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Pass fails Wolverines in loss

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Backup quarterback Devin Gardner ran in circles near midfield, cutting one way then the next, before trying to get back to the sideline. He dug himself a hole, and at the end of the play, he was sacked.

Nothing worked. But, that's kind of how the day was going for the Michigan quarterbacks.

It was the same for junior starter Denard Robinson, who fell silent after leading a scoring drive on Michigan's first possession and finished the day completing just 9 of 24 passes.

Robinson's passes were mainly overthrows or completely misdirected, much as they've been throughout the season. He couldn't point to a reason, saying only, "I've just got to make throws."

The Spartans defense did a good job of making Robinson feel uncomfortable in the pocket, sacking him four times.

"Who wants to get hit play after play?" Michigan State junior defensive tackle Jerel Worthy said. "They always want to try and protect their prized possession, and, today, they really didn't do a good job of it."

Michigan State sophomore linebacker Max Bullough said stopping Robinson and keeping him off balance was the key to stopping the Michigan offense.

"If you can stop a guy like him, you can stop a team," Bullough said.

And the only way to do that, he explained, was by making sure that each person on the Michigan State defense did his job. They didn't want to give Robinson inches, because they knew he would take yards.

Which is part of the reason why Michigan coach Brady Hoke kept Robinson on the field so long despite his lack of production, knowing his upside and explosive speed, no matter what the Michigan deficit, could keep the Spartans on their heels.

"When Denard carries the jet sweep around there, he's pretty dangerous," Hoke said. "He's about two steps away from breaking them for home runs."

But against Michigan State, like last year, he wasn't able to break any. Robinson ran for 42 yards -- a season low -- with a long of 15.

Even though Robinson had completed only three passes by halftime, the score still was tied at 7-7. But the Spartans would open things up in the third quarter, scoring 14 points without Robinson being able to mount any Wolverines comeback.

Hoke then turned to Gardner in a way that he hadn't yet this season, as a replacement for a struggling starter, rather than as a complementary part of the offense.

"It was a windy day, and I think Devin at times can throw the ball a little more accurately," Hoke said.

Gardner was more accurate, but just marginally. The sophomore completed 3 of 7 passes for 45 yards and was sacked three times.

The Wolverines finished the game just 3 of 15 on third-down conversions -- Michigan's worst performance on third down this season.

"Of course after a game you're going to have [plays you want back]," Robinson said. "But you have to keep playing."

But in a game when a quarterback needed to step up and make plays, it seemed as though all they were doing was running around in circles.

Chantel Jennings covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. She can be reached at jenningsespn@gmail.com or or on Twitter @chanteljennings.