ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan fans came away from Saturday’s loss to Ohio State with one major question on their minds — what happened in the second half?
Why did the Wolverines abandon the two-quarterback offense that had been so successful against Iowa? Why did Denard Robinson spend so much time at quarterback if he couldn’t throw the ball? And, most baffling, why didn’t Robinson — one of the most explosive players in school history — touch the ball in the final 12 minutes of a one-score game?
Monday, at his weekly press conference, Brady Hoke didn’t provide straightforward answers to any of those questions. With offensive coordinator Al Borges not meeting with the media this week and Hoke only making Monday’s appearance, the answers may remain a permanent mystery.
The only complete explanation Hoke gave was why Robinson never threw a pass, despite both he and his coach saying his elbow injury allowed him to do so.
“He wasn’t as confident as he wanted to be with his ability to throw, so I didn’t want to put him in that position,” Hoke said. “The ball still isn’t spinning the way he wants it, so it would have been unfair to ask him to do it.”
That’s why Gardner was at quarterback for most of the fourth quarter — Hoke felt they needed a passing option — but it doesn’t explain why Robinson was on the bench. Michigan only needed a touchdown to take the lead, so there was no need to abandon the possibility of Robinson running the ball from the tailback position.
“We only had 21 plays in the second half because of our turnovers, and the opportunities didn’t present themselves,” Hoke said. “I would say that the timing wasn’t right. There’s a way you set things up, especially in the second half, and we didn’t want to try something that might not be as successful.”
When asked why using Gardner and Robinson together would be risky, after the way it had opened up things against Iowa, Hoke again pointed to Robinson’s lack of confidence in his arm, then to the fact that he’s not used to catching passes.
“The defense was definitely paying attention to him on every snap, but we didn’t think it would be fair to him to ask him to throw,” Hoke said. “We did have a couple pass routes in there for him, but he hasn’t got a lot of experience there. That just wasn’t our plan.”
For whatever reason, the big-play attack that had put up 42 points against Iowa and 21 in the first half against Ohio State ground to a halt in the second half against the Buckeyes. Michigan never crossed midfield, and Robinson only touched the ball once in the fourth quarter.
“I thought the playcalling was just what it needed to be,” Hoke said, when asked about Borges’ decision to stay away from Robinson. “I thought Al did a fine job.”
WAITING FOR AN OPPONENT
Hoke said that the Wolverines won’t practice again until they know who and where they will be playing in their bowl game. If highly favored Nebraska beats Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game (televised by FOX), the Wolverines are likely headed to the Capital One Bowl and a matchup with either Texas A&M or Georgia.
If Nebraska loses, though, the Cornhuskers will likely bump Michigan down to the Outback Bowl.
“We’re going to do a lot of recruiting this week, and the players will be in the weight room,” Hoke said. “We’ll do some game planning, but that’s hard when you don’t know you are playing.”
Ironically, Hoke said that his staff will be working on adding to the same Gardner/Robinson scheme that they went away from on Saturday.
“With the extra time and 15 practice days, there’s a chance to expand on the two-quarterback offense,” he said. “If Denard is fully healthy, I expect that he’ll play quarterback in the bowl game. And he might play slot receiver, and he might play running back.”
Hoke expects to meet with offensive tackle Taylor Lewan about his NFL draft prospects this week. Lewan is considering entering the draft a year early — the only Michigan player that Hoke knows to be thinking about an early shot at the pros.
“We’ve done our due diligence, and we will sit down with Taylor this week,” he said. “Our goal in situations like this is simply to help the young man figure out what is best for his future, whichever direction that may be.”
GARDNER IN 2014?
Hoke confirmed that the Wolverines have applied to the Big Ten to get Gardner a retroactive medical redshirt for his injury-shortened freshman year. After losing the starting job to Robinson coming out of fall camp, Gardner ended up sitting out most of the season with a back injury.
If he is granted the redshirt, he would enter 2013 as the expected starting quarterback and a fourth-year junior.
“We’ve sent in the paperwork, and I expect that he’ll be granted the redshirt,” Hoke said. “I don’t have any advance information — just a gut feeling that he will get it.”