December 29, 2010 4:47:00 PM
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- There''s no question Denard Robinson is the engine that makes Michigan''s offense go.
The Wolverines'' "head of the snake" -- as Mississippi State defensive coordinator Manny Diaz typically calls opponent''s best player -- is an equal threat to run and throw.
But how Robinson has managed to produce at a high rate each week has just as much to do with his development as how teams try to defend him.
Focus too much on the run, and Robinson can burn a defense through the air. Try to limit big plays in the passing game, and Robinson will gladly run the ball.
The theme of MSU''s preparations for the Wolverines has been discipline, which will be tested when the two teams face each other Saturday in the Progressive Gator Bowl.
"The dude is really good," MSU defensive end Pernell McPhee said. "When we turned on the tape, me and (defensive tackle) Josh Boyd looked at each other and were like ''whoa.'' We''re focusing on containing him and not letting one man beat us."
Robinson, who has complied nearly 4,000 yards of total offense through an injury-plagued season, has made a living off run-pass options that force defenders into one-on-one matchups.
The comparisons to Cam Newton are valid based on numbers, but the differences in systems and players around each quarterback create different challenges, MSU cornerback Corey Broomfield says.
"You know how dangerous [mobile quarterbacks] can be if you''re not in position to make the play," Broomfield said. "The key is not having a run-pass conflict. Having your job in your head before the play. Either I''m playing the pass or playing the run."
For McPhee, defending the edge will be critical in allowing teammates to flow to the football. He thinks he has a read on how to diagnose what''s coming his way on Saturday.
"They get him a lot of read-run, pass option deals, and you can tell by how he rolls out by how he''s looking if he''s gonna tuck it and run," McPhee said. "We''re just gonna focus on containing and playing our defense."
--McPhee happy to be home
Pernell McPhee will play his last game in a Mississippi State uniform when the Bulldogs face Michigan on Saturday.
He''s thrilled to do so in his home state.
The Pahokee, Fla. native had a homecoming of sorts when the Bulldogs played Florida in Gainesville this season but admits Saturday''s game will be more special.
"This is my last game in college football, and a lot of my friends and family get to come watch, so I''m gonna try to have fun for them," McPhee said.
McPhee will face former Pahokee High School teammates and current Wolverines Vincent Smith, Brandin Hawthorne, Richard Ash and Martavious Odoms on Saturday.
Smith, a sophomore running back, will have the best chance at meeting McPhee one-on-one Saturday. Smith has 588 rushing yards and five touchdowns this season.
McPhee said he and his former teammates hung out on Christmas night and he caught up with them when the Bulldogs first got to Jacksonville.
McPhee said the trash talking has been high, but mostly on the Michigan side.
"It''s been a lot of trash talking, but I don''t get into that," McPhee said. "They''ve been talking trash to me, but I like to go out and play ball."