and 22 receptions, respectively. Butler boasts an 18.8 yards-per-catch average and six touchdowns.

"There's a couple plays where (Robinson has) run a boot, scrambled around for his life, and some receivers have just broke off and he goes ahead and throws the football down the field and does it with some pretty good accuracy," Bielema said.

Does all that versatility make it difficult to react quickly?

"No, it's not (difficult) because football is an even sport," Sanders said. "You have 11 guys on offense, 11 guys on defense. So if you are prepared with the proper scheme to stop them, I think that it will be an even chance."

"The only thing that you can hope you guard yourself against is you don't want to become tentative," Bielema said. "If they're worried about his speed that means they're going to become slower and you'll never be able to defend a fast player."

In simplest form: if each player is on the same page and does his job well, Wisconsin will have less trouble defending Penn State.

"We have a very good plan to stop the scrambles and stuff this week," Sanders said. "We are going to have a good week of practice and go down there and play a pretty good game."

Wisconsin's plan will be put to task Saturday.

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