Should it Be the End of the Denard Era in Ann Arbor?
Coming into the Michigan Football program as ESPNU’s 5th rated Quarterback prospect, and number 1 duel-threat high school Quarterback in 2010, Gardner seemed like the prefect fit for the then-Rich Rodriguez coached offense. But his arrival into the program directly coincided with the emergence of Robinson. So Gardner’s freshman year, he only tossed 10 passes and rushed the ball 7 times. The following year – shortened by a lower back injury – he saw a little more time at Wide Receiver, and this season, he played almost exclusively as a Receiver, catching 16 passes for 266 yards and 4 touchdowns. But things changed this past weekend.
The Wolverine faithful finally got a peak at what life with Devin Gardner might be like, and as a devout fan of the Maize and Blue I have to say, it was a refreshing change of pace: a Quarterback who could actually make throws when he needed to. While definitely not as quick as the stringy and elusive Robinson, Gardner is still great at evading oncoming tacklers, and the arm strength he provides is just a whole new world for a Michigan offense that’s been mostly based on the ground the past five years.
Overall, Gardner went 12-18 for 234 yards with 2 Touchdowns and 1 Interception. When the team was down 7-0 early in the second quarter, Gardner dodged multiple Gopher defenders by running towards the sideline then circling back to the pocket and just before getting hit, he through a 45-yard strike to an open Drew Dileo to knot up the game. Now Dileo was pretty open so it wasn’t the toughest of throws, but we saw the arm strength on full display, the type of long-range throw Robinson always struggled with. Gardner led drives of 91, 90, 86, and 79 yards on the day and the team had a healthy offensive balance for once: 234 passing yards, 155 rushing yards.
It’s definitely tough to argue that a healthy Denard shouldn’t get the nod next week. He’s an extremely unique talent that is quite possibly the most fun player to watch in all of college football when he’s at his best, but tough Big Ten defenses really give him trouble when they can force him to throw. Gardner, on the other hand, may have more of a response to defenses loading the box. And with Denard moving on after the season, it may benefit the Wolverines going into next season if Gardner were to get some more in-game exposure with some intriguing matchups coming up, particularly Ohio State at the end of the year, and the possibility of the Big Ten Championship game after that.