ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Denard Robinson arrived in Ann Arbor four years ago — shoelaces untied. As he walked to the podium — shoes still untied — for his last postgame interview inside Michigan Stadium, his senior day could have been written back in September 2008.
A blowout win led by a Michigan quarterback’s six touchdown performance. Not just any quarterback, but with a dual-threat attack; three by air, three on the ground. Sounds about right.
Before Robinson walked into the tunnel to the locker room for the final time, he embraced his heir to the throne, Devin Gardner.
“I just told him keep going,” Robinson said. “You know, keep leading, keep playing your game.”
His game mimicked Robinson’s Saturday, and his job maybe Gardner’s too. The former wide receiver might be taking his spot as King of the Big House, one year earlier than expected. On senior day, it was the junior Gardner, who put up the prolific numbers behind center.
The wide-out turned quarterback unleashed an aerial assault of 314 yards on the Iowa defense to stampede the Hawkeyes, 42-17. He finished with is six total scores, a number that even surprised his coach.
“He had six touchdowns,” Michigan head coach Brady Hoke repeated a stat given to him. “See I don’t remember that stuff.”
The 113,016 in attendance won’t have a problem remembering. His three passes through the air acted as catalysts to erupting the small city housed inside the stadium. As the 37, 18, and 29 yard passes sailed through the air, the voluminous crowd silenced, before exploding immediately as the football touched his targets hands.
They weren’t just a few gems surrounded by coal either. Gardner dissected the Iowa defense with surgical precision. He completed 18 passes on 23 attempts for 314 yard, most by an Wolverine in 17 games. It all came in three quarters of work too.
“It was a great game,” Gardner said. “The line blocked well, we ran the ball well, Denard ran the ball well.”
And there lies one of the keys to the offensive onslaught.Robinson returned to the field after spending the last two weeks on the sideline. But he didn’t attempt a pass. Instead, the Wolverines used him as a wide receiver, a running back, even a second quarterback where they ran an option to Robinson, who then ran the options and tossed it to Fitzgerald Toussaint.
“It was great for me, that’s just something else that they have to gameplan for,” Gardner said. “So it was great.”
It was terrible on the Iowa defense. Robinson caught two balls for 24 yards but did most of his damage in the backfield. He ran for a game-high 98 yards on 13 carries. Five of the 13 carries came from the running back position when Gardner was in as quarterback.
With both QBs in the game, Gardner heard the Hawkeye defenders bark out to their teammates, to signal No. 16 entered the game — music to his ears.
“They did it in practice too. (Michigan defensive end) Frank Clark would be like, ‘You know it’s coming! You know it’s coming!’ I’d be like ‘No you don’t, you have no idea,’” Gardner said. “You think you do,but you don’t. And then we throw it right over their head and it happened in the exact same way in the game today, and we scored a touchdown.”
Gardner entered Saturday’s game with three rushing touchdowns and four passing. Against Iowa he equaled his rushing total and came within one of tying his passing touchdowns.
Hoke said he and his staff thought about featuring the two playmakers on the field at the same time 18 months ago.
It took a while, and Hoke wouldn’t admit it, but it debuted probably not so coincidentally a week before the Wolverines travel to Columbus to face Ohio State. After six touchdowns a 42 points against Iowa, it’s something the Buckeyes have to keep an eye on.
“Oh yeah it definitely does,” Gardner said. “Unless, they don’t want to. Then that’s fine with me too.”