Can Gardner Lead the Wolverines Revival?
With one of the nations strongest recruiting classes in 2014 and 2015, as well as a very solid incoming class this year, the future looks extremely bright for Michigan. But whether or not they can truly compete for the Big Ten Championship this season will depend mostly on one man: Devin Gardner.
He enters his first season as a starting quarterback in a strange sort of situation. The redshirt Junior filled in for an injured Denard Robinson in November last season, and after that he never relinquished the starting role.
With Robinson, the Wolverines offense was a media favorite, a potential highlight reel play on every snap, and all in all, a rather limited unit. Robinson was great against weak defenses that couldn’t keep up with him. But whenever a strong defensive game plan forced him to use his arm instead of his legs, the Michigan offense promptly stalled.
Gardner isn’t exactly the Peyton Manning of accuracy, not by a long shot, but it was a welcome sight for Michigan fans to watch an offense with a passing game that didn’t rely 100% on jump balls and screen passes. Gardner showed in his 5 games last season that he has the ability to hit receivers in stride, and now, offensive coordinator Al Borges has fully converted his unit back to a pro-style offense.
So we can officially say goodbye to all that the Rich Rodriguez era brought to the school.
He doesn’t have nearly the explosive elusiveness that made Robinson must-see television, but Gardner’s got a lot of speed in the pocket and knows how to scramble for some yards when available. And this season, he’ll need a healthy dose of effective passing and running in order to really turn the Michigan offense into something special.
His supporting cast as of now is a bit of a question. Jeremy Gallon developed solid chemistry with Gardner last season and all the cards are in place for the 5’8” Senior to have his biggest season yet. After Gallon, Senior Drew Dileo returns from a 20 reception, 2 touchdown season. And then after that, Gardner is actually the team’s top returning receiver. He caught 16 passes for 266 yards and 4 touchdowns before taking over as the team’s quarterback. So that should give you at least a little taste of his athletic versatility.
Gardner’s backfield partner is still very much in the air. The team would have liked for Fitzgerald Toussaint to have been the answer after rushing for 1,041 yards and 9 touchdowns in 2011, but 2012 wasn’t kind to him. He was arrested and charged with a DUI before the season started and after serving his suspension, broke his leg in November. He looks to be the frontrunner to be the team’s lead rusher this year but competition could arise from Junior Thomas Rawls (242 yards, 4 touchdowns in 2012) or incoming Freshman Derrick Green, a five-star recruit and the number one ranked running back from the 2013 class.
With the numerous questions surrounding both the backfield and wide receiver unit, Michigan may need their quarterback to put together a Heisman-like season in order to contend for a Big Ten Championship. The schedule this year isn’t particularly grueling, with home games against Notre Dame, Nebraska, and Ohio State and road games against Michigan State and Northwestern being the five most difficult matches.
There’s no denying the Wolverines are on a path back to the Nations elite once again, but how quickly can Devin Gardner expedite the process?