Notre Dame vs. Michigan: 4 Reasons Devin Gardner Is a Better QB Than Tommy Rees
The second edition of Michigan's "Under the Lights" game against Notre Dame involves a plethora of headlines in newspapers and across the web, though the single most prevalent may be the battle of the teams' quarterbacks.
Luckily for Michigan and head coach Brady Hoke, the Wolverines possess the better of the two starting quarterbacks fans will see Saturday evening in Ann Arbor, Michigan—the Wolverines' Devin Gardner and the Irish's Tommy Rees.
What exactly makes Gardner, in his first full season as a starting quarterback at Michigan, a better signal-caller than the veteran Rees?
The answers lie ahead.
4. Gardner Has a Stronger Arm Than Rees
If there's one lesson that has been taught time and time again, it's that Rees, a 6'2", 215-pound quarterback, is not often going to beat opposing defenses over the top.
While he did toss a pair of 32-yard touchdown passes to receiver DaVaris Daniels during the first quarter of the Irish's 28-6 victory against Temple, those are fleeting moments at best.
Gardner certainly has Rees beaten in the category. He's displayed his ability to consistently connect on the deep ball during six career starts dating back to last season.
During that span, the Inkster, Michigan native has completed nine passes of at least 35 yards, while Rees has posted just six in 18 career starts.
Even CBS Sports NFL draft analyst Derek Stephens supports the notion of Gardner possessing an NFL-caliber arm (h/t MLive.com). "He possesses plenty of arm strength to make all the throws, exhibits a nice, tight spiral and displays good location on timing routes when leading his target," Stephens says.
Thus Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco has been forced to prepare for a passer capable of consistently pushing the ball vertically in an effective West Coast offense directed by Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges.
3. Gardner Consistently Avoids Turnovers
During Michigan's 59-9 victory against Central Michigan last week to open the 2013 season, Gardner threw two interceptions.
Let's get that out of the way first.
Those two interceptions were an anomaly; the senior quarterback has been picked off just eight times in 174 career passing attempts dating back to his freshman season in 2010.
Compare that to Rees' 24 interceptions—don't forget about his handful of fumbles—in the same span, and it's evident which quarterback does a better job of making good decisions and protecting the football.
During these teams' 2011 meeting—a dramatic 35-31 Michigan victory—Rees accounted for three of Notre Dame's five turnovers, drastically altering the outcome of the game.
If Rees has a similar outing Saturday evening, the Irish could be in store for a fourth consecutive defeat at Michigan Stadium.
2. Gardner Is a True Dual-Threat Quarterback
The one major weakness of Rees' game is his lack of mobility.
Because he's not a threat to move the chains with his feet, defenses don't respect the threat of a rush from the quarterback position, dropping eight into coverage on obvious passing downs.
But the Wolverines possess a game-changing player at the quarterback position in Gardner, as good of a dual-threat player as there is in college football.
First and foremost, it must be stated that Gardner is in no way a run-first quarterback. He's not former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson. In fact, Kelly compared Gardner to a legendary NFL quarterback during his weekly press conference Tuesday, via Mike Huguenin of NFL.com.
"He reminds me of Randall Cunningham back there," Kelly said.
And the stats speak for themselves. Since his freshman season, Gardner has accumulated 227 rushing yards, compared to Rees' negative-56 career rushing yards.
Stephens (CBS Sports) also praised Gardner's mobility.
"He's also pretty accurate when throwing on the run, and does a good job, despite his length and size, of utilizing short-area quickness to extend plays and escape trouble through tight spaces in the pocket," Stephens said.
1. Gardner Is a Pro Prospect, Unlike Rees
Should Gardner choose to leave Michigan following the current season, his name will be heard on Sundays beginning in 2014.
Bucky Brooks of NFL.com wrote about Gardner's potential as a National Football League quarterback (h/t MLive.com).
Thanks to Gardner's tremendous production and impressive physical dimensions, scouts were already intrigued by his potential as a possible dual-threat playmaker at the next level. After watching him perform in workouts this weekend, I believe that fascination will grow based on his spectacular talents as a passer. Gardner displayed superior arm strength in drills, showing the kind of zip and velocity to rival big-armed NFL passers like Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick. Additionally, he demonstrated outstanding accuracy and ball placement in the throwing exhibition (at the Manning Passing Academy).
Having been compared to a former Heisman Trophy winner and a quarterback who played in last season's Super Bowl by a professional scout isn't light praise.
If anything, it's pushing Gardner's name further and further toward the 2014 NFL draft hype machine, if you will.
Unfortunately for Rees, he's no future Newton or Kaepernick.
Among these two quarterbacks squaring off Saturday evening, one—Gardner—will provide the highlight-reel plays, while the other—Rees—will play within himself, efficiently guiding the Irish offense.
And as it so often goes, the quality of play from the quarterback position has a powerful effect on the outcome of any game.
With these two matching up at Michigan Stadium this weekend, fans will be in for a treat, regardless of the outcome.
But after the completion of the contest, one thing will be clear: Devin Gardner is a better quarterback than Tommy Rees.