You can ask around Michigan and folks will tell you that Denard Robinson is sorely missed. He was one of the most exciting players of the BCS era, and it will be strange not seeing him around any longer. But Michigan has another dual-threat quarterback in Devin Gardner who could quickly make Wolverine fans forget about the one who goes by the nickname "Shoelace."
Both quarterbacks are capable of running the ball, but they do things a little differently. One is a little flashier, while the other is a little more accurate when throwing the ball.
There is also a key statistic that could make all of the difference in the world in overall team success.
After looking at both quarterbacks, here are some of the main differences between both Gardner and Robinson, all of which will make Michigan fans very happy.
Gardner Is Not so Quick to Run
I think it was pretty clear that Robinson was more of a runner than passer.
It didn't really matter if there was an open receiver or not; if there was a lane to take off, Robinson was going to take advantage and see what he could do with his legs. He wasn't confident at all with his arm, which is why he rushed for well over 1,000 yards in his last three seasons, and why he is going to play a different position at the next level.
Gardner, on the other hand, is more of a passer and isn't so quick to run with the football. Just take the game against Northwestern, for example.
Michigan needs a lot of yards just to get into field-goal range and have a chance to tie the game. While a pass would seem like the more logical play at this point, you can clearly see all of the running room available for Gardner, which would have easily resulted in 20-plus yards. With only three guys rushing and every receiver running a deep route, most of the Northwestern defenders are downfield.
Instead of taking off with the running lanes available, Gardner controls himself, keeps his eyes downfield and lets the ball fly. While I don't agree with the decision to throw the ball up for grabs (though it did result in a huge first down), it was a positive sign to see that he isn't going to take advantage of every opportunity to run the football.
He has supreme confidence in throwing the ball and wants to prove that he can hurt defenses with his ability to toss the pigskin. This wasn't the case with Robinson, who was more of a running back at the quarterback position and made Wolverines fans cringe in passing situations. With Gardner, you can't blitz to take away running lanes because there is a good chance he isn't going to run anyway.
Instead, you have to respect him as a true quarterback, which makes him that much more dangerous when he is in fact looking to run.
Gardner Is Accurate with the Ball
This has to be the most obvious thing when watching both of these quarterbacks. Robinson threw a lollypop of a football when tossing the ball more than 10 yards downfield. When he was throwing a shorter route, the ball would come out of his hand as if he were tossing an Xbox across the room. Yes, it was always an adventure when Robinson threw the football.
With Gardner, this doesn't seem to be the case. The ball leaves his hand clean, is usually is a tight spiral and is right on the money more times than not. There are plenty of instances where you would be amazed that Gardner is as accurate as he is, but the touchdown pass against Minnesota was a solid example.
Gardner does a good job of standing tall in the pocket, looks at his receiver and then lets the ball simply float over two defenders' heads. He puts the ball only where his receiver can get it, and Jeremy Gallon does a nice job of going up and snagging the ball out of the air.
Despite the tight coverage from the Minnesota defensive back, he simply had no play on this ball. Gardner put the ball right where it needed to be to result in a touchdown.
Another play to be excited about as a Michigan fan is what he was able to do against the Ohio State Buckeyes.
This was another display of subpar coverage from the Ohio State secondary, but it is Gardner's ability to make plays throwing the ball on the run that stands out. Rolling out of the pocket towards the strong side of the field, Gardner delivers a strong ball that is thrown on a tight rope off of his back foot.
The Michigan quarterback couldn't have walked up and handed the ball to the receiver any better than he did on this play.
It is one thing to be able to be accurate with the football when standing in the pocket; it is another to be able to throw the ball accurately on the run. Not many quarterbacks can do this when rolling out of the pocket, and Gardner really impressed with this throw. Granted, he was throwing to a wide-open receiver, but how quickly and accurately the ball got there is what helped make the difference.
With this type of accuracy, Gardner isn't just a more complete quarterback when compared to Robinson, but he also has the potential to start popping up on NFL team's radars if he can keep this up.
Gardner Better on Third Down
When judging great quarterbacks, I always like to see what they are able to accomplish on third down.
You can be great on first and second, but it is third down where most of the clutch passes are made and when the quarterback needs to step up in a big way. Producing results on third down doesn't always tell the whole story, but being able to make plays when it counts is what you would like to see out of the leader of your offense.
As you can clearly see, Gardner was getting it done on third down. His completion and conversion percentages were significantly higher than Robinson's. In fact, his 60-percent completion percentage on third down was higher than Robinson had in three of his four years as the Michigan starting quarterback. Being able to complete passes at a high rate gives the coaching staff confidence when calling those passing plays in crucial situations.
Now let's take a look at the stats that everybody loves to help further prove that Gardner is the guy you want leading your team down the stretch.
Gardner not only had five more touchdown passes on third down, but he also threw two fewer interceptions.
Now I know you are probably thinking that this isn't fair to Robinson. It was only one season and it isn't like Gardner played an entire schedule of games to truly judge how he will perform on this crucial down. This is true, but Robinson was never effective on third down when it came to passing the football, which makes Gardner look that much better even if we are basing these numbers on a sample size.
Once again, Gardner had a higher completion percentage, fewer interceptions and more touchdown passes than any of the seasons Robinson spent as a full-time starter. Also, keep in mind Gardner did all of this with significantly fewer passing attempts. If the film wasn't enough to convince you that Gardner is the more complete quarterback, these numbers should certainly gain you attention.
The 50-percent conversion rate on third down was the highest in the Big Ten last season and the highest it has been in a long time in Ann Arbor. I'll go out on a limb and say Gardner had a little something to do with that.
Moving the chains and keeping the ball offensively is key to a team's overall success. You can expect a much more efficient offense now that Gardner will be leading the way for an entire season in 2013.
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