Monday's Coffee W/ Kyle: Morally Speaking

Michigan hung tough and nearly walked out of the big house with a win Saturday against Ohio State. Despite the 42-41 loss, one takeaway stands out above the rest and should pay dividends for the Wolverines in the future.

Well after pounding the pavement non-stop since roughly the second week of August I’m proud to say I didn’t get sick until the day after the regular season ended in college football.

Perfect timing actually, although today my drink is hot tea instead of coffee with cream.

Stunning would be the best way to describe my reaction to Michigan’s seemingly out of body experience Saturday despite the loss at home to Ohio State and I said as much (briefly) on the GoBlueWolverine Radio Hour Sunday morning.

I didn’t give Michigan a chance and I’m fully prepared to eat crow knowing that no matter what, when it comes to a rivalry game, the records truly do go out the window (I also thought Alabama was going to expose Auburn as a fraud, so not a great weekend for me from a prediction standpoint).

The single most important takeaway I have from the Wolverines’ loss to the Buckeyes is the play of Devin Gardner and my feeling about him moving forward.

I’ve had the same conversation all season with you dedicated readers and listeners and plenty of fans I speak with on a daily basis; “What is wrong with Devin Gardner? Gardner needs to be benched. Where is Shane Morris?”

Guys, Gardner can still be one heck of a quarterback.

I scratched my head on several occasions this season as Gardner continued to struggle and turn the ball over and lose confidence with every sack or errant throw. In five games in 2012, Gardner looked like the quarterback that would combine fantastic running skills and mobility with a rocket arm that could propel this offense to higher levels in an age of college football in which success is predicated on truly great play from that position.

Now, in 2013, it didn’t quite happen like that due to a myriad of issues not just because of what was going on with No. 98.

Gardner was poised, confident and down right stubborn Saturday as he continued to limp out onto the field having enough athleticism to out juke defensive backs for an extra five yards or step-up into the pocket knowing a shot was coming after delivering a tight spiral (Gardner threw for 451-yards on 32-of-45 passing with four touchdowns against Ohio State).

I’m not in the minority when it comes to agreeing with Coach Brady Hoke about going for the two-point conversion at the end of regulation instead of playing for overtime but I do believe Gardner’s effort deserved a better play call and more trust than he received in that crucial moment. Options, or lack thereof, is what was missing from that final play and Gardner wasn’t given any other than one route.

And now for some numbers: since Gardner opened the season throwing seven touchdowns and eight interceptions to go with 801-yards through the air in non-conference play, Gardner went on to throw 14 touchdowns to just three interceptions with 2,159-yards during the eight game Big Ten season.

I know some will say numbers can be deceiving but in my humble opinion those are pretty good numbers based on the fact that Gardner was sacked 29 times during that span, never had the luxury of a consistent run game from his tailbacks, and continually saw shuffling up front on the offensive line.

Devin Gardner is and still can be the guy for this Michigan offense moving forward.

Now, here Michigan stands, 7-5, 3-5 in conference play in year three under Brady Hoke. I think our own Tom Beaver said it best a few weeks ago when discussion of coaches being fired and staff shake-ups began to become more and more prevalent among fans -- it’s important to see the entire body of work before making any of those decisions.

As Marcus Ray said Sunday morning, Saturday’s game proved it can all be there when Michigan, at least offensively, performs at the highest level and offensive coordinator Al Borges is in a nice rhythm calling plays and keeping defenses off balance.

The single most important aspect of the Michigan program that needs to be looked at and addressed over the next month heading into an off-season that will be as important as any in recent memory is without a doubt play calling on third down and in key situations in general, I’m sure not to the surprise of many.

If Michigan was looking to prove a point and establish an identity based on the amount of times they predictably and unsuccessfully fell short running for a third and one out of a power set then the message is clear; the Wolverines will continue to do it in hopes the offensive line becomes more capable with running backs tough enough to run through contact thus making the actual play call less of a concern at least inside Schembechler Hall.

Either way, despite the loss and although I’m not one to believe in the moral victory cause, two days removed from Michigan’s 42-41 loss to Ohio State, some form of optimism appears to have returned for the Wolverines.

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