Michigan's offense has come alive under the direction of junior quarterback Devin Gardner the past three weeks. And Saturday, the Wolverines added a new wrinkle when senior Denard Robinson lined up at running back.
With both players on the field, U-M is clicking, and has raised one big question among fans: why wasn't Michigan doing this before?
So, why hasn't Michigan been using Robinson at running back and Gardner at quarterback the past two years?
In an ideal world, U-M probably would have. It has been clear these past few weeks that Gardner is the ideal fit for offensive coordinator Al Borges' offense, and it became apparent this weekend that Robinson was always capable of operating at running back, getting the ball on handoffs and in space to create big plays.
Brady Hoke was asked this question in the post-game presser, after first mentioning that the coaching staff had thought about this scenario 18 months ago, and he was very careful in his response, perhaps offering his best hint when he talked about maturity.
Two years ago, when Hoke and his staff arrived, Robinson was the quarterback most prepared to run the offense. Gardner has emerged a leader, but he wasn't ready mentally in the past according to sources, frustrating his coaches with his lack of dedication to the quarterback craft. With his team needing him three weeks ago, the light bulb went on, and he's been everything they could ask for.
Perhaps if U-M had committed to Gardner earlier he would have responded, but at the time, Robinson was the one showing the poise, command, and preparation to earn the starting job.
What does Robinson's participation mean for next week, the rest of the year and for his future?
He gives Ohio State's coaching staff something significant to game plan for while they must also prep their defense to defend a burgeoning passing attack that has seen its completion percentage climb from 55.2 to 78.3 the past two weeks and its yardage climb from 234 to 286 to 314 yards under Gardner.
This offense has a downfield passing threat in both senior Roy Roundtree and junior Jeremy Gallon, a playmaking tight end in freshman Devin Funchess, a screen-savvy tailback in senior Vincent Smith and a QB that can seemingly do it all, becoming just the second Wolverine in program history to throw for three touchdowns and rush for three in the same game. And now you add Robinson to the mix.
Urban Meyer will have some sleepless nights the next few days.
It's pretty clear that when Robinson plays next week, and probably in the bowl game, that this is the role he will play, and while he would like to play quarterback again - and don't rule out him throwing one or two passes against the Buckeyes - he is being afforded the opportunity to show NFL talent evaluators what he can do on the next level.
Scouts have already said Robinson would be snatched up by the end of the second round at the latest, and now that they can see him at running back and catching passes, his draft stock should rise.
What is Devin Gardner's ceiling?
On Saturday, his passer rating was 227.29, which would obliterate the NCAA current leader of 176.96. Of course, this is just one game, and Gardner's performance is an impossible standard to maintain. However, what he did against Iowa can be duplicated in this manner: he can make every throw, creating big plays with his arm, and he can scramble and score on designed QB runs, keeping defenses continually off-balanced.
Gardner has the natural talent of Drew Henson (and maybe more) and has shown the intangibles of some of the all-time greats to direct the Wolverines. Braxton Miller will earn more offseason hype, but Gardner could be the Big Ten's best QB in 2013, an All-American candidate, and even a Heisman contender.
That may sound like overreaction, but he's special. And with him under center, the Maize and Blue should be a favorite to win the conference crown next year.
How did the defense bounce back from last week's poor performance against Northwestern?
There were some early concerns when Iowa drove 75 yards on 14 plays, consuming 6:43, to tie the game 7-7, but in the next two quarters, U-M would surrender only 86 yards in stifling the Hawkeye ground and passing games. The Black and Gold would pick up 145 yards in the fourth quarter, but against Michigan's second- and third-string defenders.
There are a few vulnerabilities - the tackling needs to be better and the Wolverines cannot keep fanning on potential sacks, especially against OSU's Miller - but this defense has the confidence it needs heading into Columbus to give the Maize and Blue a chance.
What do you think Michigan should do with its students?
When Senior Day festivities began 25 minutes before kickoff, the student section wasn't even 1/10 full, and by game time, half the section remained empty. Students can complain all they want about noon starts, but the past two years are the first I can remember in which the majority of the students did not arrive on time for a 12:00 start.
The sad part of it all was that Robinson did not receive the ovation he should have, a sparse crowd instead cheering him on.
Athletics director David Brandon has talked about using a scanner to keep track of which students are using their tickets and when they're arriving. It's not a bad idea. Those that cannot make it through the gates by game time could have their tickets downgraded if a priority point system was implemented.
There are no easy answers, but something must be done. At its simplest, the 20,000-plus freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors just need to take more pride in their involvement, and give the team the respect it deserves by leaving their tailgates a few minutes early.
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