Devin Gardner’s promising five-game stretch in 2012 was supposed to translate to greater success in 2013.
But it didn’t.
Instead, for one reason or another, the Michigan Wolverines’ redshirt junior quarterback took a pair of Big House-sized steps backward this past fall, rather than taking the two definitive steps forward that were anticipated.
In 2012, Gardner, who was 3-2 in relief of Denard Robinson, led the Big Ten with a quarterback efficiency rating of 161.7. He finished among national leaders with an adjusted rating of 90.7.
Grade Devin Gardner's 2013 season.
This year, Jameis Winston of Florida State—who wouldn’t have fared much better than Gardner behind Michigan’s O-Line, according to former Wolverines running back Butch Woolfolk—led the country with an adjusted rating of 90.9.
That’s just a little food for thought.
No one really expected Gardner to have a Winston-like, Heisman-winning season—or did they? But they most certainly envisioned something better than a 7-5 record, which was somewhat clouded by a respectable line of 2,960 yards, 21 passing touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Getting to the root of the issue is a complex process that can start by breaking down a few statistics and sifting through relevant numbers.
Get ready to do that.
Had he been on, Gardner could have reached the 3,000-yard plateau this season. He was off for most of 2013, but that didn’t cause him to fall well short of the milestone—he missed out by 40 yards, which he’ll most likely get in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl vs. Kansas State.
But take another look at his passing yards. A great offering, sure, but nearly one-third of that season production came in two games: 503 in a 63-47 win over Indiana and 451 in a 42-41 loss to Ohio State.
In the age of advanced stats, there’s a numerical value affixed to every facet of a player’s game. Remember all of those sacks? Well, according to ESPN, Gardner’s sack EPA, which weights expected points against sacks, cost the Wolverines nearly four touchdowns.
Gardner had the second-worst EPA in the country (-25.5, No. 126 of 127). Tom Savage of Pitt took home No. 1 honors with an EPA of -25.7. Gardner’s total EPA, which predicts expected points added, was 44.9, putting him at No. 36 among qualifiers.
|Johnny Manziel||Texas A&M||82.4||4|
|Jameis Winston||Florida State||78.9||6|
|Braxton Miller||Ohio State||54.9||26|
Two more and Gardner would have had three dozen on his resume.
But 34 sacks were plenty.
November was unusually cruel. He was sacked four times in the first quarter (seven total) against Michigan State and was bum-rushed the next week by Nebraska, which plowed him no less than six times.
It’s not the department in which a quarterback wants to finish among the top three, but Gardner did it—he was the third-most sacked guy in the land. One could argue that Gardner was the most abused, as he was often pushed, shoved and pulled instead of actually being tackled.
These hockey-style digits aren’t only representative of Gardner’s jersey number, but they also indicate how many yards he threw for against Iowa (L, 24-21), a team in which he ripped for six touchdowns and 314 yards in 2012.
Five starts weren’t enough for some to buy into Gardner, but 10 starts got people thinking. Although up and down, Gardner managed to lose just twice during his first 10 games.
Through Week 6, Gardner’s touchdown-to-interception ratio wasn’t what it should have been. Eight touchdowns and eight completions to the other guys were nothing compared to 11 touchdowns and five picks in 2012—for those who are counting, that was better than a 2:1 ratio.
In Gardner’s defense, he put the lid on mishaps by going pick-free during five of the six final games.
Believe it or not, Gardner boosted his completion percentage from 59.5 to 60.3. Considering his across-the-board regression, it’s somewhat refreshing to see that he did “improve” in some areas.
Well, one area. He improved in one area.
Failing to beat a rival in three tries (Ohio State twice) doesn’t sit well with fans. Gardner was shelled by the Spartans—who have won five of the past six—prior to coming oh, so close vs. the Buckeyes during two consecutive close calls.
Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81