It’s playoff baseball season, and Michigan junior running back Vincent Smith hit for the cycle — a football cycle, that is.
In No. 19 Michigan’s 58-0 rout of Minnesota on Saturday, Smith caught, threw and ran for a touchdown.
“I was just put in the right place at the right time,” Smith said. “The coaches know what I’m capable of. I just did whatever I had to do for the team to help them out. It was real fun.”
Smith’s touchdown pass at the beginning of the second quarter was one of several trick plays showcased by Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges on the day.
On 2nd-and-4 from the Minnesota 17-yard line, junior quarterback Denard Robinson pitched the ball to Smith. Nearly everyone in Michigan Stadium thought he’d run — including the Golden Gopher defense.
“Coach was just stressing every time I’m in a trick play, I have to definitely set up the run,” Smith said. “That’s the first thing defenders are looking at.”
Smith faked it to perfection, and found sophomore wide receiver Drew Dileo wide open in the back of the end zone for the score, giving Michigan a 21-0 advantage.
“(Smith) does everything you want him to do,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. “He’s a guy you can count on.”
But it was Robinson who led the charge early.
Facing criticism recently for his inaccuracy as a passer, Robinson started the opening drive with a nine-yard bullet to redshirt sophomore Jeremy Gallon. From there, all the Wolverines needed was their legs.
After a 13-yard rush by Robinson, redshirt sophomore running back Fitzgerald Toussaint broke loose for a 35-yard gain. Two plays later, Robinson scampered to the Minnesota three-yard line, and Smith punched it in for the three-yard score.
On the next drive, Borges pulled out another play that the Michigan offense had yet to reveal. With Robinson in the shotgun and sophomore running back Stephen Hopkins in the backfield, Robinson faked the hand-off and Hopkins bolted down the middle. Robinson connected with him for a 28-yard gain.
The offense made it a perfect 3-for-3 on its third drive, going 85 yards to make the score 21-0. Robinson remained sharp in the passing game, connecting four times for 40 yards — including a two-yard pass to Gardner in another trick play by Borges.
Multiple times throughout the game, Gardner lined up under center with Robinson and two backs in the backfield. From there, Gardner once handed the ball to Robinson who ran an option play with Toussaint. On another play, Gardner handed the ball to Robinson, who threw it back to Gardner for a potential double pass.
Hoke said there could be more plays like that in the future.
“When you have a quarterback that threatens people because of his ability to run, I think that’s part of it,” Hoke said. “That stuff is like the old counter play, which you don’t see a lot of people run anymore. It’s a lot of traction one way and going back the other way.”
When asked about what he thought of playing with Robinson, Gardner gave a Robinson-esque smile.
“I think it’s really dangerous,” he said. “We’ve got Fitzgerald Toussaint back there and Vincent Smith. You guys are just gonna have to wait and see, because it’s going to be pretty dangerous.”
Gardner said it felt “great” to see significant playing time on Saturday.
“They made me aware I was gonna get in early with the package,” he said. “I think they brought it to me because they feel like if we can get our best athletes on the field, we can be very effective.”
Robinson silenced his critics early on, as he completed his first 10 passes. He ended the half 13-of-16 for 153 yards and two touchdowns, complementing his six rushes for 51 yards and a score on the ground.
Hoke said he trusted his quarterback even when he’s struggled.
“The sky is never gonna fall,” Hoke said. “We’re gonna make it through. We like how he throws the ball. He set his feet well and we ran good routes and completed some balls.”
Robinson kept the analysis of his improved accuracy simple.
“We’ve been practicing,” he said. “We were just on the same page. (Hoke) told me to make the throws I gotta make, and that’s it.”
On a day when nothing went right for Minnesota, it seemed the Wolverines, and specifically Borges, could do no wrong.
“Al Borges is very creative,” Hoke said. “I’m sure his creativity will show up again.”