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Sunday, November 18, 2012
Offense shows more wrinkles

By Chantel Jennings
WolverineNation

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Shortly after Michigan took the field against Iowa on Saturday it became very apparent that any preplanning Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and his staff did for the Michigan-Ohio State matchup next weekend went out the window.

With junior Devin Gardner at quarterback the past few games the Wolverines have been able to shift into a pro-style offense, and offensive coordinator Al Borges has to put a bit more in every game.

Jeremy Gallon
Jeremy Gallon has been a key target for Devin Gardner.
Against Iowa, Borges lifted the curtain. There were players in spots they hadn't been all season and plays being called that hadn't been used all season.

"I think Al does a tremendous job of taking personnel and the playmakers that you have on the team and having the ability to get them the ball and let their God-given ability take over," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said.

Michigan deployed injured QB Denard Robinson at running back, stressing the Iowa defense. Its receivers have come alive, too. Jeremy Gallon has 16 receptions for 299 yards since Gardner took over three games ago; he had 18 receptions for 318 yards in the Wolverines' first eight games. The same holds true for Roy Roundtree (12 receptions for 286 yards in the past three games to 13 receptions for 175 yards pre-Gardner).

And then add to all of these options that Ohio State can never truly rule out any kind of double pass, or deuce package similar to what the Wolverines did a few times last year as Robinson and Hoke claim the senior might still be able to pass the ball.

"I threw the ball in warmups," Robinson said with a chuckle. "So, you'll see next week."

Robinson didn't throw the ball at all against Iowa when he lined up at QB. But considering Gardner spent the better part of the season training as a receiver, the Robinson to Gardner play can't be fully ruled out.

So now, what Michigan has and Ohio State has to deal with is a Wolverine offense full of "coulds."

Michigan could use Robinson as a passer. Michigan could use Gardner as a passer. Heck, Michigan could use (and has used) Vincent Smith as a halfback passer. Run down the number of could-be receivers and rushers, and the list only gets longer.

The obvious shortcoming in Michigan's offense leading into next weekend will be the loss of running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, who hasn't done a lot this season but gashed Ohio State's defense for 120 yards last year. Instead, Meyer and his staff will need to rely on game-planning against the Wolverines' run game while using limited film of sophomore Thomas Rawls and virtually none of redshirt freshman Justice Hayes.

Gardner said he knew this kind of an multi-threat offense would be hard to scheme against because his own defense -- No. 1 in passing defense and No. 12 in total defense nationally -- was having major difficulties with it in practice last week.

"Every time after practice when we got in the locker room they'd say, 'Man, they're going to have a problem with that,' " Gardner said. "If they knew the next day at practice that it was coming from the first day and they still couldn't stop it I felt like the other team definitely would have problems stopping it."

Gardner said that whenever Robinson was on the field, the Michigan defensive players would cue on him, even though they've schemed offensive plays with Robinson on the field when it doesn't go to him. And against Iowa, the same thing happened.

"A lot of times I'm just happy we're not playing our offense," senior safety Jordan Kovacs said. "When we go against our offense in practice, we just get played. You just shake your head. I don't know what I would do [against it]. I have no idea."

Hoke said after the game that none of the wrinkles was thrown in to give the Buckeyes a taste of what was to come and that his team was focused only on beating Iowa. Intentional or not, that's simply what it did.

And with the "Beat Ohio" chants coming from the fans in the fourth quarter and the Wolverines well ahead, the wrinkles kept coming and Iowa had no answers. With one more week, more will be added.

When asked what it'll be like to coach in his first game as a head coach in Columbus, Hoke gave a quick smile to the media.

"Fun," he said. "It's going to be fun."