Big Ten football preview: Michigan Wolverines

Big Ten football preview: Michigan Wolverines
August 8, 2013, 9:15 am
Share This Post
Vinnie Duber

Brady Hoke always wanted to move on from Denard Robinson.

To specify, he’s been longing to implement a pro-style offense at Michigan, and he’s finally getting to do it in his third year in Ann Arbor.

Robinson was an electric player, and he left after his senior season with more rushing yards (4,495) than any player in Michigan history not named Mike Hart. But Robinson’s ability meant Hoke had to put off his plans for the offense he wanted to see on the field at Michigan Stadium.

Devin Gardner — who filled in for Robinson when the starter was injured a year ago — now has the reins of the offense, the new offense, the one Hoke always wanted.

“I think typically when people talk about pro-style quarterbacks, a lot of times they talk about the heights. And (when) they also talk about the running quarterbacks obviously (it) is how they've performed in the gun, read zone, counter, whatever it might be,” Hoke said at Big Ten media day. “But I think Devin has a nice dual-threat capability because he probably spins the ball a little tighter. I think his height helps him over the line of scrimmage.”

[Big Ten football preview: Wisconsin Badgers]

Gardner was more than just a dual threat last season. When Robinson was out of the lineup, Gardner was under center, throwing 12 touchdown passes and rushing in for an additional seven scores. When Robinson was in the lineup, Gardner lined up at wide receiver and caught four touchdown passes. That’s 23 total touchdowns. This year, he’ll be in an even bigger role.

“I think Devin, his maturity and understanding what it is to be the quarterback at Michigan, I think he's absorbed that, understands the decisions that we have to make as a football team and the decisions that he makes as a quarterback,” Hoke said. “They're going to be very important.”

Last year

Record: 8-5 (6-2 Big Ten)

Bowl: Michigan fell to South Carolina, 33-28, in the Outback Bowl.

At the helm

Brady Hoke is in his third season as the Michigan head coach after eight seasons coaching at Ball State and San Diego State. He’s led Michigan to the postseason in each of his first two seasons, including an impressive overtime victory in the Sugar Bowl in 2011, their first BCS bowl appearance since the 2006 season.

On the 2013 schedule

Michigan plays in what is far and away the most anticipated non-conference matchup of any Big Ten team when they host Notre Dame on Sep. 7. After three incredible games between the two rivals that all ended in Michigan wins, the Fighting Irish won last season in a low-scoring game. This year’s game could mean everything for both schools. For the Irish, a major hurdle in a quest for a return trip to the National Championship Game. For the Wolverines, a potential landmark win that could vault them into the BCS conversation.

[Big Ten football preview: Nebraska Cornhuskers]

Once Big Ten play starts, things don’t get too tricky until November, when Michigan hosts Nebraska, travels to Northwestern and hosts Ohio State in three of its final four games.

Under center

Gardner’s succession of Robinson will likely be the key storyline for the Wolverines this season. Hoke is flipping to the pro style with his offense, against the grain in college football. But he’s happy that Gardner will provide some flexibility.

“I think everyone believes in a philosophy, obviously,” Hoke said. “We all have our own quirks and beliefs. But I think the physicalness that the game of football needs to be played with, I'm of the feeling that playing physical football, some pro style, and then there will be multiple enough personnel groups that I think that will be big. I think also with Devin at quarterback, you still have an opportunity to do some of the things out of the spread that may be there.”

Back in the fold

Last year’s Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year, Taylor Lewan, is back for the Wolverines. Now a senior leader on the team, he’ll be tasked with guiding a unit that features two seniors but three younger players starting for the first time. Hoke is happy with the depth he has on the offensive line.

[Big Ten football preview: Northwestern Wildcats]

“I think when we came in a couple of years ago, we had eight offensive linemen on scholarship. Eight or nine,” the coach said. “And I think we've improved those numbers. I think we're at 15 right now, maybe 16.”

Season outlook

For a Michigan team that is expected to be a good one, a lot rides on the big games. Last season, the Wolverines had three games against ranked opponents and lost all three. This season, they get Notre Dame and Ohio State at home, which could be a big help.