A quarterback with mixed success enters his senior season to questions of whether or not he should make way for his successor.
A statement about Devin Gardner? Try Brian Griese entering the 1997 season.
Griese entered his senior season with a 5-5 record as a starter, and had ridden the bench for most of the 1996 season. His competition for the starting position in 1997 included Scott Dreisbach, who had started most of the previous season, and some guy named Tom Brady.
His prospects for playing time were so dim that he considered giving up football altogether.
Griese decided to return for his senior campaign and guided Michigan to an improbable undefeated season.
He evolved into the ultimate game manager, leading the offense to consistent drives, building leads and relying on his defense to smother opponents.
Griese benefited from a stingy Michigan defense that would produce 10 NFL players, including Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson. But, he also upped his game and raised his NFL stock, becoming a third-round pick with Denver and playing in 93 professional games over 10 seasons with four teams.
Griese matured as a player and made better decisions, completing a higher percentage of passes and throwing fewer interceptions during his final season at Michigan.
His yards per completion also went down, as he opted for safer passes to move the chains rather than forcing the ball downfield for big plays.
Griese also showed his mettle, rallying his team back from a 14-7 second-half deficit against Notre Dame and a 21-7 second-half deficit against Iowa to preserve Michigan's undefeated record.
|Pass Completion Percentage|
Griese's pass-completion percentage rose to 62.9 percent during his final year after entering the season with a career 54 percentage completion rate. This improvement combined with only six interceptions increased the efficiency of the Michigan offense enough for the team to go undefeated and win a share of the national championship.
Gardner will need to make a similar transformation for Michigan to bounce back from last year’s 7-6 finish.
He has a career 59.7 pass-completion percentage, which is better than Griese’s career numbers entering his senior season, but he’ll need to do better to erase doubt over whether or not he’s the best choice to run Michigan’s new offense.
He also needs to cut down on interceptions after throwing 11 last season.
Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier’s new scheme will emphasize the running game—which means that Gardner will be throwing less, putting a premium on accuracy. A successful running attack should also open up creases for receivers, but Gardner will have to find them.
Nussmeier has sterling credentials as a quarterback coach. He set records as a collegiate player, played professionally and helped A.J. McCarron win a national championship at Alabama. If he can help Gardner improve his decision-making, Michigan could be a very dangerous team.
Nobody is expecting Gardner to lead his team to the national championship, but with his team facing all three of its main rivals on the road, he faces a stiff challenge to burnish his legacy.
If Gardner can draw inspiration from the past and absorb Nussmeier's instruction, he could lead Michigan to its first Big Ten title since 2004.
All season statistics from MGOBLUE.com.
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.
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