Corey Robinson rebounds from slow start for Notre Dame

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

Hard to manufacture confidence.

It’s either there or it isn’t.

That’s what makes Corey Robinson’s 10-yard touchdown catch against Southern Cal, which eventually turned out to be the game-winner, even more impressive.

Given the struggles he’s had through the first six games of the season, the 6-foot-5, 215-pound junior receiver for the Notre Dame football team, had no business wanting such a critical pass thrown in his direction, and even less of a reason to snag it in the corner of the end zone while draped by a defender.

That’s the textbook definition of blocking out the past and focusing on the here and now.

Last year, Robinson emerged as a big-time component of the Irish passing game, with the sky as the limit on his future at Notre Dame. He caught 40 passes for 539 yards and five touchdowns.

When it came to crunch time — the closing minutes against Florida State (when the Irish were still good) — he responded. Robinson caught a huge fourth-down pass along the sidelines against the Seminoles, to keep a desperation drive alive. The he snatched the TD pass that could have been the season-changer, until C.J. Prosise was flagged for pass interference on an illegal pick.

In other words, Robinson was the man on whom the Irish could count.

Not so much this season.

Last year, Robinson had eight catches for 99 yards and two TDs against Florida State. This year, in Notre Dame’s FIRST SEVEN GAMES (though he missed the UMass game when he tweaked his knee pre-game), he has eight receptions for 98 yards and one score.

An obvious disconnect for some reason.

Besides a drop or two — most notably two against Clemson, when every Irish receiver was guilty of at least one case of butterfingers — it’s hard to pinpoint a reason for Robinson’s backward trek. Maybe it’s just that Will Fuller has been Will Fuller (32 receptions, 702 yards, 8 TDs) and Chris Brown (27-355-2) has improved.

Whatever the case, Robinson refused to go silently into the night. When everyone around him might have had their confidence in him tested, Robinson never wavered.

“Whenever the team needed me to make a play, I had to make it,” Robinson said. “I didn’t make it earlier in the season, and that’s that. That’s a fact I have to live with. Since January, I’ve been trying to prepare myself that, when I get the chance, to make a play.”

“(Robinson) had a great week of practice (leading up to Southern Cal),” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “His focus, in terms of wanting to attack the football instead of letting the football play him, was a point of emphasis. What I love about him is his response.

“It's really about how you respond to adversity. His response was outstanding in that he went back to work and his practice was outstanding over the last couple of weeks, aggressively going after the football and it paid off.”

One of the cornerstones in Robinson’s life and athletic career has been his father David, the former NBA great. A lasting visual from the Clemson post-game area was a heart-to-heart talk going on between the two.

“At Clemson, I didn’t play that well,” Corey said, giving an idea of what the talk was like. “‘How do I approach going into next week?’ He’s been everywhere and done everything — good or bad — in the NBA. Bouncing stuff off him is a great source for me.”

Next week, when Notre Dame starts it preparation for the stretch drive, nothing’s going to change for Robinson. He’ll be back at work, staying positive, focused on making an impact on the next play.

“It’s not a mental thing or a magic trick,” he said. “It’s just going back to practice: ‘I need to get better at this.’ It’s a process.

“You can’t look ahead. Hit the ground: ‘What do we have to do to win this week?’”

Confidence is a nice place to start.

Notre Dame’s Corey Robinson (88) catches a touchdown pass in the end zone against USC's Iman Marshall (8) Saturday, October 17, 2015, during the USC-Notre Dame football game at Notre Dame Stadium. SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ