Denard Robinson (16) to Devin Gardner (12)
To keep its Big Ten title hopes alive, Michigan must refrain from looking past Saturday's game with slumping Iowa (4-6, 2-4) to its annual showdown with arch-rival Ohio State.
That being said, the Wolverines (7-3, 5-1) should be readying their arsenal for some offensive fireworks in Columbus.
With Braxton Miller at the helm, Ohio State (10-0, 6-0) has just the type of weapons that give Michigan fits: an athletic, dual-threat quarterback, solid running backs and productive wide receivers. The Buckeyes have averaged nearly 40 points per game, tops in the Big Ten and 12th in the nation.
Devin Gardner has given the Michigan offense a shot in the arm with his play at quarterback the last few weeks. Senior starter Denard Robinson has been on the mend due to a nerve injury to his throwing elbow, and his status even for the Iowa game is iffy, at best.
There's been talk of just turning over the reins to Gardner for the remainder of the season, but Robinson has meant so much to Michigan that no one wants to throw him under the bus now.
When head coach Brady Hoke took over for Rich Rodriguez before the 2011 season, one of the primary goals was to keep Robinson from transferring. Michigan was headed to a pro-style offense, which was contrary to Robinson's dual-threat capabilities.
As everyone knows, Robinson agreed to stay, and the pro-style attack was placed on hold.
Michigan's first season under Hoke yielded victories over Notre Dame, Ohio State and Virginia Tech, but also exposed a weakness in Robinson's passing game—which surfaced again this season. Over the last two years, Robinson has thrown 24 interceptions against his 29 touchdown passes.
So here's the dilemma. If Robinson's healthy, do you insert him into the offense which struggled against Michigan State and Nebraska, or do you let Gardner carry on and leave Robinson holding a clipboard?
How can you leave someone on the bench who was the Big Ten's MVP in 2010, ran a 4.32 40, and rushed for 4,175 yards, fifth on Michigan's all-time career list?
"This is Denard's team, and it's always going to be Denard's team until he's gone," Gardner said after the Northwestern win. "He's done way too much for two games to change that. I'll just do what I have to do to help the team."
Sure, Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges can return to the offense where Gardner played wide receiver and Robinson lined up at quarterback.
With Fitz Toussaint still struggling, would Michigan have enough firepower to outscore the Buckeyes?
But Borges could slightly tweak his offense to maximize the strengths of both quarterbacks.
It's not rocket science. All it would take is a few plays where Gardner could line up side-by- side with Robinson in the backfield. Imagine Gardner taking the direct snap and pitching it to Robinson.
Or what about Gardner taking the pitch and hitting Devin Funchess in the flat? Or what about Robinson on a reverse?
Michigan wouldn't need several plays to get the Buckeyes thinking. After all, it might take just one to break their backs.