Dec. 21, 2010
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By John Denton
ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - The 2010 season was filled with both the ultimate compliments and times of frustration for UCF standout cornerback Josh Robinson.
A season after leading all freshmen in the nation in interceptions (six) and earning Freshman All-American honors, Robinson seemed to be a nonfactor for the Knights for long stretches of time. But his interception total plunged from six to two this season, in large part, because he was so good and his reputation as a shutdown corner preceded him.
Quarterbacks not only avoided throwing to Robinson's side of the field, but often didn't even look his way because of his ability to smother receivers and close distances with his cat-quick reflexes. For a cornerback, not getting thrown at is the ultimate compliment, but it can also be frustrating at times too, especially for a playmaker as competitive as Robinson.
``I don't know why teams did that, but I want them to come at me to show that I am what they say I am,'' Robinson said. ``Can I really stop the good receivers? Can I really stop this and that?''
All of the inactivity changed in the Conference USA title game when SMU's high-flying passing attack went right at Robinson to see if he truly was an elite cornerback. And the Mustangs paid a dear price as UCF's 5-foot-10, 197-pound sophomore cornerback played the game of his football life. Robinson registered seven tackles, broke up two deep would-be touchdown passes and registered an interception that stopped a drive just after halftime. His play was a big reason why UCF won 17-7 while holding the Mustangs to the fewest points ever in a C-USA title game.
Getting challenged the way that Robinson did was good prep work for what he will likely see when the Knights (10-3) face superstar wide out A.J. Green and Georgia (6-6) in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl on Dec. 31 in Memphis. Green, a 6-foot-4, 212-pounder, is considered to be one of the best wide receivers in the country and will likely be a top pick in the spring NFL Draft. So Robinson knows he won't have to worry about quarterbacks shying away from challenging him on Dec. 31 when he's lined up across from Green.
``I think Georgia will test me and make me show that I can defend the deep ball. They will try and see if (the C-USA title game performance) was just a fluke or not,'' Robinson said. ``(Green) is a great receiver with great hands and he runs good routes. He's just got that playmaking ability. Like a lot of players I know he's a great talent, but I'll be ready for the challenge. I'm working hard to be ready for it. I want the challenge and I accept it.''
The Knights are back at practice, working twice a day with walk-through sessions in the morning and practice in the afternoons. UCF will practice until Thursday, take two days off for Christmas, practice again on Sunday and then fly to Memphis on Dec. 27.
Head coach George O'Leary said the matchup against a traditional Southeastern Conference foe in Georgia has helped to focus his team in prep work. The Knights are competing in their fourth bowl and are still looking for the first bowl win in school history.
``We got finals all done and they should be very focused right now,'' O'Leary said. ``We'll get all of our work in. The big thing is making sure that they stay focused. You've got time, but you have to temper it as far as getting your work done and finding out about your younger players for the future.''
The future looks bright for Robinson, who was a standout this season despite teams rarely throwing his way. He tied for fifth on the team in total tackles (55) and his 12 pass-breakups were far and away the most on the team. With few teams challenging him at cornerback, Robinson stoked his competitive fire by becoming a top punt returner (a 17.3-yard average) and returning a fumble 56 yards for a touchdown against UAB.
But he was never better than in the C-USA title game. Robinson's closing speed was noticeable as he twice broke on deep balls and swatted passes away that could have gone for long SMU touchdowns. And his third-quarter interception - a play where he reacted on a short hitch route and dove in front of the receiver for the ball - was a thing of beauty. UCF tailback Latavius Murray won the game's Most Valuable Player award for his two-touchdown effort, but Robinson clearly could have gone home with the hardware considering how valuable he was to UCF's dominant defensive effort.
``The one thing I said to him was that when he plays like that then he has to do it all of the time now,'' O'Leary said. ``His challenge is to have that sense of urgency each and every play. But that's part of growing up and maturing for him. He has that ability to play well every game and he's obviously going to have to do that against a good Georgia team.''
Georgia was really good after Green came back after missing the first four games of the season due to a suspension. With Green on the field, Georgia went 5-3 and averaged 39.2 points per game.
Blessed with size, speed and extraordinary athleticism, Green caught 49 passes for 771 yards and nine touchdowns. He has 2,542 yards and 23 TDs in three seasons. This season alone, Green had three two-touchdown games, caught a TD in six of his eight games and had six games with at least 86 yards receiving.
``They say he's a top five pick (in the NFL Draft), and he plays like it,'' O'Leary said. ``He's very good and since he came back they are (5-3). He has a lot to do with that with his receptions and also in the coverage. People are putting two or a man-and-a-half on him which opens up the run game for them.''
Because of the development of Robinson this season as a shutdown cornerback, the Knights played more man-to-man coverage on the outside as the season progressed. Most likely at several points in the Liberty Bowl, Robinson will be locked in on Green one-on-one. After a season with very few balls throw his way, Robinson is looking forward to challenging one of the nation's top receivers.
``I was very proud of the way that I played (in the C-USA title game) and that game was a confidence booster for me. Now, I'm going into the Georgia game knowing that I have to do the same thing,'' Robinson said. ``Playing at that high level every game is something that I'm really focusing on and that's why I'm practicing so hard to get ready.
``If the play is called and I'm on him one-on-one, I'll play him and give him my best effort every time,'' Robinson continued. ``Our coaches have been (playing man-to-man) more as the season has gone along and I love playing that way.''
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John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at email@example.com.