2013 Outback Bowl: Misuse of Robinson Costs Michigan Win vs. South Carolina

Adam Biggers@@AdamBiggers81Senior Analyst IIJanuary 2, 2013

Michigan senior Denard Robinson took a unecessary beating in the Outback Bowl.
Michigan senior Denard Robinson took a unecessary beating in the Outback Bowl.Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

The Michigan Wolverines could have used an extra big play or two on New Year's Day from senior Denard Robinson

Although he broke loose for a 15-yard run and rang up 100 yards on 23 carries, Robinson couldn't single-handily vault the 18th-ranked Wolverines past the 10th-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks in the 2013 Outback Bowl. 

Maybe it was the caliber of competition, or maybe it was the fact that Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges once again failed Shoelace, making it nearly impossible for him to utilize his speed and do what he does best. 

The back-and-forth, 33-28 loss to The Old Ball Coach's boys has to leave a sour taste in Robinson's mouth. Deep down, he has to know that he could have changed his team's fate had he been used correctly. 

Robinson won't speak out against the coaching staff. No, he's not that type of guy.

But others will, and they should.

Watching Robinson flounder and take hit after hit was discouraging. He needed to be let loose, but instead he was held hostage by timid play calling that kept him running into brick walls wearing South Carolina football jerseys. 

Had Michigan catered to Robinson's strengths, a win would have been possible. Losing by five points to a quality SEC team is nothing to discount. But just one electrifying play, and one final shot down the field from Robinson would have made the difference. 

It's not his fault, though. He did what he was instructed to do, whether or not it was the right move on Borges' part. 

Using Robinson as Devin Gardner's primary blocker was a cruel joke and horrid way for Robinson to end his college career. Getting in front of Gamecocks stud defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is a task for 6'5", 330-pound linemen. At 6'0" and 197 pounds, Robinson was a sheet of paper waiting to be torn to shreds by a bull. 

That didn't benefit Michigan, and it certainly wasn't ideal for Robinson, who's been nursing a nerve-damaged right elbow the past two months. Blocking guys like Clowney isn't conducive to healing. 

In the third quarter, Michigan chose to run Robinson out of the Pistol formation. As one of three backs, Robinson was led to the short side of the field by a handful of Wolverines. 

What was wrong with that picture?

Robinson hadn't been manhandled much by South Carolina's defense at that point. He was likely ready for a few crushing tackles. But why did Borges insist on throwing Robinson into an area where making a play would have been impossible?

Sure, he can juke his way out of a phone booth, but even guys like Robinson need space to create. Using the left side of the field would have likely resulted in a sizable gain. He's effective when he has room to run. 

Again, that's not groundbreaking football genius at work. That's common sense. 

Robinson Plays the Role of Sitting Duck

Robinson's arm wasn't 100 percent healthy. Michigan knew it, and so did South Carolina. 

The Gamecocks weren't facing the real-deal Shoelace, just a watered-down version incapable of displaying its entire skill set. But despite all of that, Robinson was still a player of interest for Gamecocks head coach Steve Spurrier. 

In the fourth quarter, Robinson was used as the quarterback in a 2-point conversion attempt. Of course he was going to pitch the ball or run it in himself -- he couldn't throw. Defending the pass wasn't necessary. South Carolina put enough men up front to thwart any type of rushing attempt.

Michigan had the right idea by using Robinson on first and second downs, scenarios in which he rattled off 10- and 12-yard carries. He's certainly not a bruising back that gets the hard-fought real estate on third and fourth downs. 

Simple, right? Use the guy the way he's intended to be used. 

The Wolverines waited until their second drive before putting the ball into their most dynamic playmaker's hands. On his first attempt, Robinson tore off a 15-yard run. His second carry was a three-yard tote that helped set up Brendan Gibbons' 39-yard field goal, cutting South Carolina's lead to 7-3.

How Long Will So-So Play Calling Be Acceptable? 

Michigan shouldn't consider Tuesday's loss to South Carolina as a total failure. Three players---two starters---were suspended prior to the bowl and Michigan had to piece together a secondary to contend with Gamecocks' star wideouts Bruce Ellington and Ace Sanders

Although the game was competitive, it's hard not think about what could have been if Robinson had been properly used. 

This isn't a new issue. Borges' calls left Michigan sputtering all season. 

Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan fared well against Clowney in the first half. Running Robinson to the left more often would have made perfect sense, especially when the Wolverines went to the Pistol with full-house backfield. 

But that would have been too easy. So Robinson was run to the right, and he paid for it. 

During other instances, the Wolverines' offensive line looked lost and distracted, forgetting how to seal edges and open holes for its leader. The fact that Robinson reached 100 yards was a surprise in itself. If not for a handful of 5-to-12 yard gains, Robinson probably wouldn't have cracked 50 yards. 

It was just that kind of day for the offensive line. But Shoelace's athleticism allowed for spurts of production. 

The offense lacked the ability to adjust and shift on-the-fly for Robinson, leaving him stuck as nothing more than a really fast target for Clowney and Co. 

Robinson deserved more. His team played as well as it could have as a whole. But his coaching staff did little to feature his true football aptitude. The seemingly obligatory Shoelace carries weren't enough for a guy who's been known to have a trick up his sleeve in big games. 

Michigan knew what it was up against, and it failed to design a suitable scheme for one of its most celebrated football stars. Trickery with Robinson could have worked. That was the advantage that the Wolverines had going into the Outback Bowl, the two-quarterback threat that could run and throw. 

It was a tough way for Robinson to end his collegiate career. His coaching staff failed him, but he'd never tell. 

Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81


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