Notre Dame vs. Michigan: Devin Gardner Is Perfect Mix of Run, Pass
Recent memories of games between Notre Dame and Michigan usually involve Denard Robinson running for his life, throwing ridiculous last second touchdowns or throwing up arm punts—either way, Michigan found ways to win three of the last four meetings between these two schools.
So, as No. 17 Michigan plays host to No. 14 Notre Dame for the last time in the foreseeable future there will be no chance of Robinson and his late game heroics as he finally graduated (wasn't that guy around for like a decade in Ann Arbor?).
That means its time for Devin Gardner to get a taste of what this game is like as a quarterback, and in recent times, it's a game that has been insanely close. Over the last four meetings these two teams have been separated by a measly 4.75 points.
If the recent trend continues this year, Michigan fans shouldn't have too much to worry about from their new starting quarterback.
Why? Well, because while Robinson may have pulled some heroics, his unsteady nature and up and down play was what caused a lot of the closeness of the past few years, and this year's starter, Devin Gardner, is anything but uneven.
In fact, Gardner's steady nature really comes from his ability to know how to mix the passing game and running game at the right times.
What do I mean by his ability to mix the passing game and running game? Isn't he just running plays as they are called by Al Borges?
Yes and no. Of course any QB is running plays called for them—that's a given. However, as we saw with Robinson over the past few years, there has to be an ability to improvise by a quarterback these days.
Unlike his predecessor though, Gardner isn't going to eschew the passing game just because he can run and he isn't going to take off and run just because he doesn't see his first option wide open in the passing game either.
Instead, Gardner appears to have a great handle on exactly when to stick with the play called and when to fold it in and take off.
Last week against Central Michigan, Gardner was 10-15 (66.7 percent) for 162 yards passing with one touchdown and two interceptions. He also ran for 52 yards on seven carries with two touchdowns.
While Gardner had some rust in the first half (those two interceptions prove that), he appears to be well aware that you can not do that against the Fighting Irish.
As the saying goes, the devil is in the details though. He was super efficient in the passing game last Saturday and he knew his place more often than not in the running game as well.
In fact, Gardner was one of three Michigan players to rush for more than 50 yards against the Chippewas, showing the college football world that while this offense may be more pro-style, they won't be afraid to let players use their talents either.
What is perhaps most impressive about Gardner's game is his ability to be extremely efficient in the areas that matter most—third downs and in the red zone.
According to Josh Slater of MLive.com Gardner has done the following:
With Gardner at quarterback last season, Michigan scored on all 18 of its trips inside their opponents' red zone, including 15 TDs. Against the Chippewas, the Wolverines scored on all seven red zone trips, with six touchdowns.
Michigan converted 50.3 percent of its third downs in 2012, which was sixth nationally and tops in the Big Ten. On Saturday, the Wolverines were 10 of 15.
Gardner, a 60 percent passer on third down last season, was 4 of 4 for 73 yards and a touchdown to Jeremy Gallon. His second rushing TD came on third down, too.
So, as Michigan takes on Notre Dame in a Top 20 battle at the Big House on Saturday it may be Gardner's ability to find the perfect mix of the pass, run and efficiency where it matters most that could win the game for the Maize 'N Blue.
*Andy Coppens is the lead Big Ten writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @andycoppens.
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