The fifth-year senior signal caller went 11/24 for 109 yards and two interceptions in narrow 10-9 victory over a dismal Northwestern team. He was by no means the only player on offense to struggle (there were a number of dropped passes and missed holes in the running game early), but success or failure at the quarterback position has always been the most visible sign of performance. Gardner’s showing was a far cry from his dynamic performances against Ohio State and Notre Dame last year, or even the first start of his career two years ago at Minnesota.
Former Michigan All American and current Big Ten Network analyst Marcus Ray feels as if he is watching a different player.
“To me it looks like… in Michigan’s offense Devin Gardner is a child who got abandoned by his parents and then bounced from foster home to foster home, and now he is just acting out,” said Ray. “He is not the same kid. When you at everything he has been through with the head coaches, the coordinators, and the different systems, and two years in a row where the offensive line wasn’t very good… I think he felt more comfortable in last year’s system where it was more helter-skelter, feast or famine… (risky). He would just throw certain passes (then) that he wouldn’t throw (now). Sometimes he plays well, sometimes he throws bad balls. I watch him in practice and he does the same thing.”
With two games left (possibly three with a bowl game) in his Michigan career Gardner still has a chance to end things on a strong positive note. Even if that happens Ray will still be left wondering what migh have been.
“I don’t think we truly (know) how good Devin Gardner could’ve been at quarterback or at wide receiver just looking at what he has been through over his five years,” Ray lamented. “I think this year he was trying to be someone he wasn’t. He was trying to be a certain type of quarterback in this system, and that’s why I don’t think the system works for Devin. He was better when you just let him play, and obviously when he could scramble, and run, and improvise, and do the spin around that he used to do, and just throw it up. That’s when he was at his best. He had (Jeremy) Gallon and (Drew) Dileo. People tend to forget that those guys made some big plays… even (Roy) Roundtree at one point."
“So when you don’t have those same kinds of weapons and you’re in a different system… he doesn’t have two NFL tackles anymore… so I don’t know if he trusts the guys up front or if he trusts the system. If he does, obviously it’s not working. One game over 200 yards passing, that’s something he did eight times last year. This man threw for 2900 yards and 21 touchdowns and didn’t even play in the bowl game. He was the returning leading passer in the Big Ten coming back this year including Connor Cook, Braxton Miller, and Nate Sudfield. Now it’s true enough that they had a running game to compliment them, but we’ll just never know how good Devin would have been with some coaching, or with some consistency up front, or just with his own play. But I think if he would’ve have had a true #1 receiver and you keep Devin Funchess as a big time #2 receiver maybe (Gardner would have done a little bit better.”
For more from Ray on the Michigan defense, the key to offensive improvement over the last few games, and more, press play below.