Michigan QB Devin Gardner
Let me start by saying that I am a huge fan of Denard Robinson. As amazing of an athlete that he is, he's just not a great quarterback. A great quarterback knows his strengths and weaknesses and can apply them accordingly.
After two-and-a-half years of watching Denard with scrutiny, I can confidently say, regardless of scheme, regardless of coach, he's just a tremendous athlete lacking the overall skills to be a competent Big Ten quarterback.
In each of the last few years, I've felt that the regression for Michigan has been on the defensive side of the ball. True to a point, under Mattison, things have changed on defense (thank God) and look to be getting better. The players strip balls, gang tackle (mostly) and generally appear to have a good grasp of unlearning what Greg Robinson taught them for three, long years.
But I digress, this article is about the quarterback position in Ann Arbor, or further, why I think Denard Robinson should be splitting time with Devin Gardner.
I love Denard—his smile, his demeanor, his attitude and all of his wondrous athletic ability. I truly believe the guys around him rally and never believe the game is over until the final gun goes off.
Now that being said, after watching his pitiful performance this afternoon, I believe it's time for a (minor) change. While I understand the offensive line had more than enough of their faults today, I'm basing my opinion on watching Denard for the last three years.
Let's give Sparty some credit—they dared Michigan and Denard specifically, to throw the ball. I counted on one hand the times they didn't have at least eight in the box, practically raising billboards betting Denard's arm wasn't going to win the Wolverines any games. They were right.
The Irish were right, the Buckeyes have been right, let's not start rattling off the times defensive coordinators of the Big Ten have all been right—Michigan gets behind (especially on the road), they load the box and make Denard throw his way out of it.
Sometimes Michigan gets lucky (Illinois last year, Irish this year), most of the times, it leads to the guys clad in maize and blue walking into the tunnel with their heads hung.
The phrase "When Denard sets his feet..." has been spoken ad nauseum, by so many analysts (and yours truly) it's sickening. It's really not a matter of "when he does," so much as it's how often he doesn't.
Even in situations where he has the space and time to set his feet, he's often seen shuffling, moving around and throwing an inaccurate ball. Whether this is just in-game jitters, a routine he can't break out of or just a fundamental problem, Borges and coaches before him must cringe every time he's setting up to throw downfield.
Everyone knows he has decent arm strength (his hash to hash throws confirm this the best), he's even known to show "touch" from time to time. The problem is he clearly gets rattled easily and you just never know if his unscripted antics will win Michigan the game.
Should Denard and Devin split time at QB?
As the Michigan State game has led to the tailspin the last few years, my suggestion this year is to split quarterback duties between Devin Gardner and Denard Robinson. Not 50/50 necessarily, and at the risk of spelling out "throw" or "pass" based on down and distance, I think Borges and the crew in Ann Arbor can find a delicate balance that leads to some big wins.
Denard is at his best scrambling out of traffic, finding seams and generally wreaking havoc on defensive schemes that have broken down. Stadium jaws drop when he's being chased outside the pocket and busts through to the second level of any defense—they know he can take it to the house on any play. The problem is, when climbing out of a deficit, particularly on the road, the only way to get back into a game is with a competent passing game.
Denard and Devin are cut from two very different cloths—one is a scatback who's sometimes asked to throw, the other is a big, tall, signal caller with limited experience. One has led his team to many a comeback, the other is still figuring out how to read defenses.
Denard has the experience unmatched on the Michigan sideline, but Devin clearly has skills required when going to (or more likely) forced to go to the air.
Today's game showed Devin's inexperience in plays like throwing after crossing the LOS, missing wide open receivers and understanding when to scramble. But his skills start with arm strength down the field, whereas Denard's skills lie solely on his untied cleats.
Given how this season has played out (and how previous seasons have unfolded after facing Sparty), the obvious change for Borges is to use each quarterback as often as needed, but not so much as defenses key in on plays based on yards to go.
As long as Borges doesn't get predictable when using the two signal callers, I honestly believe Devin gets more accurate with experience and Denard stays on the field more often when splitting time.
While I realize this isn't brain surgery, I don't think Denard has that big an ego where he wouldn't mind splitting time and seeing his team win more second half/Big Ten games.