Ohio State cornerback Travis Howard recovers a fumble by Michigan's Devin Gardner in the fourth quarter.
COLUMBUS — Just when it seemed as if Denard Robinson was getting comfortable in his dual-threat role with the Michigan football team, a gamble cost Robinson and the Wolverines in a 26-21 loss Saturday at No. 4 Ohio State.
Robinson’s first loss came as a result of a collective chance that Michigan took on fourth down early in the second half.
On fourth-and-3 from Michigan’s 48-yard line, Robinson took the snap at quarterback and eyed an opening to move the ball to complete the conversion. But Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier registered his only sack of the day by stuffing Robinson for a two-yard loss.
Robinson faulted himself for making what he called a bad read on the run and didn’t believe the play changed the outcome of the game.
“No play can change the whole game,” said Robinson, who rotated with Devin Gardner at quarterback yet played primarily on the run against the Buckeyes. “We’ve got to keep going. That was just one of those speed bumps in the road.”
But it led to another gaffe.
The second came on Michigan’s next drive, when Robinson faked a handoff to tailback Vincent Smith, then began to move forward. Ohio State safety Christian Bryant smacked Robinson enough to rattle him, and the ball popped out of the crook of Robinson’s left arm and onto the synthetic turf at Ohio Stadium, before it was smothered by defensive end Nathan Williams.
Held scoreless in the second half, those two plays began the Wolverines’ offensive descent on Saturday.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke was confident enough to have Robinson run on fourth down, citing Michigan’s defensive prowess up to that point in the game. But Hoke didn’t see the No. 20 Wolverines take advantage of enough short-yardage situations in the second half.
“When you don’t do those things you put a little more stress on your team from an offensive and a defensive standpoint,” Hoke said.
Hoke also shot down a theory that Robinson’s role became predictable as the game progressed.
However, it didn’t take an offensive genius to figure out how to cut down the Wolverines’ chances.
Robinson led the Wolverines with 122 yards on 10 carries, including a 30-yard carry on Michigan’s first play and a 67-yard touchdown with 40 seconds left in the second quarter. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer made an immediate declaration when he saw Robinson first carry the ball.
“Stop the quarterback run,” Meyer said. “That’s the input I had. I’m sure 107,000 people said that, as well.”
As Robinson went, so did the Wolverines.
Michigan had only 60 yards of offense in the second half, and Robinson played less and less as the second half wore on. His final regular-season touch came less than two minutes into the fourth quarter, a one-yard carry to put Michigan at its own 45.
After Robinson, Michigan had only three players with carries: Smith, who had five carries for 12 yards; Thomas Rawls, who had five carries for two yards; and Gardner, who finished with negative-28 yards on five carries. Gardner’s longest carry? A six-yard tote on second-and-10 in the second quarter, which got the Wolverines to their own 19.
By comparison, Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde led all rushers with 146 yards on 26 carries, ahead of Braxton Miller (20 for 57), Corey Brown (1 for 21), and Rod Smith (1 for 4). Ohio State lost 21 yards on the ground as a team.
“That’s always difficult,” Hoke said of his team’s lack of rushing production outside of Robinson. “When you play away, running the football is something you always want to try to do and be able to do. We, obviously, didn’t do that, besides running with Denard.”
Still, Hoke summarized his team’s collective losses.
“We want to run the football,” Hoke said. “And we want to do a good job stopping the run. So we didn’t do either.”