- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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LINCOLN, Neb. -- As the last seconds ticked off the clock, Denard Robinson was flanked by two Michigan media relations representatives in the same position he spent almost all of the second half -- standing on the sidelines in a blue jacket with a giant Michigan logo on the back, unable to do anything on the field.
An aggravated nerve in his right elbow, his throwing elbow, sent him to the sidelines and with it, Michigan's hold on the Legends Division and a chance at a productive, explosive offense disappeared into the chilly Nebraska night.
He took off on a slow jog toward the south end zone at Memorial Stadium, having seen his Michigan team lose to Nebraska 23-9, and had the most concerning image for the Wolverines.
His left arm moved fine as he ran. His right arm, the arm which all of Michigan's rose-colored dreams rely on, lay at his side not moving at all.
Michigan has insisted all season long it is more than Robinson offensively, that it takes 11 men to play. And while conceptually that is true, the Wolverines saw exactly what their offense would look like if Robinson were unable to play for any length of time.
And it is not something which could beat many teams, even in a mediocre Big Ten. There are things Robinson does no other quarterback at Michigan -- and few in the nation -- can do. With an offense geared toward that person's strengths, it wouldn't have mattered if Russell Bellomy, Devin Gardner or Jack Kennedy replaced Robinson.
Michigan would have still struggled.
"It changes. You've got one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in all the NCAA, breaks all the records," senior receiver Roy Roundtree said. "When he went down, yeah, it was a big factor, but you can't let that mess up your offense.
"Russ, he probably had some mistakes, but we were getting in the red zone, catching some balls, some wide receivers were dropping some balls. He had a pretty good long run in the fourth quarter that got us down there and set it up. But we had mistakes."
No one on Michigan's offense helped, which is the biggest concern for the Wolverines if Robinson does miss any time. Michigan coach Brady Hoke said he felt Robinson would return next week against Minnesota, which if Robinson achieves the prescribed rest and "time" to heal, is certainly a possibility.
If he can't, the Wolverines might see a fundamental change if they want success.
Hoke did not rule out practicing Gardner at quarterback more next week during practice if necessary, an important development since the former quarterback-turned-wide receiver has not taken many practice snaps at quarterback this season.
It would also mean in the final month of a season that started with Rose Bowl dreams, Michigan's best player would be sidelined. With it, it would throw the Wolverines into a quarterback competition between two players who have had limited levels of success in the little amount of time they have played the position over the past two seasons.
All with a Big Ten title still within reach, if not completely in Michigan's control.
Consider: Michigan had 44 yards of offense with Bellomy at quarterback and until one drive in the fourth quarter where the Wolverines already trailed 23-9 they had one -- one -- yard of offense under Bellomy.
"Nobody anticipated Denard going down," offensive lineman Patrick Omameh said. "That's the longest he's played in his career. He came in and did what was asked for him.
"I can't say across the board that we did him too many favors and I'm sure there were protection issues. We have full faith in Russell."
Michigan's coaches did, too, as Hoke said he never contemplated pulling Bellomy -- even as he failed to complete any of his first 10 passes and threw three interceptions Saturday. Even as Michigan's offense went from dynamic with Robinson to destitute without him.
If this is the future for Michigan, the Wolverines have none this season.
So the image of him slowly jogging off the field -- he was the first one to leave it Saturday -- needs to be a temporary inconvenience for Michigan instead of a potentially permanent problem.
Because the Michigan offense without Robinson, at least in the immediate future, is not much of one at all.
"It changes a little bit obviously," said Hoke, describing what changes when Bellomy plays instead of Robinson. "There's some runs in there Denard's very good at. But we ran the ride play still and Russell took it up there a couple times.
"Didn't get a whole lot of yards but it was a factor for ya. I thought he did a nice job on the scramble. Got a first down for us. But it is going to change a little bit."
Michigan expected a change in its offense eventually, but that was supposed to come next season. For now, it needs to hope its quarterback, its leader, can rebound again.
Throughout his career, Robinson has missed parts of games, hasn't finished games but has always returned the next week to lead Michigan again. For the Wolverines' sake, they have to hope it will happen one more time.
Michigan fans got a glimpse of life without Denard Robinson, who was injured in Saturday's 23-9 loss to Nebraska. It wasn't pretty.