What Has Happened to Michigan Quarterback Devin Gardner?
The preseason thinking usually went something like this: Michigan had its quarterback to make the transition to a full pro-style offense and Gardner was only going to get better—as a result the team was going to be a contender in the Big Ten and on the national level.
However, at the halfway point of the season only one part of that preseason thought is actually true—Michigan is a Big Ten contender.
The Wolverines have been perfect as a team at 5-0, but instead of Gardner enhancing their chances, its almost as if they've done it in spite of his performances:
More Devin Funchess catching, less Devin Gardner running all part of Michigan's winning plan http://t.co/tTBv2zXbGF— Wolverines News (@WolverinesMLive) October 7, 2013
In fact, most of us have been left wondering where the 2012 version of Gardner has gone, and that version was more about promise than actual results.
Rather than improving as a passer and as a leader for the Wolverines, just about every measurable stat for Gardner shows regression from where he was at the end of 2012.
Through five games this season Gardner has completed 60 percent of his passes for 1,036 yards and eight touchdowns as well as eight interceptions.
Last year, in five starts to end the season he completed just 59.5 percent of his passes for 1,219 yards with 11 touchdowns to just five interceptions.
The one area that has improved for Gardner isn't what a pro-style quarterback should be great at, and that's the rushing game.
Gardner has nine more attempts this season than last, but has busted out for 318 yards and six touchdowns.
However, despite the improved rushing total (he had 101 yards in 2012), Gardner still had more rushing touchdowns in his five games of action last season (seven).
So, what gives for Gardner? Well, blaming him alone for what has happened isn't exactly fair.
Some of Gardner's ineffectiveness as a passer is on the Michigan offensive line, a group that hasn't exactly been up to par as of late either.
They've given up seven sacks through five games and are in the middle of the pack. Not exactly what people expected considering this line has a future Top 10 NFL Draft pick, Taylor Lewan, sitting out at left tackle.
As a result of the offensive line, Gardner hasn't looked comfortable in the pocket nearly all season and it has led him to get a bit of "happy feet" at times.
He has not trusted his instincts enough as a passer either. Instead he's panicked under pressure and has made some very dumb decisions in the passing game.
That scenario would better help explain why Gardner has gone from leading the Big Ten in passer efficiency last season (a number a lot of people pointed to as to why he'd be great this season) to ranking seventh in the league this season.
It isn't just a small drop for him either, going from 161.7 last year to 142.7 so far this season.
The good news is that last week was his best overall passing performance of the year, completing 76.5 percent of his passes for 235 yards with a passer rating of 212.0 (his second most efficient game in his 10 career starts).
Even more importantly he didn't throw an interception for the first time in his career.
What's to Blame for Gardner's Lack of Progress?
One key to watch going forward is how many rushing attempts Gardner has. It isn't a coincidence that two of Gardner's most efficient passing games this season also came when he ran the ball less than 10 times a game.
In the opener, as well as last week, Gardner ran just seven times and completed the two most efficient passing games of the season with 66.7 percent and 76.5 percent respectively.
The reverse has also held true, as Gardner ran for a season high 19 times against UConn and completed a season-low 47.8 percent of his passes.
The good news for Michigan fans is that while Gardner hasn't exactly lived up to expectations so far this season, there is plenty of time for improvement.
As long as Michigan gets right on the offensive line there is hope that Michigan can win games because of Devin Gardner instead of in spite of him.
*Andy Coppens is the Big Ten Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter: @andycoppens.
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