ANN ARBOR (AP) — Devin Gardner has flourished in three straight starts at quarterback for Michigan.
Denard Robinson is healthy enough to play, but can’t seem to do more than lightly lob a short pass.
So, is there any chance Robinson will go back to being the team’s QB on Saturday at Ohio State?
“I guess he could,” Wolverines coach Brady Hoke said with a straight face. “I don’t know. It’s an option.”
Let The Game — and the gamesmanship — begin.
Even if it’s obvious, Hoke must think acknowledging the fact that Gardner will stay at QB while Robinson lines up as a running back or receiver would give the rival Buckeyes a bit of information to help them prepare for Saturday’s game.
No. 4 Ohio State (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten) will host the 20th-ranked Wolverines (8-3, 6-1) in its finale with a shot to win The Associated Press national title.
The Buckeyes, though, can’t play for the conference championship because they’re ineligible to play in the postseason as part of sanctions stemming from a memorabilia-for-cash scandal under ex-coach Jim Tressel.
After Ohio State beat the Wisconsin Badgers 21-14 in overtime Saturday to seal the Legends Division title, coach Urban Meyer said they’re not the program’s rival.
“The next one is,” Meyer said. “So when we use that ‘R’ word, we’re talking about this week.”
When Hoke talks about the Buckeyes this week, he won’t say Ohio State once — dropping the second word in the school’s name in what he insists is not intended to insult the storied program he grew up rooting against despite growing up near Dayton, Ohio.
“There’s a lot of respect on both sides for both programs,” he said after a 42-17 win over Iowa.
Hoke will lead college football’s winningest program in a game at the Horseshoe for the first time against Meyer, who hasn’t been a head coach in what is referred to as The Game.
“It’s going to be fun,” Hoke said.
And, it’ll be interesting — or fun — to see how Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges uses Gardner and Robinson after playing both extensively against the Hawkeyes.
Hoke said the coaching staff has been discussing ways to use them both on the field for 18 months — since he replaced fired coach Rich Rodriguez — and talk turned to action when Robinson was cleared to play after missing two-plus games with nerve damage in his right elbow.
“After the Northwestern game that night, (Borges) had nine plays ready and then we put six more in,” Hoke said.
Gardner gave Robinson the ball on a toss sweep to the right on Michigan’s first play and threw it to him to the left on the next snap.
Robinson also got a handoff and made an option pitch to Fitzgerald Toussaint, whose left leg appeared to break on the unique play, and Robinson just a decoy on another play in which Gardner threw one of his three touchdown passes.
Gardner knew the Wolverines would make crafty plays work against Iowa because they did against their own defense even when teammates thought they knew what was coming.
“I felt like if they knew from one practice to the next that it was coming and still couldn’t stop it, then the other team would definitely not be able to stop it,” Gardner said.
Robinson took some snaps at QB, but didn’t throw once against the Hawkeyes.
Can he pass?
“Yes, but not as well as he’d like to,” Hoke said.
That, once again, might just be another thing Michigan is going to let Robinson do against the Buckeyes, who might not expect him to attempt passes downfield.
Ohio State linebacker Zach Boren probably understands The Game and the gamesmanship that goes along with it as well as anyone on the field Saturday.
His dad, Mike, played for Michigan and so did his brother, Justin, before famously — or infamously — transferring to Ohio State and taking a shot at the then-Rodriguez led Wolverines by saying family values had eroded within the program.
“That’s the biggest rivalry in sports,” Zach Boren said. “Now we can turn our attention to them. We’ll be ready. This team keeps on getting better and better each week.”
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