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College

Robinson wants to realize potential

| Monday, Nov. 1, 2004

Michael Robinson believes he could be an outstanding wide receiver.

"I don't feel there is a guy in any secondary who can check me one-on-one," Robinson said Saturday.

The thing is, Robinson had just spent all of that afternoon trying to play quarterback for Penn State in a 21-10 loss against Ohio State. And there were at least two guys in the Buckeyes' secondary who were able to handle what Robinson dished out.

Cornerback Ashton Youboty picked off Robinson's second pass attempt of the game, as the Nittany Lions were driving into the red zone. Not even five minutes later, backup strong safety Tyler Everett ran back an interception 24 yards for a touchdown.

Going back to the previous week's game against Iowa, that meant Robinson had thrown picks on 4 of 5 pass attempts.

To his credit, Robinson did not fold after handing Ohio State an easy score. Part of the reason was he had no choice; starting quarterback Zack Mills was out with a concussion, and coach Joe Paterno is squeamish about playing true freshman Anthony Morelli.

Yet, Robinson did little as a quarterback to give Penn State much hope of mounting a comeback. The redshirt junior completed 7 of 21 passes for 69 yards, and was sacked three times. He rushed the ball 20 times -- as often as starting tailback Tony Hunt -- and gained 58 yards.

"Overall, it was a good, tough performance," Paterno said.

Robinson's self-evaluation was more critical.

"I did feel a little rusty," he said. "The (25 mph) wind was a little tough, but that's no excuse. Some of those throws, I've got to make them. If you're the (starting) quarterback, you've got to go out and make plays."

The swirling, gusty breeze did play a role, as evidenced by Ohio State's decision to throw just eight passes -- total -- in the game. Also, take into consideration that Robinson missed about two weeks of practice time after sustaining a concussion Sept. 25 against Wisconsin.

But, Robinson admitted that his timing is off because he plays and practices at wideout and tailback in addition to quarterback.

And when Mills goes down with an injury, making Robinson the full-time quarterback depletes an otherwise sub-par group of receivers. Against the Buckeyes, freshman Mark Rubin had two drops and Terrance Phillips had one. Two of those drops came on third-down plays.

A few days before the Ohio State game, Paterno hinted that he is considering tying Robinson down to one position. Mills flatly said it was the only way Robinson could finally realize his immense potential.

"I don't know. Maybe," Robinson said. "Maybe I can try out at tackle or something. Maybe that would be a good fit for me."

Robinson's sarcasm was only partly good-natured. Like everyone else, he has heard the fans, TV announcers and talk-show callers wondering why Morelli doesn't get a shot.

Early last week, Paterno insisted Morelli was "not adequately prepared" to play against Ohio State. But Robinson did not seem to be fully prepared. And neither did Hunt, who made a lame toss that missed a wide-open receiver on a halfback option play in the second quarter.

After the game, Paterno said he actually had hoped to put Morelli in for a few plays, but the timing never felt right.

"When we got down 14-0, we couldn't afford to waste a series of downs," Paterno said.

Left unspoken was Paterno's fear that Morelli will be quickly knocked silly playing behind the porous offensive line. At least Robinson and Mills know what to expect and can brace themselves to take their inevitable licks.

On one play Saturday, linebacker Anthony Schlegel overwhelmed tackle Andrew Richardson and was on top of Robinson at practically the instant the ball was snapped.

The best scenario for Penn State (2-6, 0-5 Big Ten) might be for Mills to return soon, Morelli to get some snaps as the backup, and Robinson to become a full-time wideout.

"I think I'm a good quarterback and that's where I want to play," Robinson said. "But, If I need to play receiver, I'll do it."

During the Ohio State game, Morelli stood by himself on the sideline, helmet on and arms crossed, and watched the offense struggle. At one point, Robinson walked over and gave the rookie some advice.

"I told him, 'Man, the media and the fans are going to be on your side sometimes. But sometimes, they're not. It just comes with the role. It's going to be tough,' " said Robinson, who then paused and flashed a wry smile. "He'll see, whether it be next year or after I leave. He'll see."

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