With just half a season together, Michigan's Devin Gardner and Jeremy Gallon already are one of the Big Ten’s premier quarterback-receiver tandems.
Gardner, a redshirt junior with a 3-2 record, used a handful of starts to gain national attention. According to Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press, Gardner will be in the running for this year's Maxwell Award, given annually to the nation’s top player.
An impressive national debut in the Outback Bowl prompted mentions of Gallon being one of the elite receivers in the conference.
As Gardner and Gallon continue to flourish, secondaries will be challenged, and defensive coordinators will get angry.
Stats Suggest Success
Yards per game are important, but yards per completion and reception provide more insight.
The overall production was there, too.
In 2012, Gardner threw for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns. Gallon had a team-high 829 yards and four touchdowns. So there's no questioning the tandem's ability to make the big play.
However, Gallon didn’t get started until Gardner took over for Denard Robinson. Playing the Akrons, Air Forces and Central Michigans early in the season allow quarterbacks and receivers to test boundaries. They put up gaudy numbers, gain confidence and build chemistry.
Gardner and Gallon didn’t have that luxury last season, but that’s no longer an issue. Now they’re a 1,000-yard combo waiting to happen. Gallon could lead the Big Ten with those numbers. In 2012, Penn State’s Allen Robinson stood atop the league with 1,013 yards.
Being the No. 1 option leads to more opportunities. Last year, Gallon averaged 3.8 catches per game. However, that stat is a bit misleading. He made 31 of his 49 receptions with Gardner at quarterback, which amounts to just more than six a game.
This year, he could be hauling in eight or nine catches per game.
Gardner’s six-touchdown game against Iowa was superb. Gallon was a star too, with five catches for 133 yards.
Any doubts about their potency was erased on New Year’s Day in a 33-28 Outback Bowl loss to South Carolina. Gardner hit Gallon nine times for 145 yards and two touchdowns against the SEC’s fifth-best pass defense, anchored by safety D.J. Swearinger, a second-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft.
Distribution Plays a Role
Because they proved what they’re capable of against South Carolina, containing Gardner and Gallon will be a point of emphasis for opposing defenses. That could put a wrinkle in their plans.
Gallon could end up with only four catches per game, like last year, due to increased coverage. Gardner, although elusive enough to let plays develop, will have a target on him as well.
Factor in senior Drew Dileo and the offense may not need Gallon as often. Coming off a season in which had 20 catches for 331 yards and two touchdowns, Dileo should be a strong No. 2.
In getting back to power football, the Wolverines may decide to get tight ends more involved. Last season, they had 20 of the team's 169 catches. Devin Funchess had 15 catches and scored five touchdowns. Now a sophomore and proven offensive option, he could have 30 catches this fall.
In an interview with the Big Ten Network’s Tom Dienhart, offensive coordinator Al Borges said he’d run an offense that had a 50-50 run/pass split. He later elaborated on the passing game.
Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh had very good springs. On a daily basis, they demonstrated some big-play ability. Going up to get some high balls or running by some people. Run after catch. It was nice to see them take that next step. You don’t know if they can do it with the lights on. All we have to go on is what you see. I think they’ll do a nice job supplanting the loss of Roy Roundtree. And our two slots, Drew Dileo and Jeremy Jackson, are from a college perspective grizzled veterans. They have played in big games and made some big plays and done some good stuff. Jeremy Gallon is our No. 1 receiver. He has played a lot and been productive, particularly the last part of the season. He was a really, really good player. And maybe one of these freshmen come in and contributes, too. Add in tight ends Devin Funchess and Jake Butt, who we had in the spring, and I think we’ll be pretty good.
Michigan’s running game will affect the flow of the offense. In the same interview, Borges said he wants backs who can carry the ball 20 to 25 times a game. It’s up to Derrick Green, Drake Johnson and the others vying for a spot to do that.
A lack of power on the ground causes teams to pass more often.
If the runners prove to be the workhorses Borges wants, the chances of Gardner and Gallon being a 1,000-yard combo decrease.
Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81