Michigan Football: 5 Things Devin Gardner Needs to Do to Win the Big Ten
Quarterback Devin Gardner is Michigan’s best hope for a berth in the Big Ten championship game. It’s been ten years since the Wolverines won the Big Ten, and the pressure is mounting on Brady Hoke to lead his “Michigan Men” back to national prominence.
While backup Shane Morris filled in admirably during Gardner’s absence late last season, offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier needs an experienced quarterback to run his offense.
Gardner (208-of-345 for 2960 yards, 11 interceptions and 21 touchdowns) had solid numbers last year but four November losses ruined any chance to play for the Big Ten title.
After last season’s 7-6 finish, Michigan has very little room for error. This season, Michigan is on the road for all three of its rivalry games, in addition to a prime-time night contest at home versus Penn State.
Here is what Devin Gardner needs to do for Michigan to win the Big Ten.
All season statistics from mgoblue.com, official University of Michigan athletic department web site.
Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via Press Conferences or in person.
Learn from Doug Nussmeier
The bad news is that Gardner is ranked 50th in the nation according to ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating (QBR), which accounts for what a quarterback does on a play-by-play level. QBR factors in downs, distance, field position, as well as the clock and score for a far better measure of a quarterback’s effectiveness.
The good news is that he has a clean slate under Doug Nussmeier and an opportunity to redefine his legacy at Michigan. Nussmeier has a great pedigree as a coach, and his experience as a former quarterback is exactly what Gardner needs to elevate his game.
Gardner needs to master the new offense and earn the starting position based on proficiency, not seniority.
Last season Michigan roared out of the gate with a 59-9 win over Central Michigan. Fans reveled in the beat down, but the team would have been far better served by working on its run game and offensive line—there’s a reason that teams work on fundamental plays versus weaker non-conference opponents.
Gardner will need to run the offense no matter what the result; especially early in the season. He'll be tempted to take off and run instead of throwing the ball away or finding an open receiver. Last season that worked early, but it resulted in him taking a beating as the season progressed.
He will need to give his teammates the opportunity to grow into their new roles, even if it means that the team struggles early. Michigan needs an improved offensive line and multiple offensive threats to compete for the Big Ten championship, and Gardner needs to drive that development.
Spread the Ball Around
At the expense of spreading the ball around, Gardner had a tendency last season to lock onto a favorite receiver. With the injury to tight end Jake Butt and the graduation of both Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo, Gardner will have one experienced receiver—Devin Funchess—available when the season begins.
Funchess is a great receiving threat, but Gardner needs to develop a variety of receiving targets for Michigan to be successful this season.
Eliminate Bad Interceptions
Gardner struggled with identifying defenders lurking in the flat last season. These short passes are particularly dangerous as interceptions in this area often are returned for touchdowns. Sometimes the best play may be a safe incompletion or even a tackle for a short loss.
Michigan should have a greatly improved defense this season, and Gardner will need to rely on it to make big stops to compete for the Big Ten Championship.
Stop the Moping
After losses last season, Gardner was despondent. It’s good to be upset about losing, but part of being a leader is to inspire your team to bounce back after disappointment.
The road to the Big Ten title game will be paved with tough games, and Gardner needs to show more fire and less moping when things don’t go his way.
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