Michigan Football: Can Devin Gardner Break U-M's Single Season Passing Record?

Joel GreerCorrespondent IMarch 12, 2013

January 1,2013; Tampa, FL, USA;  Michigan Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner (12) runs with the ball as South Carolina Gamecocks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (7) and linebacker Shaq Wilson (54) defend during the second half of the 2013 Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium. South Carolina Gamecocks defeated the Michigan Wolverines 33-28. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The disappointing loss to Nebraska last fall actually did wonders for the 2013 Michigan football team.

Denard Robinson's elbow injury, coupled with backup quarterback Russell Bellomy's meltdown, opened the door for Devin Gardner to finally get his chance.

After waiting patiently for nearly two-and-a-half seasons, Gardner finally became Michigan's starting quarterback the following week.

The ensuing five-game audition all but solidified his role as U-M's starter for the next two years.

Despite season-ending losses to Ohio State and South Carolina, Gardner showed why he was a coveted 5-star recruit back in 2009.

It took only one game for head coach Brady Hoke to see into the future.

"I thought Devin did a nice job managing the offense and he did a great job extending some plays and making things happen," Hoke told Fox Sports. "He threw one pick, which he'd obviously like back, but he learned from that, took care of the football and did a nice job."

While Gardner has been All In to Michigan's chief goal of winning the Big Ten championship, there are several individual achievements ahead of him.

In fact, Gardner is already among Wolverine leaders in passing efficiency. Although it was just a five-game sample, Gardner's 161.7 rating was the fourth best in Michigan history. He did it by completing 75 of 126 passes for 1219 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Since Gardner's career will only span two-plus seasons, many of U-M's career records are out of reach—but he definitely has a shot at some single-season marks.

John Navarre's 2003 passing yardage record is certainly within reach. The 3,331 total yards translates into 256 yards per game, something Gardner could certainly achieve in 2014, if not this season.

Although Michigan's new pro-style attack will place a premium on its tailback-oriented running game, Gardner will thrive with his strong arm, elusiveness, superb pocket-presence and more than adequate touch. Gardner will also benefit from offensive coordinator Al Borges' knowledge of the West Coast Offense, which uses a horizontal passing game to set up the downfield strike.

In comparison, Michigan last featured a pro-style attack in 2007 when Michael Hart was the feature back and Chad Henne ran the show. Michigan averaged 220 passing yards that season, despite Henne giving way to freshman Ryan Mallett on several occasions because of lingering injuries.

Henne, like Navarre, were both strong-armed pocket-passers who lacked mobility. Gardner, on the other hand, was clocked at 4.57 back at Inkster High School..

Gardner's first extensive action at U-M came during his freshman year when he completed seven of 10 passes for 85 yards and a touchdown against Bowling Green. He also showed his running ability with a seven-yard touchdown scamper. Unfortunately, his season ended prematurely due to a back injury.

Gardner was recently awarded a medical hardship for the 2010 injury, giving him the opportunity to be Michigan's quarterback through 2014.

"I feel great about it," Gardner said in an interview posted on mgoblue.com. "I'm just happy to be able to help the team as long as I can. It's a great place to live and go to school, so I'm happy about that.”

Gardner continued his role as Robinson's backup in 2011, but the coaching staff figured that an athlete of Gardner's stature could be a better asset to the team instead of holding a clipboard.

So Hoke moved the 6'4", 203-pounder to wide receiver at the outset of the 2012 season . Gardner responded with 16 catches in addition to a valuable lesson. "It is easier for receivers when the ball is in certain places, and you learn that when you are playing that spot," he told Fox Sports. "Yes, you still have to make tough catches, but if you can put the ball in a place where it turns a tough catch into a routine catch, that's better for everyone."

Sure, 256 yards a game may be a lot to ask for a kid with only five starts under his belt. But when Michigan is competing in 2014 for the Big Ten and national championships, it's definitely not out of the question.