Nation’s top rushing QB’s to clash

By Jeff Kirik

Weaving through a maze of defensive players is a formidable task for any option quarterback.

Entering the 1989 season, NIU QB Stacey Robinson faced not only that challenge, but also the added burden of dodging the shadow of his predecessor—Marshall Taylor.

In his first full year, Robinson has not made people forget about the “Wishbone Wizard”, but No. 7 has served notice that a little “Sauce” will be splashed throughout the NIU record books by the time he leaves.

Despite starting only eight games, Robinson already has toppled several records that Taylor needed four years to set. “Sauce”, as he is called by his teammates, broke Taylor’s school standard for yards rushing in a season by a quarterback last Saturday when he galloped for 87 yards in NIU’s 20-17 win over Temple. Taylor had earlier seen his NIU mark of 209 yards rushing in a game by a QB fall when Robinson darted and weaved for 228 yards against Western Illinois.

“It’s difficult to compare Stacey and Marshall because they did things under different circumstances,” said fifth-year NIU coach Jerry Pettibone, who also guided the Huskies through Taylor’s four years at the school. “Marshall was the first guy. He had to go through the learning process with everybody else.

“Stacey had the benefit of watching Marshall—learning from Marshall. He’s just adding to the things Marshall did.”

“Sauce”, however, has made waves on more than just the local scene. His 892 yards rushing make him the No. 1 rushing quarterback in the nation heading into Saturday’s clash with Brian Mitchell and Southwestern Louisiana. On the way to that distinction, the 6-foot, 190-pound junior has led the Huskies to a 6-2 record and opened the eyes of many of his opponents.

“He was awesome against us. He was a one-man team,” said Western Illinois coach Bruce Craddock, who watched as Robinson’s record-setting night carry the Huskies to a 34-27 win over the Leathernecks. Craddock added, “He’s got nice anticipation, he’s intelligent, he’s got good reactions and he’s got speed.”

The speed that Craddock referred to can be seen through Robinson’s 4.59 timing in the 40-yard dash. Add to that a 33-inch vertical leap and cat-like quickness and you’ve got a prototype option quarterback.

Just ask Southern Illinois coach Bob Smith. “He exectues their offense so well,” said Smith. “He’s gifted in a sense that he has quick feet, speed and he’s a great natural athlete.” Smith came away with that impression after he watched “Sauce” ramble for 161 yards and direct a late fourth-quarter drive that helped NIU to a 29-24 Homecoming win over the Salukis.

The success did not come instantly for Robinson. After starring in three sports for Danville High School, he was forced to sit out his freshman year at NIU because of his failure to meet Proposition 48 requirements. Last year he did practice, but he watched from the sidelines as Marshall Taylor led the Huskies to a 7-4 record. Meanwhile, Robinson spent his time learning the intricacies of the sophisticated wishbone offense.

“As Stacey practiced it became more and more apparent to all of us that he was really a gifted quarterback,” said Pettibone. “He picked up the concepts of the wishbone so quickly.” But Pettibone admitted, “None of us really realized how well he was going to do until he started this year.”

That start could have been more pleasant for Robinson though. On just the third play of the season, Robinson’s pitch was tipped by a Cal-State Fullerton defender and recovered by the Titans. But “Sauce” bounced back in time to lead the Huskies to 26-17 victory.

obinson said, “I came into the season confident that I was capable of doing the job. I had a lot of support from the players and the coaches.”

e now stands poised to become the first player in Pettibone’s era to gain 1,000 yards in a season. And it seems only fitting that he wears the No. 7, after scoring 11 touchdowns this year.

Craddock, who said the big-play, NIU wishbone offense “fits Robinson’s personality very well,” might be surprised to learn that the Huskie QB is actually quite soft-spoken. He refuses to talk about his personal accomplishments.

“All the credit goes to the guys up front (the offensive line)—they make it easy for me,” he said. “I’m not concerned about the statistics—really. It just doesn’t matter to me.”

owever he added, “Stats are awesome. But I’ll wait until the end of the season to look at the stats. I’d like to see what our stats are as an offense at the end of the season.”

Robinson insisted his only goals are to “just win football games”—and earn a bowl berth. And if Robinson can continue his own brand of “wishbone wizardry”, he might see both of those goals become reality.