A Michigan Wolverines upset over MSU would suit Devin Gardner just fine


Since arriving from Inkster, Michigan  as a 5-star prospect in 2010, Devin Gardner has endured much more than any college athlete should be expected to take.

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Gardner would actually accept some good karma as his Michigan career winds down.

Saturday (Oct. 25, 3:30 pm) he’ll have a chance to avenge last year’s embarrassing 29-6 defeat when Gardner was sacked seven times (-46 yards), threw one interception and was hurried seven times.

Hit so many times

Often during the cloudy day it appeared that he’d have to crawl to the sidelines after being hit so many times. He also ran the ball 18 times for a paltry 20 yards.  To make matters worse,  running back Fitz Toussaint fared no better, rushing for  22 yards. Add in the “team rushing” statistic of -20 yards, and you have a total rushing output of -46, not to mention bruised ankles, shoulders and egos.

In the five seasons he played at Michigan, Gardner’s played under three offensive coordinators, two head coaches and plenty of adversity.

His first season wasn’t three games old before he suffered a back injury, shelving him for the balance of 2010.

When Brady Hoke took over the following season, he promised switching Michigan to a smash-mouth rushing attack, but he had to delay that since dual/threat quarterback Denard Robinson was still on campus.

Tough to unseat Robinson

Gardner had some of the same characteristics as Robinson. He had a strong arm, was much taller, had natural speed, but wasn’t quite as elusive as Robinson.

Of course there was competition for the No. 1 quarterback in 2011, but Robinson won the job, and proved his worth by passing for 2,173 yards and rushing for 1,176 more.

April 9, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines quarterback Denard Robinson waves to the crowd before he throws out the ceremonial first pitch before the game between the Detroit Tigers and the Toronto Blue Jays at Comerica Park. Robinson is now a halfback for the NFL Jacksonville Jaguars. Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Same scenario in 2012, Robinson started at quarterback  but instead of holding a clipboard Gardner was moved to wide receiver where he caught 16 passes before Robinson was hurt with four games remaining. Gardner finally got the chance to audition for the 2013 starting job, finishing the 2012 campaign with 1219 passing yards, 11 touchdowns and just five interceptions.

The 2013 quarterback job was all Gardner’s. His passing numbers were fine (208 completions/345 attempts 21 TDs/11 INTs), except he was forced to endure 35 sacks.

No running game

Plus, there was not much to say about the running backs. Fitz Toussaint, Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith averaged just 3.5 yards per carry among them.

But the blame starts with the quarterback, and Gardner (like Robinson before him) heard all about throwing off the back foot, not following your progressions and exiting the pocket too quick.

This year, even with new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, Michigan heads into East Lansing with a 3-4 record and a 1-2 conference mark. Gardner continues to take the heat. This year he’s completed 63.2 percent  of his passes but he has eight interceptions compared to six TD passes.

Michigan State, who is a solid 17-point favorite is 6-1, 3-0, having lost only at Oregon.

Paul Bunyan

The Spartans still have National Title aspirations, while the Wolverines will be playing, well, for the Paul Bunyan trophy.

“It’s a trophy game for a reason,” said Gardner, whose Wolverines have beaten the Spartans only once since 2007. “It’s a game where you get in-state bragging rights for a whole year.”

Of course, the recruits watching on either side of the field could do and about face, depending on the outcome.

It’s 2014 and you’d thing our society was beyond stereotyping, but Gardner’s been faced with that too.

“I’ve been called the N-word so many times this year,” Gardner told The Detroit News. “One guy told me I was the N-word, and said I know N-words can’t play quarterback. And I was like, are we not past this? Say what you want about my skill, but come on.”

Regardless of the sacks, being benched for Minnesota, the foot injury against Ohio State, or the ankle injury in the win over Penn State, Gardner can envision Michigan winning today.

“Every game is winnable. I feel we can win every game,” he said. “Some people say it and don’t believe it. I believe we can win every single game. I feel we’re hitting our stride on offense. I feel if I hadn’t been hurt in that (Penn State) game, we would have beat them by more. And on defense we’re playing well.”

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