ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Denard Robinson is expected to be back at quarterback when Michigan plays at Minnesota on Saturday.
Unfortunately for the Wolverines, that’s not going to solve all of their offensive woes.
Robinson missed the second half of last weekend’s 23-9 loss to Nebraska after aggravating a nerve injury in his elbow. He was replaced by Russell Bellomy, who went 3-for-16 with three interceptions, allowing the Cornhuskers to pull away for the key Big Ten Legends Division victory.
“He should be fine, he should be ready to go,” Brady Hoke said of Robinson during his Monday news conference. “If we didn’t think he could practice all week, we wouldn’t expect him to play.”
Hoke said that Devin Gardner will get more snaps at quarterback in case Robinson has a setback, but that he expects Robinson to be at quarterback against the Golden Gophers with Gardner at wide receiver.
Getting Robinson back on the field would be good for any NCAA offense, but Michigan was struggling to get into the end zone even before his injury. Robinson has gotten little help from his running backs, with Fitzgerald Toussaint averaging just 3.3 yards per carry.
“We need to play better football, and we especially need to play better in the red zone,” Hoke said. “A big part of that is being able to run the ball, and that’s going to be front and center this week.”
Hoke puts much of the blame on the offensive line. Robinson’s unique style allows him to improvise and make plays with his speed, but Toussaint and the other tailbacks rely on holes being opened by the line.
“We’ve got to block better,” Hoke said. “Fitz ran hard, he took on linebackers and he took on safeties. I was happy with how he played. We just didn’t finish blocks like we had the week before.”
Taylor Lewan, the leader of the offensive line, agreed.
“The message we got was that we need to finish blocks,” he said. “It obviously didn’t go the way we wanted, because if you want to be successful, you have to be able to run the ball.”
Lewan felt the offensive line’s struggles also made life nearly impossible for Bellomy.
“Any person who thinks they could have done a better job — no, you couldn’t have,” Lewan said. “You are a redshirt freshman and you’ve got 90,000 people in red shirts screaming at you. That’s tough for anyone, and I don’t appreciate the things I heard about him. That’s a tough situation for any quarterback.”
Hoke also thinks that, although Bellomy obviously struggled at Nebraska, he’d be better prepared if the situation came up again. Hoke also noted that any quarterback needs time to pass.
“Number one, we’ve got to do a better job of picking up blitzes by the offensive line and running backs,” he said. “But I think the experience he gained from going into that environment will be a great help to him.”
Michigan dropped out of the AP Top 25 with the 23-9 loss to Nebraska but is still tied with the Cornhuskers for first place in the Legends Division. With Nebraska holding the head-to-head tiebreaker now, however, Michigan’s fate is no longer in its own hands.
“All we can do right now is focus on Minnesota,” defensive end Craig Roh said. “We can’t focus on the standings or what anyone else is doing.
“We focus on ourselves and on beating Minnesota and then we focus on the next game after that.”