Michigan shifts from run-first to pass-first with Devin Gardner under center
ANN ARBOR -- Denard Robinson is a rushing quarterback, and with him, Michigan is a rushing team.
Without him, not so much. Or at least, not as much.
The Wolverines' offense has taken on a different look with receiver-turned-backup-quarterback Devin Gardner, who has filled in the past two weeks for Robinson while he deals with an injured nerve in his throwing elbow.
Michigan has eschewed designed quarterback runs with Gardner, in part because that's more Robinson's game, and also the Wolverines lack quarterback depth without Robinson and reserve Russell Bellomy. They're trying to limit Gardner's hits as much as possible.
Gardner also appears to be more consistent in the passing game than Robinson, which allows Michigan to reconfigure the offensive game plan it has used for most of the past two seasons.
The junior passed for 234 yards in his quarterback debut against Minnesota, then 286 in last week's comeback win against Northwestern. Those are two of the three most productive passing days by a Michigan quarterback all season.
He is completing 59.6 percent of his passes and has four touchdowns against two interceptions.
That aerial threat seems to be giving the tailbacks a little more room to run as well, after a season of struggles. Starter Fitz Toussaint had a season-best 92 yards last week against Northwestern.
"I think it always helps when you can throw the ball and the safeties have to get a little further back off the line of scrimmage," coach Brady Hoke said. "I know we thought some of the hitch routes that we threw to (Jeremy) Gallon, threw a big one in overtime to (Roy) Roundtree, which he caught well with his hands, made a guy miss, and picked up some critical yards.
"I think there’s no doubt if you can be effective enough in either portion of it, it will help the other.”
While Robinson was used almost exclusively in shotgun sets, Michigan has moved Gardner under center for most of his snaps. Hoke said that allows the offense to go to more two-back sets and power plays, a look closely resembling what the staff would like to do once Robinson graduates.