Considering that he was making his first start with a setting that included a game against a budding rival in a critical ACC contest on national television, the 6-foot-5 signal-caller performed well and displayed the ability to improve during a game..
After not mustering much on the teams first possession, Gardner worked in the shadows of his own end zone during his second trip on the field and helped engineer a 93-yard scoring drive to give the Cardinals an early 7-0 lead. He was perfect on his 5 pass attempts during the drive, connecting with three different receivers for 50 yards. The drive was capped with a 2-yard pass to freshman tight end Charles Standberry for the score.
“I think he did a good job, he had a really nice drive there in the first quarter,” U of L head coach Bobby Petrino said. “He executed and went straight down the field.”
Gardner would finish the night by completing 71 percent of his 28 attempts - good enough to rank among the nation's leaders after one week of games. However, he did have a few correctable mistakes, including a pair of fumbles. The mental mistakes left Petrino wondering if it was simply a lack of game-time experience.
“He had a couple mistakes by not taking care of the football,” continued Petrino. “You always wonder should you hit him in practice, but he has had three years since he’s been hit. We need to get him to get the ball against his body, keep his elbows in, and not carry it the way he did when they pressured him. A lot of the hits were caused of making the wrong call, we didn’t block the right guy. He still has to get the ball against his body.”
Despite those turnovers, Gardner remained poised in the pocket. With the Cardinals holding a 9-point advantage over visiting Miami midway through the fourth quarter, he completed all three of his passes for 31 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown strike to Gerald Christian, in U of L's 7 play, 38 yard drive to seal the game.
“You talk about poise and competitive spirit, the way he came out and played after those mistakes, I’m very proud of him,” Petrino said.
Senior running back Dominique Brown was the workhorse of the game, running for 143 yards on 33 carries, was impressed by the composure of Gardner in his first start.
“He did a great job and did a very good job of managing the game,” said Brown. “He got us in the right spots, and got us in the right checks. People don’t understand that it’s a lot of pressure being a quarterback and he held his own for this being his first start.”
Gardner's attention now turns towards improving throughout the week in preparation for Murray State's visit on Saturday afternoon.
“Other than the turnovers, I mean a couple fumbles, other than that I am but there is always room to improve and get better and just come out next week, work hard and get ready for the next event,” he said.