Quarterback Devin Gardner had a baptism of fire in first full season leading the Michigan offense. The team scored 59 points to open the season with a victory over Central Michigan and 41 points—failing on a two-point conversion in the final minute—in a loss against arch-rival Ohio State.
Between those games, Gardner took a physical and mental beating, getting sacked 34 times behind an offensive line that was constantly being shuffled in a futile attempt to protect him and mount a running attack.
Gardner was forced to run for his life, losing 346 yards between sacks and losses on running plays. In November alone, while facing three of the top defenses in the country, Gardner was sacked 23 times.
But how will Gardner respond to the disappointment of this season?
Both of Michigan’s last two regular-season losses ended with Gardner turning the ball over during failed comeback attempts. Against Iowa, he fumbled the ball as he scrambled on Michigan’s final drive, and versus Ohio State he threw an interception on a two-point conversion that could have put the Wolverines ahead with 32 seconds left.
Both failures led to a despondent Gardner struggling to answer questions from the media during difficult postgame press conferences. Gone was the swagger and confidence that he showed at the beginning of the season when Brady Hoke described him as superman.
Games versus Notre Dame, Indiana and, most importantly, Ohio State have shown that Gardner can fly, but Michigan needs to fashion an offense to protect him and showcase his talents.
Brady Hoke needs a re-energized Gardner back next season for Michigan to compete for the Big Ten championship.
Hoke can help Gardner work throughout his disappointment by having him talk to former Wolverine quarterbacks Tom Brady, John Navarre, Chad Henne and Brian Griese—who all faced disappointment and criticism during their careers at Michigan.
As a backup, Gardner watched while previous starter Denard Robinson was reduced from a Heisman Trophy candidate to wide receiver under offensive coordinator Al Borges.
Can Borges make the adjustments to help Gardner thrive?
Hoke will need to sit down with his offensive coordinator and figure out how an offense that looked so good against Ohio State had completely failed versus Michigan State.
That conversation may not only hold the key to Devin Gardner bouncing back next season, but also determine Brady Hoke’s success as well.
Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via Press Conference Source.