In the minutes before Michigan and Minnesota kicked off on Saturday, the word finally came down from the school: Denard Robinson was out because of an "undisclosed injury." In other words, the ulnar nerve injury Brady Hoke had discussed extensively all week. Regardless, Robinson—Michigan's unquestioned MVP on offense—was OUT.
After Minnesota punted the ball away on its first possession, we finally got the answer as to who would replace Robinson: It was Devin Gardner, the quarterback-turned-wideout-turned-back-to-quarterback.
The move to Gardner wasn't entirely a surprise; Russell Bellomy had been in after Robinson suffered the injury late in the first half against Nebraska the week prior, but his 3-of-16, 38-yard, three-interception doomed both Michigan's hopes at Nebraska and Bellomy's hopes to start this week.
Indeed, Gardner made the most of his opportunity at quarterback this week, going 12-of-18 for 234 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in Michigan's 35-13 victory. Gardner also used his feet to his advantage, notching 10 carries for 21 yards and another touchdown on an impressive second effort.
Gardner got some impressive performances from his receivers, but he also made some big plays himself. He made a Denard-esque scramble and touchdown to get the score even at 7-7 in the second quarter, which you can see here:
Ignore the Benny Hill music—there's no farce in this play.
Gardner then executed a stellar 10-yard pitch-and-catch with Jeremy Gallon that pushed the score to an insurmountable 21-7 in the third. If the Big Ten Network had any interest in embeddable videos, we'd have been happy to show you that one. Alas.
Not bad for a guy making his first career start, especially against a Minnesota defense that was the best in the Big Ten in pass efficiency defense coming into the game. It's especially good for a guy who hadn't practiced at quarterback all season long until Robinson's injury forced him back into the role of QB in the preceding week.
But hang on. Unless one subscribes to the notion that a single week of practice turned Gardner from a receiver into a viable option under center, it stands to reason that Gardner was capable of playing quarterback last week too.
So, where was he last week?
It's fair, reasonable and downright smart for Hoke to have gone to Bellomy as soon as Robinson went down with an injury last week. That was Bellomy's role all season long. That much isn't in question.
But then Bellomy turned in one of the worst exhibitions of passing Michigan fans are ever going to see. Yes, he didn't get much help from his receivers, but he didn't do his receivers many favors on the majority of his throws either.
At some point in Bellomy's train wreck—maybe, say, the 0-for-10 start to his day—Hoke owed it to his team to think about putting Gardner in instead. Had Gardner practiced at all at quarterback that season? No, but the only reason you wouldn't put Gardner in at all is to avoid a worst-case scenario.
Guess what: Russell Bellomy's performance for the day was that exact worst-case scenario.
It's all hindsight, and there's nothing Hoke can do about it now, of course. But now that we have the benefit of that hindsight, it's pretty clear Hoke botched the personnel management of the Nebraska game. And unless Nebraska registers a loss between now and the rest of the season, Hoke will have potentially botched Michigan's shot at going to the Big Ten Championship.
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