ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
Perhaps Kelly Clarkson’s song has some merit and maybe that’s part of the lesson Michigan senior quarterback Devin Gardner learned not only following his benching against Utah, but throughout his tumultuous career in Ann Arbor.
A five-star, can’t miss dual threat quarterback coming out of high school, Gardner’s experience at Michigan has been anything but a five-star stay.
Unable to see the field at the position behind the game breaking Denard Robinson, Gardner moved to wide receiver prior to the 2012 season, only to be bumped back under center following an arm injury to Robinson later that same season in a loss at Nebraska.
With expectations as the starting quarterback heading into 2013, the road, individually and collectively, has been bumpy.
Either way, Gardner has always bounced back.
And now, at least it seems, No. 98 is doing just the same in 2014 with Michigan off to a 2-4 start, temporarily losing his starting job in a home loss against Minnesota a couple weeks ago.
“I think that Devin has always had an inner burning desire to be a great player,” Michigan offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said. “And obviously for numerous reasons things weren’t working great for us there for a while and felt like Shane (Morris) deserved the opportunity like we said before.
“But sometimes as a player it’s good to get a chance to step back, see, get a different perspective on things and watch and get a feel.
“I think the opportunity Devin had there in that game to kind of sit back and see how things unfold when you’re not right in the midst of it, it gives you a different perspective and a lot of times it can trigger some things. I just thought he played well the other night.”
Since his ugly second half interception in a 26-10 loss at home to Utah, Gardner has completed 16-of-28 pass attempts with 280 total yards of offense, three rushing touchdowns, and just one interception, all the while being sacked four times.
Those numbers aren’t perfect and Michigan is smack dab in the middle of a three game losing streak, but there is improvement enough for Michigan coach Brady Hoke to stick with Gardner as the Wolverines prepare to host Penn State Saturday night.
Shane is practicing; Devin is the starting quarterback,” Hoke said. “I thought Devin, from the standpoint of running the offense, I think on some explosive plays that he ran, I thought he ran hard, with purpose, but he did a nice job. We had a little mix up on a route with the interception.
“But overall, I thought number one, his leadership was outstanding. When you’re on the sidelines and the energy and all those things, he did a tremendous job. Very pleased with the progress he made Saturday and expect more progress this week.”
For his teammates, who are in the locker room, the classroom, the weight room, and even walking around campus with Gardner, there’s no difference in the senior’s mentality.
“Devin’s fine,” wide out Dennis Norfleet said. “He came to a part in his life where he stepped back and he saw how everything goes and it made him a better person; that game.
“Knowing that he’s got us behind him he feels that everything is all right and that’s why he had a great game on Saturday.”
Despite missing out on the opportunity to be the starting quarterback in one of the six games Michigan has played so far this season, tight end Jake Butt feels mentally, Gardner never believed he was someone’s backup.
“Honestly I just think Devin’s always held himself to a high standard,” Butt said. “He’s always come to work every single day.
“His preparation didn’t change during that week and he was ready when he got thrown into the game against Minnesota and he came out and played a really good game this past weekend too.”
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