The Michigan Wolverines‘ offense suffered a big blow this past weekend during their 23-9 loss to the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Quarterback Denard Robinson suffered an injury to his elbow late in the first half of Saturday’s game, and didn’t end up coming back onto the field. As of now, word is that Robinson will be playing for the Wolverines this weekend against the Minnesota Golden Golphers. Denard’s injury Saturday was an aggravated nerve in his right (throwing) elbow. In layman’s terms, Robinson couldn’t get a grip on the ball.
The loss moved the Wolverines out of the lead in the Big Ten Legends division, but all is not lost. The Wolverines have four games remaining on their schedule, but they basically need to win out to have any chance of winning the division. Aside from needing the Cornhuskers to lose at least once more in conference play and facing a tough four-game stretch to end the year, the Wolverines flat-out need Robinson for their offense to function. A sad commentary on the Wolverines’ offense this might be, but it’s also true.
Backup quarterback Russell Bellomy, a freshman, was put into a pretty impossible situation Saturday night needing to take over for the offensive leader of the team in the second half of a road game his team was trailing in. Not surprisingly, he ended up playing like a normal college freshman would have, completing only three of 16 passes with three interceptions.
What Saturday night ended up being was a window into the future of the Wolverines’ offense without Robinson. It’s not just that the Wolverines can’t make it work without Robinson for short periods of time, they just can’t make it work without him. It’s been a few seasons since someone other than Robinson ran the Wolverines’ offense and in that period the offense has been completely rebuilt around Robinson as a sort of hybrid between a traditional Wolverines offense and what Rich Rodriguez was trying to implement while he was head coach of the Wolverines.
The difference isn’t just about play calling or style of play, it’s about leadership and comfort among the other ten men on offense. These men are used to seeing Robinson in the huddle telling everyone what’s going on, not to mention that they are used to Robinson holding on to the ball fairly often. That’s one thing that you won’t be seeing with Bellomy as he develops because Bellomy’s style of play is more traditional and doesn’t involve the same kind of scrambling and rushing that Robinson has used for the last three seasons. They may be most of the same plays being called when either man is in, but things are totally different (and better) when Robinson is the man behind the center.
With Robinson being a senior and on his way out after this season, the Wolverines will have plenty of time to reshape their offense in the post-Robinson days in Ann Arbor, but right now is not the time. Right now is the time when Robinson is needed the most and needed to be at his best the most.
This final stretch for the Wolverines is must-win every week, and none of the games are sure wins. This weekend the Wolverines go on the road to take on the Golden Gophers who are terrible on defense, but because this is a rivalry game, can’t be overlooked if they get to Robinson early or if Robinson’s throwing arm is still bugging him when gametime comes around. Next week they are at home against the Northwestern Wildcats, a team better than most give them credit for and a team that will also need to win this game to preserve any chances they might still have of winning the Legends division. The home finale for the Wolverines on November 17 comes against the Iowa Hawkeyes, a team that helped wreck the Wolverines’ conference title chances last year and could do so again this year. And then there’s the toughest game of them all, the season finale at Columbus against the Ohio St. Buckeyes.
It’s coming down to crunch time for conference championship races in college football. And whatever long-term issues the Wolverines’ offense may have need to be put on hold as there is still a season going on, and a season that can still end with a trip to Pasadena for the Rose Bowl. However, Robinson is going to play a big part in whether or not the Wolverines get there. A good indication of this is not just that the Wolverines’ offense played terribly without him, but it was that their defense got overworked and fatigued in what was a decently close game because of the offense’s poor play and lack of time on the field against the Cornhuskers. Without Robinson, any of the Wolverines’ final four games could end up going the same way.