The Michigan Wolverines/Ohio St. Buckeyes rivalry is the best in college football and in my humble opinion, the best rivalry in all of sports. Period, end of story. This year’s installment will feature several storylines with the biggest being the Buckeyes looking to complete a perfect 12-0 season in Urban Meyer‘s first season as head coach. But hidden underneath is an unexpected quarterback matchup with the Wolverines’ original starting QB, Denard Robinson, looking to play a critical supporting role.
Robinson played in his first game in weeks today after suffering an elbow injury during the Wolverines’ loss to the Nebraska Cornhuskers in late-October. Today he came in not at quarterback, but at running back when starting running back Fitzgerald Toussaint appeared to suffer a broken left leg on the Wolverines’ first possession of the game. Robinson playing running back is actually fitting when you consider his style of play, athleticism, and running ability. And he made it work, rushing for 98 yards on 13 carries.
Next week, he will likely be in the same position and getting more carries in the biggest game of the year for both the Wolverines and Buckeyes. But the fact that current Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner facing off against Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller has become a really compelling matchup is something that few would’ve thought when Gardner first replaced Robinson.
Gardner has the same athleticism as Robinson, and it’s this that has allowed him to immediately be put into the current Wolverines offense, tailored to Robinson, and produce. Freshman Russell Bellomy, who will be the Wolverines’ quarterback one day, is not able to do this. And Gardner has proven that he can be productive immediately in this offense as he has gotten better and better in his three starts for the Wolverines. The initial concern among Wolverines fans, players, and personnel was that the season may be lost if Robinson isn’t out there playing quarterback.
Gardner immediately relieved everyone with great play, but today he took it to a whole new level on Senior Day in Ann Arbor. Against the Iowa Hawkeyes, Gardner was responsible for all six Wolverines touchdowns, running for three and passing for three. Even after losing Toussaint, Gardner had no trouble handing the ball off to Robinson and the Wolverines’ offense never slowed down.
I’ve done plenty of writing on Miller and his tremendous play during this season. It almost seems like piling on at this point to continue. However, with this particular game on the horizon, it should be noted how great Miller has played this season because all season the perceived QB matchup for this game was Miller versus Robinson. Now it’s Miller versus Gardner and, not to take single thing away from Robinson, not much has changed.
These are two quarterbacks who run the ball very well, pass the ball well, and are exceptional at leading their teams to victory. Both exemplified that last attribute to their great play today with Miller doing it under the extreme pressure of nearly losing an undefeated season while Gardner did it in a blowout that he created through his play.
Every year, there’s something new to make this game compelling and this year, instead of the Robinson/Miller rematch, we get the experienced quarterback (Miller) against the quarterback who has made waves with only a few starts under his belt (Gardner). And don’t sleep on Shoelace for a moment; he made a huge impact on last year’s Wolverines/Buckeyes game, and he still could make such an impact when the two teams go to battle next week.