ARLINGTON, Texas -- The way to stop Denard Robinson always has been to turn him into a pure passer. Something strange happened at the Cowboys Classic on Saturday, though.
As much as the Alabama defense stifled the senior quarterback in the Crimson Tide's 41-14 win over Michigan, Robinson also was undone by his own team's play calling, which took Robinson away from his most obvious skill -- running the ball.
When Robinson takes off, he often is one or two cuts from a huge play. Yet in the first half, he had just one designed run -- which went 6 yards for a touchdown -- and one scramble. Otherwise, it was Robinson in the pocket, throwing the ball with less than limited success.
"I didn't make the throws I should have made today," Robinson said. "I feel I didn't play as a Michigan quarterback today."
Certainly not as one who touted improvement in multiple passing areas -- accuracy for one, decisiveness for another and throwing off his back foot for yet another. What became apparent against Alabama is that at least against strong defenses, Robinson will revert to the passer he was last season.
The one who often had questions about how good a thrower he really could be.
Of Robinson's 200 passing yards, 115 came on two plays -- a 71-yard pass to Jeremy Gallon and a 44-yard touchdown pass to Devin Gardner. He completed 42.3 percent of his passes, his worst passing performance since he completed 37.5 percent of his passes against Michigan State last season.
The Spartans, by the way, are one of the few teams to routinely do a good job on Robinson.
It wasn't just the passing -- and to be fair, Michigan's receivers could barely get separation from Alabama's defense. It was Robinson's reads in the run game, as well. That always had been a strength for him, something he learned almost to perfection playing under former coach Rich Rodriguez and improved upon when asked to do so last season.
Against Alabama, he regressed.
"There are some [plays] we were going to run him a little more," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. "There are some read plays in there that maybe he could have kept it, should have kept it once or twice.
"Now, we couldn't establish the line of scrimmage. When you can't do that, it doesn't do you very well."
Thing is, Robinson used to thrive on the broken play, when the protection failed or the receivers couldn't create open spaces. Freelancing was when he would be at his most dangerous. Instead, Robinson ran just 10 times, the fourth-lowest total he has had in a game since becoming a starter in 2010. His 27 rushing yards were the second fewest of his career as a starter.
"I know Coach [Al] Borges is going to have a lot to say to me," Robinson said. "Because I didn't play well."
Part of this was on the play calling, which appeared way too conservative and buttoned up for facing a team such as Alabama. But part of that is on Robinson, who made bad reads, threw into coverage and had other bad decisions.
Robinson said he was comfortable and already lamented reads he didn't make, throws he should have pulled back.
He entered the day as a Heisman Trophy candidate. He leaves, much like last season, with more questions than answers. Yes, Alabama's defense is good, perhaps one of the best in the country. But Robinson was supposed to be the reason Michigan could hang with the Crimson Tide.
He wasn't. Not close. And neither was Michigan.