Disappointing offense for Wolverines
NOV 24, 2012 5:00p ET
Why didn't they use it against Ohio State?
Against Iowa, Devin Gardner spent most of the game at quarterback, with Denard Robinson at his new superback slot. Robinson lined up at running back, slot receiver and took some direct snaps in the shotgun.
Robinson was the focus of the Hawkeyes defense on every play, and that allowed Gardner to put six touchdowns on the board -- three running and three passing. Robinson didn't score, but he rushed for almost 100 yards as Michigan had their way with a baffled Iowa defense.
This week? Even though a tweaked version of the system worked in the first half, giving Michigan a 21-20 lead, Brady Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges junked it in the second half. The results were disastrous.
The Wolverines never crossed midfield in the last two quarters, and even though Michigan's defense valiantly held Ohio State to a pair of field goals, that was enough to beat the Wolverines.
It didn't become immediately obvious that Michigan was going to go away from what worked last year. Gardner spent a good deal of time at quarterback in the first half and got the team on the board twice. He hit Roy Roundtree for a 75-yard touchdown pass and scored a rushing touchdown to give the Wolverines a 14-10 lead early in the second quarter.
Even after Ohio State came back to score, the new Michigan offense got the lead right back. This time, Robinson lined up at quarterback and turned one of his trademark read-option plays into a spectacular 67-yard touchdown run.
When the teams came out for the second half, though, everything had changed. Suddenly, Robinson was behind center nearly every time he came in, and the offense became ultra-conservative. Ohio State put nine players in the box, daring Robinson to throw the passes that he and Hoke insisted he could throw.
It never happened. Instead, the Wolverines ran time after time into the heart of the Ohio State defense, not even bothering to get Robinson onto the edges where he can do so much damage.
It all started on the first drive of the half. Gardner completed a pass to the Michigan 41, but things bogged down from there. Thomas Rawls ran up the middle for one yard before Robinson gained six to make it third-and-3.
A week after having such success on third down with Gardner and Robinson on the field together, Borges decided to skip that and ran a simple dive play into the teeth of Ohio State's line. Rawls didn't gain an inch, making it fourth down. After a timeout, Michigan decided to go for it.
Now came the Gardner roll out, with the option to pitch to Robinson, right? Or a screen? Or, even, to baffle Ohio State, a quick pass from Robinson to Roundtree, Jeremy Gallon or Drew Dileo? Anything to get the Buckeyes off balance would have been a great plan.
Robinson ran a quarterback draw that was swarmed under by the Buckeyes before he got a full step up-field. He lost two yards on the play, and Michigan never got that close to midfield again.
They still had plenty of time. They got the ball five more times, and one touchdown would have been enough to win the game.
Unfortunately for the Wolverines, they kept shooting themselves in the foot. Gardner hit Gallon for a 30-yard pass on the first play of the next drive, but Robinson was at quarterback on the next play and fumbled away the ball.
With time running out, Hoke and Borges realized that running up the middle wasn't working, so they decided to put Gardner under center and start throwing the ball. That might have been a good plan, had they lined up Robinson in the backfield or in the slot.
They did neither and watched the clock run down and a BCS berth vanish with the most explosive player in school history watching from the sidelines.
Robinson touched the ball only once in the fourth quarter -- with more than 12 minutes left. Down the stretch, Gardner was turned into a drop-back passer, not even getting to use the play-action roll-out plays that had made him so successful in his previous three starts.
All week, Hoke, Borges and his two quarterbacks glowed about the possibilities of having Gardner and Robinson on the field together, especially with another week to practice. They put in new plays, and Gardner even said that he hoped Ohio State hadn't been paying attention to the Iowa game.
When Robinson sustained his elbow injury against Nebraska, Hoke and Borges chose to go with Russell Bellomy instead of Gardner -- a decision that cost them any chance of winning the game. Against Ohio State, they seemed equally baffled as to what to with the quarterback position, and the biggest game of the season slipped away.
At 8-4 in a down year for the Big Ten, Michigan will still go to a New Year's Day bowl, probably in Florida. Fans, though, will be justified in wondering all winter if it shouldn't have been Indianapolis and Pasadena for the Wolverines in the postseason.
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