The topic of Michigan's quarterback situation is a catch-22 for sportswriters and bloggers. If you don't call it a "quarterback controversy", which it isn't, then what do you call it? We desperately want to label things. If you label it as anything else, like a "situation" or an "issue", does that make it less interesting? Because I find it very interesting no matter what it's called.
On one hand, you have Denard Robinson, who with all of his faults is still one of the most dynamic players to ever wear the winged-helmet. He will very likely go down as the most unique player to play the quarterback position at Michigan. Who doesn't love Denard?!
And on the other hand, you have Devin Gardner – the career backup, turned receiver, who's been all of the sudden thrust into the starting gig while Denard recovers from a freak nerve injury. Over the course of his 3 seasons, Michigan fans have watched Devin shine in spring games, only get small glimpses of playing time in the regular season when Denard would get a "bo-bo". In those small glimpses, Devin has shown he can be serviceable, but has never really taken that next step where you'd think he could really be a leader on this team. But he's never had to – this is the first time Denard has ever had a prolonged injury.
That all changed two weeks ago in Minneapolis. Devin, who'd been playing mostly receiver for much of the season (out of necessity), made the switch back to QB after Russell Bellomy's struggles against Nebraska. He's been brilliant in his last 2 starts. He's looked poised and confident. His passes have been crisp and on the mark. Despite a non-existent running game and shoddy blocking at times, Michigan's offense has been clicking with Devin at the helm. You could argue Gardner has been the spark that Michigan's flailing offense desperately needed.
Against Michigan State and Nebraska, Michigan failed to score a touchdown. Granted those two defenses are no slouch, but since moving Gardner to QB, Michigan has found the endzone 10 times in the last two games. In the first 8 games of the season, Michigan averaged 171.5 yds/gm passing (If you take out the 291 yards passing against UMass, that average drops to 154.4). In the last 2, they've averaged 260 through the air. All the while the running game has stayed relatively on track with it's tepid output from before Gardner's move.
So with the 2012 season coming into it's final two weeks, and with a presumably healing Denard Robinson on the mend, the question of who starts is one that's being asked by everyone. Do you give the senior the starting nod in his finale at home and/or on the road...simply because he's your senior captain and he got you this far? Or do you stick with the hot hand?
While not a "quarterback controversy", it could very well become one.
The reason its not really so much of a controversy, at least yet, is because we're not exactly sure how healthy Denard really is. What I saw on Saturday during pregame was just Denard taking some snaps from under center, while trainers and staff watched closely. He looked ok to me, which is to say he could grip the ball, but looks can be deceiving. I would have to think that if he were able to start, he would. And since he isn't, we can only assume that this nerve issue is bigger than first presumed.
There's been a slow realization that I've had the last week or so that continues to fester – Denard Robinson may have played his last game as a Michigan Wolverine. I think the odds of Shoelace playing this Saturday against Iowa are slim. And I would doubt that Brady Hoke would toss Denard back into the starting role against Ohio State, on the road, when he's been out of the lineup for the better part of a month.
Is Michigan better off with Devin in there, with a better passing attack but less of a more potent dual-threat? Or do you take your chances with Denard and hope he can keep the ball out of the other team's hands? Which is tougher for Ohio State to prepare for? And should that be a deciding factor?
You like that paragraph composed entirely of questions?
Of course, the one caveat I have is that I really don't know anything. For all I know, we very well might see Denard back in the game this week, or next week, and maybe not even at quarterback...which is an very intriguing prospect for obvious reasons. If he can't throw the ball, but his legs still work...why not? I'm liking that idea more I consider it. Show NFL scouts what they've been dying to see all along – Denard at halfback or slot receiver.
Gameplan for that Buckeyes.