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November 20, 2012With senior Denard Robinson and redshirt freshman Russell Bellomy at quarterback, Michigan ran the ball on first down 74.1 percent of the time in its first eight games, and for good reason - Robinson averaged 9.0 yards per carry on first down and the Wolverines' tailbacks averaged 4.1 yards per rush.
In the first eight games, U-M attempted just 7.1 first-down passes per contest. The Maize and Blue had a successful formula relying on their legs, though they could have thrown more based on Robinson's numbers: he had a higher completion percentage on first down (54.9) than second, third and fourth down combined (53.0) and a better pass-efficiency rating (128.58 compared to 117.67).
Under Devin Gardner, Michigan is running and throwing the same amount on first down, with 31 rushes and 31 pass attempts. Gardner has proven especially adept when he drops back to pass, completing 23 of 31 first-down attempts (74.2 percent) for 501 yards with two touchdowns and an interception the past three weeks.
He has a pass-efficiency rating of 224.79 on first down and 162.75 on the other three downs, completing only 59.0 percent of his second-, third-, and fourth-down throws for 333 yards with five TDs and two picks.
"Defenses don't know what we're going to do on first down," Gardner said. "Characteristically for teams, they run on first down to try and get in front of the chains a little bit. When you play-action, they automatically think it's the run and we throw over the top."
It remains to be seen how the Wolverines will attack Ohio State, but based on its track record over the past three games, it's certainly likely Michigan will take the fight to the Buckeyes on first down.
Here is a chart with how U-M's three QBs have fared this season when throwing the football on first down.