Michigan 'Ask Kyle' questions answered: Should the Wolverines be salivating over Purdue defense?
ANN ARBOR -- Let's get back to it, shall we?
We've had two weeks to slice and dice the Notre Dame loss every imaginable way. Let's move on to some Purdue stuff in this week's mailbag (questions have been edited for grammar/brevity):
Question: Kyle, Purdue's defense gave up a ton of yards to Marshall. Can anything be read into that where our offense should be salivating, or was that yardage by Marshall against Purdue a fluke? -- MiamiWolverine
Answer: It's certainly a promising sign. Robinson -- and by extension, the Michigan offense -- has consistently struggled to crack good defenses the past two years. That's particularly true on the road.
You might have heard, this game is on the road.
But as you point out, the Boilermakers allowed heaps of yardage against a 2-3 Marshall team -- 534, to be exact, 439 of which came through the air.
The Herd are a passing team (they rank third in the country), so I'm not sure those numbers will be quite replicated by Michigan. But clearly, Purdue has some issues defending right now, and that should help a Wolverines offense that could use any boost that comes their way.
Robinson's struggles against Notre Dame have been beaten to death, but it appears he should have an easier time this week against the Boilermakers. He has been at his worst away from home (13 picks in seven games under Brady Hoke), but he'll be better this week.
"Salivating" might be taking it too far. But opportunity is there, and Michigan needs to seize it.
Question: Do you believe the coaches should step back a bit for the good of the season and just let Denard be Denard? I ask this question because at times he seems a bit hesitant (maybe thinking what the coaches want), instead of just running on instinct.-- Terry_Star21
Answer: I don't think it's a matter of being hands on or hands off. It's a matter of setting a clear directive that Robinson needs to either tuck and run when under duress, or just throw away the ball. It's puzzling, but Robinson has looked reticent to do either.
Robinson acknowledged this week that, by virtue of his incredible playmaking ability, he sometimes feels he can make something happen even when something isn't there. And while he's shown ability to make something of nothing on the ground, that ethos has proved far more problematic through the air.
The key to finding stability in the passing game is putting Robinson in better (or, "easier," if you prefer) positions to succeed. Shorter passes, fewer reads, etc. And then reinforce that there's no harm in scrambling.
Question: U-M has come out slowly in both losses. Against Alabama, if you remove the first quarter, U-M loses 20-14. Against ND, if the team finishes its first two drives (red-zone interception, missed FG), we're up by a minimum of six in the first quarter. In big games, it seems like U-M is having trouble straight out of the gate. Have you noticed this as well? -- Ryan Chizum
Answer: There's something to that. Rule out the UMass game, and Michigan is being outscored 24-7 in the first quarter. It had similar issues last year, when it outscored opponents only 88-73 in the first quarter.
That was its offense's worst quarter, and its defense's worst quarter.
The Wolverines outscored opponents 342-153 in the other three quarters combined.
So, what's the driving force behind the slow starts? This year, it could be that two of those games have been on the road, where it is much harder to play. But this seems to be a larger trend, and it's hard to say exactly why it's happening.
Something to keep an eye on.
Question: Since Borges has watched every offensive play from the past two years does this mean U-M's offense will be explosive this Saturday? -- Gretchen
Answer: Borges did that film study trying to discover why his team is averaging 40.1 points at home, but just 20.9 on the road. He wanted to know if there was a discrepancy between his playcalling at home and on the road.
He didn't reveal his results, but he did say he learned some things from watching that film.
Michigan's biggest issue away from home has been turnovers. Robinson himself is averaging just a shade under two picks per road game under Borges, an outrageously high number. I suspect Borges will design a game plan this week that strips down the playbook and diminishes the risk for turnovers.
Considering the offense's consistent struggles away from home, I'm not ready to proclaim Michigan's offense will be "explosive" against Purdue. But I do believe it will be better than it was in Dallas against Alabama, or at Notre Dame. Limiting turnovers is the key, and I believe that is Borges' top priority this week.
The question is, can Robinson execute that game plan?
Question: Is Devin Gardner done being a quarterback? My impression is that, although he is No. 2 on the depth chart, Michigan has no intention of using him in that capacity. Also, if Russell Bellomy is the true backup, don’t you think it would make sense to give him more minutes? He was given one pass play against Massachusetts which I think is pretty pathetic. -- Jeffrey Kahan
Answer: Actually, Jeffrey, Gardner has fallen to No. 3 at quarterback. Bellomy is the No. 2. Gardner is firmly a receiver this year, and I believe for his career. He's just too good at wideout -- and is only going to get better -- to move him back to QB. And let's face it: He wasn't very good when he was at QB anyway. People complain about Robinson's passing, yet Gardner has looked worse.
As for Bellomy, I'm with you. I was surprised to see him get only one pass attempt against UMass. Considering Robinson's injury history, a product of his elite running game, it's compulsory to have a backup at the ready. Coaches rave about Bellomy's practice performances, but there's nothing that can quite simulate game conditions.