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Posted on Mon, Oct 3, 2011 : 4:34 p.m.

Michigan says it hasn't scratched the surface on the Robinson-Gardner formation

By Nick Baumgardner


Michigan quarterbacks Devin Gardner, left, and Denard Robinson could be in the same backfield more often.

Ryan Van Bergen wasn't sure what to think when he saw junior quarterback Denard Robinson line up in the backfield Saturday with sophomore Devin Gardner standing under center.

The senior defensive end is not sure what to call the formation, not sure how many more variations the Michigan football team will run out of it and is unaware of where it came from.

He's just glad he doesn't have to defend it.

"I'd hope that I had really good coaches," Van Bergen joked when asked how he would defend the new formation. "We were excited when we saw the formation, but we didn't know what was coming.

"And, obviously, (Minnesota) didn't either."

Michigan unveiled the new formation, featuring Gardner at quarterback and a triangle backfield of Robinson, Fitz Toussaint and Vincent Smith, during a 58-0 romp over the Golden Gophers on Saturday.

The Wolverines ran four plays out of the formation over the first three series of the game.

Afterward, neither head coach Brady Hoke nor Robinson or Gardner would offer up much detail as to what the set is called, or what might be coming out of it down the road.

The only thing that's clear now, as far as Michigan and the new mystery package is concerned, is the best may be yet to come.

"We haven't (done anything) out of it, really, that we can do," Robinson said Monday. "It's going to be fun to do it."

Van Bergen said the defense has noticed the offense running a unique formation (a look he said reminded him of Michigan's famed "Mad Magicians"), during practice earlier last week, but never got a live look at it during starter versus starter drills.

Senior tight end Kevin Koger said that the offense was fully aware of the set, and ready to run out of it during the first series of the game.

After watching film, Koger said the offense was pleased with the early results, and is also excited to be able to watch Gardner showcase his talents.

"Devin Gardner can play a little bit," Koger said. "It was good to see him get in there and good to see him ball out a little bit.

"It was good to see him having fun."

Hoke continued to stay relatively quiet on the topic Monday, refusing to reveal the name of the package or any further detail on how it was developed.

What he did say, though, was that one of its biggest positives is how opponents will spend time preparing for Michigan.

"You only have so many hours in the day and you only have so many hours on the practice field," Hoke said. "That's just another piece to (our offensive) puzzle."

Plenty of preseason discussion focused on what type of offense first-year coordinator Al Borges would run this season with Robinson at quarterback.

So far, Michigan has shown the spread-option look, pro-style I-formation sets, an under-center speed option package and the new dual-quarterback set that Hoke jokingly calls "two."

The Wolverines don't have a true offensive identity through five games.

But is that necessarily a bad thing?

"Some of the offensive guys have said that they've just skimmed the surface with that package," Van Bergen said. "If I'm a defensive guy, I'm thinking I have the spread I have to prepare for, we run some I-back and double tight ends, and then we have whatever you want to call that (dual quarterback set).

"It's going to be a lot to put on somebody's plate with only a week to prepare."

Nick Baumgardner covers Michigan sports for He can be reached at 734-623-2514, by email at and followed on Twitter @nickbaumgardner.



Tue, Oct 4, 2011 : 5:29 p.m.

As I watched the Minnesota game and saw this new formation, along with the brilliant play calling of Borges, I couldn't help but think of some of the comments we've had here about the "boring 3 yards and a cloud of dust" pro style offense that we would have this year. LOL.


Tue, Oct 4, 2011 : 2:38 p.m.

I trust that the coaches know what they are doing but I am not sure we needed to show this formation yet. I mean what is more advantageous - giving teams "more to prepare for", or dropping it in when its an opportune time and the opponent has not prepared AT ALL?


Tue, Oct 4, 2011 : 2:30 p.m.

After watching "Inside Michigan Football" on the BTN last evening this 2 qb formation has been in discussion since spring practice,but Hoke & Big Al were holding back on it till the B1G play started. Brady was tight lipped about it,just saying Al Borgus is very creative! And an interview with D-Rob saying we have surprises coming,but stopped Doug K. in saying I can't tell you,maybe NU is watching this .. So this is going to be exciting in games to come.. GO BLUE..


Tue, Oct 4, 2011 : 9:09 a.m.

This formation with Devin Gardner was also a positive. It takes the load off Denard while making the team more effective. Denard alone was defended last year due to the one trick pony plays of RR. This formation alone could be used in many, many plays for a first down or TD. But not only this formation. The use of the Fullback and Tight Ends as offensive weapons create wonders on the offense. Also the use of multiple back with different running routes will continue to keep the defense of the other team guessing. If Borges and Hoke will just employ the one trick pony offense of RR, I concede that they will lose in the B1G. With a varied offense with Denard open, this offense will be hard to stop.


Tue, Oct 4, 2011 : 12:06 p.m.

Come on with this "one trick pony" RR stuff. Rich Rod's offense, historically, isn't any more QB-focused than any other offense, it was just that way last year because Denard was the biggest threat on the team by a ridiculous margin (and still is to some extent). Anybody familiar with RR's WVU teams (and even his teams at Clemson and Tulane) knows last year wasn't how he wanted his offense to look.


Tue, Oct 4, 2011 : 6:30 a.m.

Borges is brilliant. This ain't your daddy's Michigan football. I think RichRods focus on athleticism and speed on offense may open Borges and Hokes eyes up to a better style of football. traditional hard nosed, and hard running backs and dominate O lines, but speed and athleticism in the QB and backs. Gardner, Smith and Robinson together in the backfield. That has to be the fastest backfield in the history of NCAA or NFL football. There was a reason Michigan lost to Appalachia State under Lloyd Carr. It was called speed. As for the defense. No one is better than Mattison. Remarkable improvement each week.


Tue, Oct 4, 2011 : 12:03 p.m.

I think the idea of hybrid players is where RR's innovation was. The idea of QBs who can also run, running backs who can play the slot (and not just line up there, but actually perform there), etc. Taking away the defense's ability to match up with the personnel you have on the field is a great advantage.


Tue, Oct 4, 2011 : 10:46 a.m.

Nobody in college football today disputes the value of speed and athleticism. The issue is sufficient size and strength to go along with that speed and athleticism. That's where Rodriguez got it wrong. His notion of small+fast was okay for the Big East but not okay for the Big 10. He should have looked to Alabama and LSU. They are the current model of size+speed. Brett Bielema at Wisconsin gets this. Hoke, Borges and Mattison do as well. And they did long before they arrived on this campus and took a look at the Rodriguez players.


Tue, Oct 4, 2011 : 9:11 a.m.

RR already used speed last year bro.

Macabre Sunset

Tue, Oct 4, 2011 : 5:13 a.m.

It's a variation on the flexbone. And an excellent idea for a team with a player of Denard's talent.

Brett Bitterman

Tue, Oct 4, 2011 : 3:33 a.m.

This is clearly the "Diamond D" formation. (D can be for Devin or Denard)


Tue, Oct 4, 2011 : 2:07 a.m.

When are we going to see more of the play action to the tight end? That was bread and butter back in the day.


Tue, Oct 4, 2011 : 10:41 a.m.

I don't see Tom Brady and the Patriots worrying about things like that, Dude ... seems the Brady to Welker actions is their bread and butter.


Tue, Oct 4, 2011 : 3:01 a.m.

This is 2011. The wishbone was "bread and butter" back in the day, too.


Tue, Oct 4, 2011 : 1:48 a.m.

I think part of why Michigan pulled this out is to give teams more to think about in preparation for our offense instead of just focusing everything on Denard's running. Now, even though MSU has two weeks to prepare for our offense, they're going to have a lot more to prepare for. Then, even when Michigan runs a basic play, it will be more effective because opposing defenses will have spent less time preparing for the basics and will be thinking more and reacting less. So not only do these types of plays work to mix up teams DURING the game, they work to mix them up as they prepare, too.


Tue, Oct 4, 2011 : 3:03 a.m.

This is exactly why. And like Hoke said, they need practice executing things like this because it doesn't matter how sexy the formation or play is if you can't run it correctly.


Tue, Oct 4, 2011 : 12:31 a.m.

SO that's what Devin Gardner looks like, lol


Mon, Oct 3, 2011 : 9:53 p.m.

I was jacked when I saw Gardner come in to the game that early...gotta give Hoke & Borges credit for finding a way to expand the offense and get the best players on the field. My guess is they continue to work out of this formation but still keep the best of it under wraps until they really need it, like in two weeks in East Lansing. If Persa doesn't play this Saturday for NU, Michigan should have the luxury of once again work on developing the offense without relying on Denard carrying the rock. The more game-time reps they get the better prepared we will be to wield a balanced attack against the meat of the schedule. It was nice to see all of the tailbacks get some love in that Minny game. I thought Smith and Toussaint looked especially good making defenders miss in the open field. The coaches must think Rawls can contribute this year as they gave him a good amount of carries. If we can continue to stay healthy, especially on the Oline (knock on wood) this team has potential to make some noise. Nebraska doesn't look so formidable after all, and OSU is looking dazed and confused (It was nice while it lasted coach Fickel). We don't have to face the Wiscosnin bulldozers, and Illinois and MSU might have some real talent and solid defenses, but they'll have their hands full trying to guess what Borges will pull out of his hat next.


Tue, Oct 4, 2011 : 3:06 a.m.

And Rawls can probably thank Hopkins' butterfingers for not seeing a redshirt this year, because if Stephen was producing like we all hoped, there'd be little reason to put Rawls on the field this season.


Tue, Oct 4, 2011 : 3:04 a.m.

As much talk as Denard and Devin and the backs get, it all starts and ends with the performance of the offensive line. It's actually good to see us use more outsize zone blocking than in the beginning of the year, because that's what our line is best at. Molk might be the best zone-blocking center in the country. Have you seen how far he can stretch to cut off a defender? He's a beast.


Mon, Oct 3, 2011 : 9:53 p.m.

Nick.. we could call it : Mr Robinson and the Gardner !!


Mon, Oct 3, 2011 : 9:38 p.m.

I'd name it the Double D, but i would have waited to showcase it in a closer game and a later quarter.

Nick Baumgardner

Mon, Oct 3, 2011 : 9:33 p.m.

Informal quick poll. Name that formation: If you could name the Denard Robinson-Devin Gardner formation, what would it be?

Nick Baumgardner

Tue, Oct 4, 2011 : 2:32 p.m.

Great names, gang. Whatever they decided to call it (and we may never actually get a real answer), really doesn't matter. All we know now is that we're likely to see it again before the season's done. And, if Michigan doesn't ever run it again, it's still something that opponents have to prepare for. To me, that's the kicker. Whether that formation gains another yard or not, Michigan has an advantage because opponents have to prep for at least four variations of offense.


Tue, Oct 4, 2011 : 3:06 a.m.

The formation already has a viral name, and a twitter account apparently. It's #DiamondofDoom.


Tue, Oct 4, 2011 : 1:12 a.m.

Dos Diamante


Mon, Oct 3, 2011 : 11:34 p.m.

The "Zone Dread Option" - Take-off on RR's "zone read" - Reference to DR's dreadlocks - Reference to opposing defense's dismay at facing it


Mon, Oct 3, 2011 : 11:26 p.m.

Name that formation: In deference to the Dees, I dub thee Demonic.


Mon, Oct 3, 2011 : 11:02 p.m.

"Crap Your Pants Express". Because that's what the opposing D and coaches do when they see it.


Mon, Oct 3, 2011 : 10:01 p.m.

"The Denardner"

David Vande Bunte

Mon, Oct 3, 2011 : 9:41 p.m.

How about Triple Threat? (I like Double D, but that name is more appropriate for the cheerleading squad...;)

David Vande Bunte

Mon, Oct 3, 2011 : 9:31 p.m.

I am a big fan of formations like this...It's something defenses don't regularly see, it is makes it all the more challenging to prepare against. Then, when you have two mobile quarterbacks on the field at the same, you can run the same play multiple times and not repeat yourself, just based on who lines up where, who the ball is snapped to, etc. Michigan has two quarterbacks who can double as a running back, which means having two quarterbacks on the field doesn't take away a may mean one less WR or TE, but since both are capable offensive weapons in their own right, you really don't lose anything. As for the multiple formations, I ask, so? When I play as Michigan in EA Sports NCAA Football, I pick plays from a singleback-big formation, 4 wide, empty, pro-form, I-form, Shotgun, pretty much every formation in the Michigan playbook. I run the option from every formation that the Michigan playbook has them for, and I pass from every formation that the Michigan playbook covers as well. A versatile offense, that is capable of runs and passes from multiple formations is hard to prep for, because they can pull out any play at any time. The whole idea is to confuse the defense, and when you have an offense that can do a little bit of everything, it's easier to do.


Mon, Oct 3, 2011 : 9:23 p.m.

What ever they call it ... I LIKE IT! It was like watching someone opening a book and saying WOW seeing chapter one. Before I read this article it appeared the whole play book was on display at once. True it means opposing teams will spend a lot more hours preparing for Michigan and about 3 games from now "all will be known" and opponents defense will stop us. But when it was noted "Some of the offensive guys have said that they've just skimmed the surface with that package," I do feel a whole lot better! The Robinson - Gardner packages are very exciting. Both are bringing some real talent to the game and the rest of the season will be even more exciting. ...And we have not even discussed the emerging running backs corps... yet. GO BLUE!


Mon, Oct 3, 2011 : 9:16 p.m.

Employ more offensive plays by other players . Denard will not win in the B1G alone like last year.


Mon, Oct 3, 2011 : 8:50 p.m.

This needs to happen more often. It gets Gardner experience in real games and it preps Denard for the next level. I don't see Denard being an NFL QB, but with his skill set, he can be a play maker for some NFL club in the future. Imagine Denard getting a swing pass from Gardner in space against a linebacker, like that linebacker has a chance.


Tue, Oct 4, 2011 : 3:48 a.m.

I see Denard as a kick returner at the next level..... And a darn good one.