Ryan Kartje: Three-headed QB monster performed well, but don't mistake Michigan's Denard addiction

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Denard Robinson runs the ball against Bowling Green at the Big House on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2010. Robinson suffered an injury on this play. Buy this photo

BY RYAN KARTJE
Daily Sports Editor
Published September 26, 2010

After Tate Forcier lost his starting job this summer, Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez told his maligned signal caller to “stay ready” because his time as a backup would come.

So when sophomore Denard Robinson went down with a minor knee injury in the firstquarter, Forcier was given the chance to prove very soon after that that he indeed was ready to run the Wolverines’ offense better than he did in the second half of last season.

And after playing much of the second half in the Wolverines’ 65-21 rout, Forcier looked just as poised, just as accurate and just as mobile as he did at the beginning of last season when he led Michigan to an eerily similar 4-0 start.

The sophomore threw for 110 yards and a touchdown and became the third FBS quarterback since 2004 to finish with a 100-percent completion percentage. He literally couldn’t do any better.

And freshman Devin Gardner, who came into the game before Forcier, impressed as well, throwing for 85 yards and a touchdown while running for another. He did account for the Wolverines’ only three incompletions. Without splitting hairs like that though, I’d say things went pretty smoothly under center.

But despite the encouraging effort, there should be no confusion.

There is no quarterback controversy. There will never be a quarterback controversy with Denard Robinson healthy and still wearing the winged helmet. After two straight summers of battles, Michigan fans won’t have to witness one of those for a while.

In fact, without Shoelace under center, the Wolverines have no shot of exceeding preseason expectations in the Big Ten any time soon.

That’s not to take anything away from Forcier’s or Gardner’s performances. Both came in and did exactly what was asked of them. And it is comforting for many, especially Rodriguez, to see that his philosophy of having three quarterbacks who are capable of winning games is indeed true — at least against a mediocre Mid-American Conference team.

“When the quarterback runs so much, it's a long season, there can be injuries,” senior offensive lineman Stephen Schilling said. “You need two or three guys back there that can play. I'm pretty happy that we have that."

But Bowling Green is no Indiana. And Indiana is no Ohio State.

Many of Forcier’s completions came on bubble screens and short, safe routes that won’t always work against Big Ten teams that have more speed and athleticism than the Falcons. And Gardner’s mobility was limited by his inexperience, running laterally more often than north and south, which quarterbacks coach Rod Smith said will come with age.

Neither of them — it goes without saying — has the potential of a Heisman Trophy candidate like Robinson. And without that talent and break-neck speed, gameplanning against the Wolverines’ quarterback (whoever it would be after Robinson) becomes exponentially easier for opposing teams.

Each opposing coach this season has noted the difficulty of gameplanning for Robinson, often noting that shutting him down completely borders on impossible.

“Denard Robinson is going to make people look bad,” Connecticut coach Randy Edsall said after the Wolverines' week-one win.

At Robinson’s current pace, he would finish the season with 2,193 yards passing and 2,064 yards on the ground. And without that explosiveness and big-play offensive production on the field, the Wolverines don’t have enough potential to make up for their shaky defense, especially against solid Big Ten programs.

Robinson is going to give a lot of Michigan fans high blood pressure this season, especially if he continues to take unnecessary hits like the one that knocked him out of the game Saturday.

Forcier and Gardner may "stay ready" all season, but without that burst of adrenaline and the walking, talking hyperbole, unlaced every Saturday, this team, with its frighteningly young defense, will likely head down a similar path to last season.

So when Robinson gets hit like he did on Saturday, especially in more physical games like Ohio State or Michigan State, there’s only one thing you can do.

Cross your fingers.

-Kartje can be reached rkartje@umich.edu