Flash back to September in Michigan’s 2012 season: newly coined wide receiver Devin Gardner was adjusting to his new position and role as well as anyone could when being baptized by fire. Three touchdown catches in as many weeks gave fans and coaches belief and hope that Gardner can be the deep, big play threat the Wolverines lost in Junior Hemingway.
But Gardner didn’t have his sights set on being the next David Terrell, Braylon Edwards or even Marquise Walker.
Gardner knew he wanted his future to be under center, and he defiantly indicated that come spring football, after Denard Robinson departs for an NFL career, he would compete—and ultimately wanted to win—the starting quarterback job for Michigan heading into the fall of 2013.
So when Robinson went down last Saturday with a nerve injury to his throwing arm and redshirt freshman Russell Bellomy came in only to struggle in a difficult road environment, the calendar sprung forward for Gardner. This week he received the lion’s share of reps at quarterback throughout practice in preparation for a possible spot start against Minnesota. And although he hadn’t taken a snap in practice in weeks according to offensive coordinator Al Borges, Devin took the ball against the Golden Gophers, relished the opportunity, and created his own version of spring football’s quarterback competition in front of Michigan fan’s eyes while leading the Wolverines to a 35-13 victory.
“The pass game was okay for me,” said Gardner after the game. “But the thing was protections, making sure I got in the right protections. And just a lot of new run game—checking to the right runs and things like that. I was pretty nervous coming in as far as know how to handle that, but I feel like I handled it pretty well.”
Today’s game with the Gophers didn’t necessarily start the way Gardner hoped. Michigan compiled just 9 yards of total offense in the first quarter, and that included a poor decision to force a throw for an early interception.
After the early indiscretion however, Gardner found a rhythm and settled in as signalcaller. In the second quarter alone the Wolverines accounted for 183 total yards of offense as Gardner went 7-9 including a scrambling 45 yard bomb that found Drew Dileo standing all alone in the corner of the end zone. Michigan took a 14-7 lead into halftime.
“The fact that I improvised was kind of my fault, I believe,” said Gardner, “because I don’t think I got in the right protection during the play—so that was kind of my fault. But afterward I just tried to make the best play I could, and I saw Drew waving his hands running down the field, so I threw it up and prayed it got there as fast as possible.”
Then, after a questionable third quarter decision by Jerry Kill to try to fake a field goal on a 4th and 17, Michigan took over the ball on their own 14-yard line and had their most impressive drive of the day. Gardner found Gallon on a nice double move down the sideline for 47 yards, and then 4 plays later hit him again on a well thrown ball to the corner of the end zone that Gallon out-jumped a Gopher defender to come down with. 7 plays, 86 yards in only 3:13, and Michigan was up 21-7.
Heading into the 4th quarter, Gardner continued his strong performance, keeping the ball on a roll out to the right on a 3rd and goal from the 3 yard line, and sacrificing his body to get through three Gopher defenders and reach the ball over the goal line.
Michigan tacked on one more touchdown to beat the Gophers by a final score of 35-13. Gardner finished his impressive day 12-18 passing for 234 yards with 3 total touchdowns and just one interception.
Brady Hoke evaluated the offense by saying, “I think we had four drives over 70 yards that possessed the ball a little bit for us, but also I thought he (Gardner) did a great job.”
“He fashions himself as a quarterback, and really has made the move to help us as a football team,” added Hoke. “It tells you a little about him and his character, and that he believes in Michigan.”
Denard Robinson will likely come back to take the reins for the Wolverines as he closes out a record breaking career. But on November 3rd Gardner made a statement in his first “spring scrimmage,” emphatically entrenching himself as the leader to be the starting quarterback in 2013.