Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges fully expects senior Denard Robinson to be his quarterback when the Wolverines take the field against Minnesota on Saturday. If he's not there, at some point, the picture grows a little murkier.
Borges acknowledged that junior QB Devin Gardner will take snaps at quarterback this week, and will compete with sophomore backup Russell Bellomy, who struggled to a 3-for-16 performance with three interceptions against Nebraska. The OC insisted Gardner was not an option at quarterback in that game, because he hadn't been playing there.
Borges also waved off the notion that Bellomy wasn't prepared to go in and face the Cornhuskers. That said, it's not easy, Borges cautioned.
"You can't simulate that situation," Borges said. "That's a tough situation. He knows the game plan. You can teach him all those things, but it's baptism by fire.
"You've got to jump into a situation where you're on the road, you're behind, and you've got a lot of things going on there. But in terms of his mental and physical preparation, he was certainly adequately prepared."
Michigan's quarterbacks coach also noted he'll work with Bellomy to get him past what happened on Saturday night. That said, part of it wasn't his fault, Borges contended.
"First of all, you correct the mistakes, so he understands it," Borges said. "Now, he had some tough breaks. He has a freak interception on one - I still haven't figured that play out yet, and I've watched it several times. On another interception, he got hit on a double-move when the guy was open. The third was a bad decision, but those are tough breaks.
"We can correct the mistakes, and make sure he understands an incomplete pass isn't a disaster. He's a smart kid, and he digests what you tell him quickly. As he gains more experience, you'll see a better quarterback.
"That's got to be the approach. You can't freak out, although you've got to make sure he understands the importance of each decision he makes."
Borges and wide receivers coach Jeff Hecklinski will also be working with Michigan's receivers to remind them of how important it is to make the catches that can help out a young QB.
"We've got to do a better job of catching the ball, that's number one," Borges insisted. "We haven't made as many plays as we would like to have made. That's one issue.
"The most difficult thing for Russ was, we weren't running the ball well, and number two, we dropped a couple of balls. That's not good. That puts you in some bad down-and-distances, and you see what happens. That wasn't happening near as much in the first half, with Denard in there."
"We have to make some of the routine plays to help him out. We have to improve our route running, all of those things. We go over every single play of every single game. We go over every single play of every single practice. Everything that's done is critiqued, top to bottom, and the message is sent to the players."
Bottom line on Bellomy, Borges assessed - he'll be fine, and learn a lot from the disappointment of the Nebraska loss.
"He was okay," Borges said. "He was disappointed, just like a couple of weeks ago, Denard was disappointed. Russ is a composed kid, for the most part. I talked to him on the phones, and he can tell you what's going on.
"I never got the impression that he was shaken. With this position, you've got to work out the stuff. Certain things in playing quarterback are game specific. You can coach them all you want on the practice field, talk about all the reads, talk about the footwork, talk about the toughness, talk about the pocket presence
"But until you get into the game, and you see the bullets fly, and you get hit a few times
we don't hit our quarterbacks in practice. That's one thing that doesn't happen at any other position, now. No other position is not hit during the week.
"Now all of a sudden, you're live. Things are happening that haven't happened to you. You've got to learn from those experiences. As good as you think some of the greatest college quarterbacks coming out of college are, they get in the pros and now it is learning it is a different game, a different scenario, a different dynamic, once the lights go on."
• Borges sounded perplexed on a couple of plays, both involving near U-M catches. Replay officials overruled what was considered on the field a 55-yard reception early by fifth-year senior wideout Roy Roundtree.
"It was just too hard for me to tell," Borges said. "I was just getting ready to call the next play. I was fired up. Then they overturned it. It's officiating. It is what it is. They give you some. It's just the way it is."
He found an even bigger head-scratcher in the pass on which senior running back Vincent Smith dove, and the ball bounced off his arms and up into the hands of a Nebraska defender for an interception.
"To this day, I still don't know what happened on the play," Borges said. "I don't know what happened. I haven't heard anybody explain it to make me understand it. I've been coaching a long time, and I don't ever remember saying that on any play. But I don't know what happened."
• Borges isn't ready to scold Robinson for not playing it safer on the run that forced him from the game.
"That was a weird one," Borges said. "I don't think it was a contact deal. He kind of got pinned. I don't know if he could have gotten out of bounds or not. He was trying to get as many yards as he could.
"It was weird. It wasn't a contact injury. There are times I look back at a play and say, 'Get out of bounds.' That wasn't one where I'd say 'You could have avoided that.' If they'd have hit him, and it had been an injury, you might have a better case to say that. I don't think the injury was a result of contact."
• The offensive coordinator did acknowledge Michigan's rushing attack has to get better - period. Redshirt junior tailback Fitzgerald Toussaint led U-M's running backs with 38 yards on 15 tries versus Nebraska.
"Because we are a running team, when we don't run well, we don't play well," Borges said. "That's kind of been the theme since I've been here. We've got to find a way to improve that against good teams, against Big Ten teams, teams that are going to try and take that away from you.
"If you're not running the football well, you're putting too much pressure on your quarterback. That's in every level. It's not just our level, it's every level. It's pro football.
"If a team can't run the ball, as good a passers as those guys have, then generally render themselves ineffective, eventually. They may get away with it for a game, or another game, but eventually, it shows up."
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