Kenny Robinson Emerging As Young Playmaker For WVU Defense
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – It wasn’t that Tony Gibson didn’t expect his young freshman to make major plays. He just wasn’t quite sure when it would happen.
But as has been his career pedigree, WVU’s defensive back-of-all-trades took his chance and ran with it – quite literally- by picking off a pair of interceptions twice in three games and sandwiching a victory-sealing pass break-up in between. If it wasn’t apparent by week two, when Kenny Robinson broke into the line-up after not seeing the field versus Virginia Tech, it’s clear now: The status as a starter has been cemented. The only question is how high of a level Robinson can achieve.
“He is a special player,” Gibson said. “I have said that since day one. Anywhere we put him on the field he seems to be making a play. He is going to have one heck of a career here.”
The physical attributes are obvious. At 6-0, 202 pounds, Robinson has a lengthy frame which is aided by his wingspan. It allows him to cover greater areas and larger receivers, and has disrupted passing windows, as Iowa State discovered. But it’s the ability to read and react – the true definition of a defender – that has thrust a true freshman into a centerpiece role entering Senior Day.
“He’s instinctive,” WVU safeties coach Matt Caponi said. “He has a really good feel for the game. He has those instincts that you really can’t coach. As much as I can tell a guy do this or that, he goes out there and plays and reacts to what he sees and comes up with some big plays. The pick-six against Oklahoma State changed momentum a little bit towards the end of that game. Saturday, late in the game, with K-State driving to take the lead, he came up with the play and just read the quarterback and broke on the ball. He has those instincts that you can’t really coach.”
Against OSU, Robinson jumped an underneath route, intercepting national passing leader Mason Rudolph and returning the takeaway 39 yards for a score to pull West Virginia within 30-24 and completely flip momentum to the Mountaineers. It was Rudolph’s fifth interception of the season at the time, and the first returned for a score. A week later, he would end Iowa State’s comeback hopes with a PBU on the Cyclones final offensive play, flashing an incomplete arm gesture after the ball hit the turf.
Just days ago, Robinson got a read on Kansas State quarterback Skylar Thompson, breaking into front of the intended receiver and snatching a pass in the red zone to snuff a scoring chance that would have given Kansas State the lead with five minutes left in the fourth quarter. Robinson’s return covered 37 yards before Thompson wrestled him out of bounds to position WVU’s offense near midfeld. The Wilkinsburg, Pa. native’s second career pick went with a career-best six tackles, and firmly established Robinson as a major threat entering the final two regular season games.
“It’s all coaching,” Caponi joked of the interceptions. “He got caught by the quarterback. I don’t know how he didn’t score and I told him that. But he plays with confidence. He’s young and gets yelled at a lot, but he doesn’t let that bother him; he almost takes it up to the next level. He understands why he’s out there and sometimes he has to make some plays and he does. He doesn’t get rattled no matter the game or how big the situation is.”
The biggest shocker is that Robinson gained his first snaps at corner, and was slid to the free safety position when West Virginia needed more depth there after Dravon Askew-Henry moved down to bandit to cover the slot vacated by an injury to Toyous Avery. Through the domino effect, the Mountaineers might have a found a four-year player on the back end of the odd stack.
While there remains a debate as to where Robinson will end up between Caponi and corners coach Doug Belk, that discussion is merely trivial.
“He’s a safety,” Gibson said. “At corner you can avoid him. It’s pretty tough to avoid him in the middle of the field.”
Robinson has at least five tackles in each of the last three games after a total of 13 in the previous six, and the former Pennsylvania first-team all-state defensive back seems to be settling in at free, where his range and instincts mesh well with the required skill set.
“I don’t want to give him up,” Caponi said. “We have really unselfish guys that are willing to do whatever it takes to help the team. If we told him to go play linebacker or go rush the passer, I think he would do it. It’s a situation where we feel comfortable with him right now and he’ll only get better. Wherever we need him to be, I’m sure he’ll play great, practice hard and do the right things.”