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Notebook: Robinson boo-boo business bothers Hawkeyes' preparation

Erin Kirkland/Daily
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By Zach Helfand, Daily Sports Editor
Published November 14, 2012

Maybe there is something to this boo-boo business.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke has declined to give any sort of update on senior quarterback Denard Robinson’s status against Iowa. And that’s at least a bit of an obstacle for the Hawkeyes, according to coach Kirk Ferentz.

Hoke’s refusal to provide any information regarding Robinson has produced some interesting explanations. Last week, Hoke said he would stop giving updates on Robinson and redshirt freshman quarterback Russell Bellomy “in fairness to those kids.” Ever since, Hoke has favored the term “day-to-day.” On Monday, even the potential for disappointment if Robinson couldn’t play was deemed “day-to-day.”

Ferentz said that means his team must spend time preparing for two quarterbacks.

“Hoke said it was a day-to-day thing, which we understand that totally,” Ferentz said in a press conference. He chuckled quietly, then added, “You gotta be ready for both. … It’s a little bit tricky because you have two preparations. They’re not that much different, but they’re not the same either. So it’s two different preparations and both of them are tough preparations.”

Both Robinson and junior quarterback Devin Gardner have earned Big Ten player of the week honors this year after Gardner won it for his performance against Northwestern last week. Though both signal-callers are similar in the sense that they are dual-threat quarterbacks, Ferentz noted that Michigan typically has more designed runs with Robinson in the game.

His players also said their approach to the game differs depending on who plays quarterback for the Wolverines. Mostly, it was Robinson’s electric running ability that posed the biggest challenges. Iowa defensive back Micah Hyde said of Robinson, “when you talk about Michigan’s offense, you gotta start with him.”

Iowa defensive tackle Steve Bigach said that with Robinson in the game, the defense has to treat the Wolverines’ offense as a two-back set, with Robinson as an extra running back. That forces Iowa to put more defenders in the box.

“It’s definitely dangerous,” Bigach said. “It adds an extra element to the game.”

On Monday, Hoke added another element of uncertainty. When one reporter asked whether Robinson would be available in a non-throwing role if his injured elbow healed enough to play, Hoke of course revealed nothing certain.

“I guess I’ll talk to him about that day to day,” he said with a smirk.

THE RECEIVER BAIL-OUT PLAN: When Michigan has needed a bailout in the past two seasons, it has typically turned to its wide receivers. Last year, think Jeremy Gallon (or Junior Hemingway or Roy Roundtree) against Notre Dame, or Hemingway again in the Sugar Bowl. This year, it has been Drew Dileo against Michigan State and Roundtree against Northwestern.

And recently, the receiving corps has bailed out Michigan in another way: producing two of its best weeks with the Wolverines’ starting quarterback out.

“They’re probably stepping up like they should,” Hoke said.

Roundtree played the hero on Saturday with his long reception to set up the game-winning field goal, but his overall performance — five receptions for 139 yards — was his best in two years. Similarly, Dileo emerged in the Minnesota game, and Gallon has pulled in 11 receptions for 166 yards and a touchdown in the past two weeks.

Against Minnesota, Gallon made a difficult catch in the corner of the end zone, and last weekend, he held on to the ball after absorbing a big hit along the sideline on a long stop-and-go route.

“I’m not sure everybody would have gone for that ball or come down with that ball, but that’s Jeremy Gallon,” said offensive coordinator Al Borges. “He plays fearlessly and plays bigger than his height.”

Borges explained that some of the receivers’ increased production can be attributed to more passes. With a dearth of quarterback depth and a less dynamic running quarterback, Michigan has been reluctant to call as many designed runs for Gardner. The junior quarterback has also made a few difficult throws — Borges singled out a corner route to Roundtree last weekend as particularly impressive.

Borges said he has had to “spoon-feed” Gardner to get him readjusted to the quarterback position, but added “we have not reinvented the wheel in terms of our schematic because Devin Gardner’s played the last two weeks.”

Much of the credit for that, of course, goes to Gardner and his adaptability. But the wide receivers have done their part to help.

FUNCHESS THE DRAMA QUEEN: Two short tactical notes here, the first regarding Michigan’s spike of the ball with eight seconds remaining in regulation against Northwestern. Before that play, freshman tight end Devin Funchess sprinted on, then off, the field and dove across the sideline to avoid a flag for 12 men on the field.

Hoke said on Wednesday that the dive wasn’t necessary.

“He really didn’t have to,” Hoke said. “He was a little more dramatic.”

In reality, Funchess had about five seconds to spare even though he had gone as far as the middle of the field. Still, it raised the question of why Michigan was trying to substitute at all in a clear spike situation.

Hoke said that Funchess was prepared to make a substitution before the previous play ended and anticipated a hurry-up situation. “(But) when he saw where the ball was, it was, ‘Hey, I’m going to get off the field,’ ” Hoke said.

HUT, HUT, HUH?: Borges was mum on the reasons behind Michigan’s newfound propensity to draw the opposing team offside with Gardner under center. The Wolverines have induced five encroachment flags with Gardner as the starter.

That’s a pretty significant deviation from the average number of offsides penalties. Borges declined to say whether this was simply an effective hard count by Gardner or whether it was by design. His non-answer, though, should provide at least some answer.

“I won’t answer that question,” Borges said. “It’s too -- tells too much.”

Follwing Saturday’s victory over Northwestern, redshirt junior Taylor Lewan said plays are called to draw teams offsides.

“That’s a situation we’ve gone over a lot of times, and we have packages we put in every once in a while for different teams to keep them on their toes,” Lewan said.