ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Heading into this season, the talk around the Michigan Wolverines program was that power football was returning to Ann Arbor.
After three years of being dazzled by Denard Robinson, the Wolverines were expected to run a more traditional pro-style offense.
But by halftime of the season opener, fans would be hard pressed to notice the difference from last season.
Like last year with Robinson, Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner was the leading rusher (52 yards for two touchdowns), and along with his passing totals (8-of-13 for 100 yards and one touchdown), he accounted for most of the Wolverines offense on Saturday. He also threw two interceptions.
And although the Wolverines took a 35-6 lead into halftime on the way to a 59-9 hammering of Central Michigan, the offense showed striking similarities to last year’s squad that depended too much on the talents of Robinson.
The power football attack that had been touted during the preparation for the season didn’t appear until the second half, well after the game had been decided.
The Wolverines offense exposed Gardner numerous times downfield in the first half as he scrambled to make plays when receivers were covered. But with no experienced backup on the sidelines (again reminiscent of last season), fans might have been concerned to see him running downfield in a game against an overmatched opponent.
Sometimes, the best play is to throw an incomplete pass rather than try to force a play and end up with an injury.
It’s one thing to scramble during next week’s game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and a completely different thing to take off against Central Michigan.
Michigan's entire season (again much like last year with Robinson) hinges on the health of Gardner.
With him, the Wolverines are Big Ten title contenders; without him, they could struggle to make a bowl game.
During the second half, he didn’t run the ball, and running backs Fitzgerald Toussaint, Derrick Green, De'Veon Smith and Thomas Rawls carried the offensive load. Only then did the Wolverines show a true power offense and use their offensive line to punch the ball downfield.
Freshman quarterback Shane Morris replaced Gardner late in the third quarter and finished out the game. It’s a good idea to get Morris as many reps at quarterback as possible.
If Gardner continues to scramble as much as he did against Central Michigan, the Wolverines may need Morris to be ready sooner rather than later.