Courtesy of MCT
Ohio State football coaches and players have plenty of respect Michigan senior quarterback Denard Robinson’s ability, but they better not forget about the Wolverines’ other dual-threat signal-caller.
Preparing to play Robinson, who ranks third all-time among Football Bowl Subdivision quarterbacks in rushing yards, is a challenge in itself for OSU football this week. In anticipation of this Saturday’s clash with their rivals, however, the Buckeyes have to prepare for UM junior quarterback Devin Gardner too.
In UM’s 40-34 victory last year in Ann Arbor, Mich., Robinson passed for 167 yards and three touchdowns, and rushed for 170 yards and two touchdowns. Over the past three games, however, Gardner has started at quarterback for the Wolverines.
Robinson missed two games with a nerve injury in his throwing arm, and upon his return against Iowa last week, he played at running back after regular starter redshirt junior Fitzgerald Toussaint was knocked out of the game with a season-ending leg injury.
In Robinson’s place over the past three games, Gardner has completed 65.7 percent of his passes for 834 yards and seven touchdowns. In eight starts at quarterback this season, Robinson has completed 53.6 percent of his throws for 1,319 yards and nine touchdowns.
The Buckeyes have to prepare to play both.
UM’s depth chart, released Monday, lists Robinson as the starting quarterback, but coach Brady Hoke said during his press conference Monday it is “up in the air” which player will start Saturday.
Regardless of which quarterback starts, it is likely the other will still have a spot somewhere else in the Wolverines’ starting lineup. Gardner has five starts at wide receiver this season, and through the season’s first eight games, he had 16 receptions for 266 yards and four touchdowns. As a tailback against Iowa, Robinson carried the ball 13 times for 98 yards.
Hoke said Monday that being able to play both players at multiple positions helps their football team.
“When we moved Devin, and he wanted to move to wide receiver, we were helping our football team, because you’re putting your best 11 (offensive players) on the field,” Hoke said. “I think Denard fits in that either as a quarterback or as a slot receiver or wherever it may be.”
OSU senior linebacker Zach Boren said the potential for either player to line up at a different spot on offense makes it a big challenge to prepare for the Wolverines offense.
“You just don’t know what to plan for,” Boren said. “You don’t know if you’re going to show up on Saturday and Denard’s going to be the starting quarterback and Devin’s going to be out at wide receiver, or Devin’s going to be at quarterback and Denard’s going to be at tailback. You don’t know and that’s the hard thing about scheming for them.”
Redshirt senior outside linebacker Etienne Sabino said Robinson’s dynamic rushing ability makes him dangerous regardless of what position he lines up at.
“Denard can run just as well as a running back, so when he’s in the game, you have to count him as a running quarterback or running back that can throw or whatever you want to call it,” Sabino said. “He’s a great player.”
Boren said that UM’s offensive scheme is likely to be different depending on which player lines up at quarterback.
“With Devin in there, they run more of a pro-style offense. With Denard in there, it’s more of a spread,” Boren said. “They played both of them in the backfield last week, and they have a lot of options by doing that … they’re going to be a tough offense to stop.”
Stopping UM’s offense, however, won’t be the only challenge in Sunday’s game. The Wolverines’ defense ranks 12th in the nation with only 303.5 total yards allowed per game, and 17th with just 18.1 points allowed per game.
First-year OSU coach Urban Meyer said the Buckeyes’ offense was “bad” last week, and that they have to “open this offense up and trust that good things are going to happen” against UM.
Special teams could also play an important role in Saturday’s game: the Buckeyes have scored four special teams touchdowns this season but have also had four special teams touchdowns scored against them.
Redshirt senior Zach Domicone said he expects special teams to make a “huge difference” on Saturday.
“When two teams are evenly matched or it’s a close game, every play is so critical,” Domicone said. “Special teams is … essential to controlling the field position, and setting up your offense and your defense in good situations to make plays to win the game.”
OSU’s annual rivalry game with the Wolverines is scheduled for a noon kickoff at Ohio Stadium Saturday.