Should it Be the End of the Denard Era in Ann Arbor?
Here’s a quick overview of what Denard Robinson has accomplished in his three and a half years at the University of Michigan, with the last two and a half as the starting quarterback:
- 4,175 career rushing yards; Big Ten record for Quarterbacks, Third amongst Division 1 Quarterbacks all-time with Missouri’s Brad Smith in second with 4,289 and Rich Rodriguez’s earlier protégé Pat White first with 4,480. Both numbers would have been fully in reach if Denard were to play a complete season.
- In 2010, his first full season as a starter, Robinson finished 2nd in rushing amongst all D-1 players with 1,702 yards, a single-season record for a quarterback.
- That same year, Robinson became the first player to pass and rush for 1,500 yards in a season. His 2,372 yards of total offense are a Big Ten record.
- In his second start, a game against Notre Dame, Robinson set the single-game Michigan record with 502 yards of total offense.
But behind the flashy statistics and highlight reel runs, Robinson’s never been able to make the plays that mattered most. The last two seasons, Robinson is 1-4 against Big Ten teams that have finished the season with winning in-conference records. He was 0-2 against in-state rival Michigan State before this past month’s 12-10 victory behind four field goals. Coming into this weekend, it had been three weeks since the Wolverines’ last touchdown.
Despite previous reports that Robinson’s elbow injury wouldn’t keep him out of action against Minnesota, something just didn’t look right to coach Brady Hoke in warm-ups and instead of going with last week’s train wreck of a backup Russell Bellomy (4 for 21, 46 yards, 4 interceptions, 3 sacks), Hoke chose to go with the guy who a lot of Michigan fans believed would already be starting at this point in his college career, Devin Gardner.
Coming into the Michigan Football program as ESPNU’s 5th rated Quarterback prospect, and number 1 duel-threat high school Quarterback in 2010, Gardner seemed like the prefect fit for the then-Rich Rodriguez coached offense. But his arrival into the program directly coincided with the emergence of Robinson. So Gardner’s freshman year, he only tossed 10 passes and rushed the ball 7 times. The following year – shortened by a lower back injury – he saw a little more time at Wide Receiver, and this season, he played almost exclusively as a Receiver, catching 16 passes for 266 yards and 4 touchdowns. But things changed this past weekend.
The Wolverine faithful finally got a peak at what life with Devin Gardner might be like, and as a devout fan of the Maize and Blue I have to say, it was a refreshing change of pace: a Quarterback who could actually make throws when he needed to. While definitely not as quick as the stringy and elusive Robinson, Gardner is still great at evading oncoming tacklers, and the arm strength he provides is just a whole new world for a Michigan offense that’s been mostly based on the ground the past five years.
Overall, Gardner went 12-18 for 234 yards with 2 Touchdowns and 1 Interception. When the team was down 7-0 early in the second quarter, Gardner dodged multiple Gopher defenders by running towards the sideline then circling back to the pocket and just before getting hit, he through a 45-yard strike to an open Drew Dileo to knot up the game. Now Dileo was pretty open so it wasn’t the toughest of throws, but we saw the arm strength on full display, the type of long-range throw Robinson always struggled with. Gardner led drives of 91, 90, 86, and 79 yards on the day and the team had a healthy offensive balance for once: 234 passing yards, 155 rushing yards.
It’s definitely tough to argue that a healthy Denard shouldn’t get the nod next week. He’s an extremely unique talent that is quite possibly the most fun player to watch in all of college football when he’s at his best, but tough Big Ten defenses really give him trouble when they can force him to throw. Gardner, on the other hand, may have more of a response to defenses loading the box. And with Denard moving on after the season, it may benefit the Wolverines going into next season if Gardner were to get some more in-game exposure with some intriguing matchups coming up, particularly Ohio State at the end of the year, and the possibility of the Big Ten Championship game after that.