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Friday Focus: Michigan QB/WR Devin Gardner

Adam DiBartolomeoEntering the 10th game of the 2012 season it appears the Wolverines have a legitimate question mark regarding the quarterback position for the first time in three seasons.  Uncertainty, yes.  Controversy, ABSOLUTELY NOT!!!!  If Denard Robinson is healthy he will, and should, be the starting quarterback against the Northwestern Wildcats.  The problem is that, unlike last week, his health is a known BIG IF, and IF he can’t go, Devin Gardner proved against Minnesota that he is not only a capable backup, but possibly a darn good QB and perhaps the starter after this season.

Gardner also has proven that he can be a legitimate WR, and if Robinson returns he will still be on the field but as a pass-catcher.  We won’t find out until game time on

Devin Gardner leads the team in TD catches with four.

Saturday where #12 will line up, but regardless of where he plays, he will have a chance to be a big factor in the game.  If you guessed that he would be the player featured in this week’s “Friday Focus” then, in the words of the knight in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: “…you chose wisely…”

Regardless of who lines up where, the Michigan passing game will need to be effective to beat the Wildcats who have a defense that is pretty stingy against the run, but susceptible against the pass.  So whether it be with his arm or with his legs/hands, Gardner will be involved in Al Borges’ air attack on Saturday and could have a big day.  Northwestern’s defensive statistics serves as the fuel to my hypothesis:

  • TOTAL DEFENSE – 393.78 YPG (60th nationally)
  • SCORING DEFENSE – 22.33 PPG (T-35th nationally)
  • RUSHING DEFENSE – 121.3 YPG (24th nationally)
  • PASSING DEFENSE – 272.4 YOG (103rd nationally)

It’s obvious where the Wildcats defense has struggled this year.  They give up a ton of yardage through the air and their back four have been susceptible to the big play. With his big 6’4″ and 203 lbs.-frame, speed, and exceptional athletic ability, Gardner could prove to be a nightmare and a mismatch for these shaky defensive backs should he be moved back to WR this week.  He had a fairly smooth transition into the position this season until forced into QB duty last week.  Some could argue that, based on the numbers, he has been Michigan’s best receiver, or at least in the conversation.  These numbers (through eight games while the rest of the group has nine games worth of stats) validate the argument:

  • RECEPTIONS – 16 (3rd on the team)
  • YARDS – 266 (3rd on the team)
  • YPC – 16.6 (3rd on the team)
  • LONG (YARDS) – 44 (4th on the team)
  • TD – 4 (LEADS TEAM)

With a group of receivers on the smaller side, Gardner has been THE down-field target for Denard Robinson.  There is no telling what his receiving statistics would be at this

Gardner looked very capable of quarterbacking Al Borges’ pro-style offense against the Gophers.

point if Robinson had not been injured, but something tells me there is a strong possibility he would be 2nd as opposed to 3rd on a few of those statistical rankings.

As pointed out above, he only played eight games out of nine at WR due to the fact that he was moved back to his natural position of QB against Minnesota due to “Shoelace’s” ailing elbow.  After a rough first quarter, he settled into the role quite well and reminded us all that he was a 5-star QB recruit and the top dual-threat QB coming out of Inkster High School.  He played well.  If these numbers against the Gophers are a sign of things to come if called upon this year, and as possibly the starter in 2013, I think the Wolverines are in good hands:

  • ACCURACY – 12/18 (66.66%)
  • YARDS – 234
  • YPA – 13.0
  • LONG (YARDS) – 47
  • TD – 2
  • RUSH TD -1
  • INT – 1

Gardner’s numbers were not necessarily skewed by a few big plays.  He moved the offense down the field and led scoring drives of 91, 90, 86, 79, and 50 yards.  It was performance long-time fans have been longing for since the days of Chad Henne.  One in which he was able to go through his progressions, keep his eyes down field while eluding the pass rush, and was able to deliver an accurate deep ball on multiple occasions.  It’s also the type of offense (pro-style) we will see starting next year and beyond.

If Devin Gardner is the starting quarterback on Saturday and can give a performance similar to the one he had the previous week, he should be able to carve up the suspect defensive backs in purple and black.  He proved he has the tools to do just that.  If he is under center, look for him to have a big game.

The beauty of Devin Gardner is that he will be on the field one way or another due to his size and athletic ability.  Northwestern is flat out not good against the pass.  Thus, Gardner could, and should, be a nightmare for the Wildcats whether he’s shredding them with his arm or using his athletic prowess to haul in passes.  A big game from #12 either way and it will be tough for Northwestern to score enough points against a nasty Michigan defense to leave “The Big House” victorious.


You can follow Adam on Twitter at @adamdibart.

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