Michigan vs. Minnesota: The Emergence of Devin Gardner

It’s unfortunate that we had to wait until the Minnesota game to see Devin Gardner.  Based on what I saw, there is zero reason that he shouldn’t have played against Nebraska. He looked like he was a highly recruited five-star quarterback coming out of high school. Sure he had some rust to shake off early, but once he got going he looked great.  And sure it was only against Minnesota, but I was definitely encouraged for the future of this team.

Now why would the coaching staff not have played Devin Gardner sooner?  I was told by a reliable source who wishes to remain anonymous the following: apparently, Gardner and Borges got into an argument in the spring because Gardner wanted more playing time at quarterback and he boasted that he could run Borges’ system with ease.  Gardner was up front and in Borges’ face about it, and apparently Borges took exception to it.  Borges wanted to play Bellomy out of spite and Hoke believed Borges that Bellomy could get the job done.  Obviously after what happened, Hoke told Borges to get it together and to get Gardner ready.

This source has also told me that there probably isn’t a good chance that Gardner will get his medical redshirt.  Hoke has said that they haven’t applied for it yet, but I’m not sure how true that is.  I don’t have any intention of calling Hoke a liar, he’s just been misleading with things in the past, particularly injury information.

But anyways, back to the game.

It was nice to finally get to see Gardner play quarterback for a full game, and I think that Gardner is the best quarterback on the roster.  This is not to say he is a better playmaker than Denard or a better mismatch for opposing defense, but I think he has the better arm and the better throwing motion.  He also spent far more time under center than Denard does, and didn’t have any designed runs which was an interesting change of pace, especially considering the fact that when I see Gardner I think of a Vince Young-esque player with a better arm.  He also didn’t do anything to hurt the team and showed off his unique playmaking skills and what he could bring to the table in the future.

Gardner ended up going 12/18 for 234 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT and added a TD on the ground. The INT was an ill advised throw but he will learn and be more conservative in the future…I hope.

Unfortunately the same problems have continued week in and week out for this offense.  The interior offensive line has been just terrible, and they continued that trend against Minnesota. Patrick Omameh and Ricky Barnum were terrible, and Elliot Mealer had a less than stellar day to say the least.

This was some bad execution on the line, and the delayed blitz killed them.  Thankfully Gardner can move and was able to scramble.  The offensive line has been a work in progress the whole year and has not been as stable as I had hoped it would be going into the season.

The other issue that has continued to be a problem is the running game.  Both runningbacks (Thomas Rawls and Fitzgerald Toussaint) have tried to bounce the ball to the outside when there are no holes inside and then they end up going nowhere.  Toussaint had 13 carries for 70 yards and TD, with the TD coming at the end of the game from 41 yards out, a nice way to boost the average yard per carry.  Rawls got more carries with 16 of them, and only tacked on 43 yards with a TD.  They got touchdowns out of the run game, but the yards per carry have been utterly terrible.  Until they get a balanced run game with a better offensive line, this offense will continue to struggle against good defenses.

This is the type of running Toussaint needs to do.  The simple North-South, downhill style.  Sure it was some bad tackling, but that’s besides the point, just get up field and get as many yards as you can.

Meanwhile, I thought the wide receivers had a good day and did a good job of helping out Gardner ease into his transition.

Roundtree had himself a good game, and it’s too bad that he can’t seem to find the end zone.  In any case, I’m glad that the receivers had fewer drops and helped out.  Also, they throw the jump balls to Gallon, because even though he is 5’8″, he can dunk on a 10 foot basketball hoop.

A pretty solid box score if I do say so myself.  I would like to see Funchess get more involved in the future, but I’ll take what I can get from the receiving corps right now.

Defensively the team did a great job.  Sure, they gave up 13 points to Minnesota and 275 yards total offense I will happily take it.  I have gotten seriously content watching a defense that doesn’t get run over all game and gives up 45 points a week.  The defense was set up with having to defend a short field multiple times but they did an absolute stud job keeping the Gophers out of the end zone.  If I remember correctly the average first quarter starting field position for Minnesota was around their own 45 yard line, thanks to Will Hagerup averaging 27 yards per punt.

The defensive line did their job, not allowing the offensive line to get to the second level and pancake the linebackers.  Craig Roh and Quinton Washington had very good games, and I continue to be a big fan of Frank Clark and Mario Ojemudia.  The more room they create for the linebackers, the more room they will have to make tackles and create plays.

As per usual, Jake Ryan was a total beast with nine tackles, including 3.0 tackles-for-loss.  While Kenny Demens led the team with 10 tackles.  It’s great to see the guys that are supposed to step up and make plays doing exactly that, making plays.  I do miss seeing Joe Bolden on the field, but it’s probably better for him to be taking this time to learn instead of being on the field taking a lot of snaps as an 18-year-old.

Jordan Kovacs had another lights out game in the secondary, even notching a sack.  Quite honestly, the secondary is going to take a major hit without him next year.  Even though he’s not the best in coverage, he’s a great leader and an absolutely sound tackler that will be sorely missed.  While J.T. Floyd and Raymon Taylor had a solid performance in the secondary, not allowing any big plays to happen.  The best games are games like these where there isn’t anything to complain about on defense.  This was the sixth time that Michigan had allowed 13 points or less in a game this year and its just awesome.

I think the game tomorrow against Northwestern will be tougher than everyone is expecting it to be, but I’m hopeful that Denard plays.  He needs like 300 rushing yards to become the all-time rushing leader at quarterback and I would really like to see him beat out Pat White.  If Denard plays and the weather is good, I’m confident that Michigan will win, but if Gardner plays, I’m still a little unsure of what will happen.  Northwestern is far better than Minnesota and they are still fighting to magically win the division (albeit extremely unlikely).  Pat Fitzgerald is a good coach and he will have Northwestern very well prepared, so I hope no one is assuming that Michigan can show up and win no matter what.

In other football related news, they finished out their schedules for a few games in the future.

My short views on this schedule are that it will be nice to see some new teams come to Ann Arbor and play in the Big House, but that being said, our home schedule is going to be absolute garbage in 2014 and 2016.  Sure it will be cool to see Hawaii come here since they haven’t been here in a while, but Colorado, Miami and Ball State are brutal.  I’m also really upset that Michigan is playing Utah on the ROAD on a THURSDAY NIGHT.  It’s just embarrassing and as far as I know it will be the first Michigan Football regular season game that is played on a weekday night.  Brutal.  This should never, ever happen.

As I predicted here, Michigan did end up with a home and home with an SEC team and I would be willing to bet almost every last dollar that I have that even though Arkansas isn’t that great, that they will be the team we face in a Night Game.  And in case you were wondering it was BYU, and I believe Ball State, were the two teams that replaced Notre Dame since they opted out of their contract.  Serious downgrades, no doubt.

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