Hoke keeps Buckeyes guessing

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan fans and players don’t know if Denard Robinson will start at quarterback Saturday in Columbus, Ohio.

More important for the Wolverines, neither does anybody at Ohio State.

In his weekly news conference, Brady Hoke continued to play coy about his injured quarterback. Robinson played a “superback” role in Saturday’s 42-17 win over Iowa, lining up at quarterback, running back and slot receiver. He never threw a pass.

Hoke acknowledged that Robinson isn’t completely healed from the nerve damage sustained in his throwing elbow last month, but said he’s able to do what he needs.

“Denard’s getting better and better every day,” Hoke said. “He’s able to throw, and if we wanted him to start, he could do it right now.”

So does that mean he’ll start?

“That’s still up in the air,” Hoke said with a chuckle.

No matter where Robinson and Devin Gardner line up on the first play, the Buckeyes know they’re going to see both of them at quarterback at times, and at other places on the field at other times.

Against Iowa, Robinson rushed for a team-high 97 yards, but it was Gardner who accounted for all six touchdowns — three through the air and three on the ground. He didn’t think that was a coincidence.

“The only thing better for us than Denard having the ball is when Denard doesn’t have the ball,” Gardner said. “Everyone on the defense is watching him, no matter where he is on the field, and that opens up a lot of things for the rest of us.”

Indeed, two of Gardner’s touchdown passes went to wide-open receivers behind a confused Iowa defense, and his rushing touchdowns were aided by fake handoffs.

“Right now, play-action and our running game are my best friends,” Gardner said. “When the defense knows that we can run the ball, especially when Denard is out there, that makes everything else easier.”

Although Gardner raved about his teammates on Monday, he was a bit embarrassed by the attention given to his six touchdowns — something no Michigan quarterback had done since Steve Smith in the 1980s.

“Guys were making great catches out there, and I wish people would stop making a big deal about my touchdown runs,” he said. “The longest one was three yards.

“Guys like Thomas Rawls and Vince Smith were doing all the hard work on the ground, getting us down to the goal line, and then I happened to get the last carry.”

Rawls and Smith are why Gardner isn’t worried about production from the tailback position, despite Fitzgerald Toussaint’s season-ending leg injury.

“Thomas is ready, and people forget about Vince but he’s ready as well,” Gardner said. “We all hated to see Fitz go down. He’s a brother and it is hard to see one of your own hurting like that, but Thomas and Vince are going to be there on Saturday.”

Hoke refused to disclose Toussaint’s actual injury — replays showed his left shin buckling in a grotesque manner as he was hit by two Iowa defenders — but did say that he had come through Saturday’s surgery in good shape.

“I talked to him on Sunday and he was taking it like a football player,” Hoke said. “His spirits are good and he is supposed to be getting out of the hospital today. I expect him to be ready for the start of next season.”

Hoke said that Toussaint’s injury doesn’t change plans for Robinson, but the coach also isn’t giving any hints about what those plans might be.

“We want to have our best 11 offensive players on the field as often as possible, and Denard is a big part of that,” Hoke said. “It doesn’t matter if he’s at quarterback, slot receiver or somewhere else.”

It might not matter to Hoke. It’s going to matter a lot to Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes.