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There was this thing going around this past offseason, and it wasn’t 22 Jump Street, which I’m pretty sure all of about seven people paid to watch. It was this thing about the starting quarterback job at Michigan.
It shouldn’t have been a thing, and really, inside the walls that mattered, it wasn’t. It was just cannon fodder for media looking for something, anything interesting to be parasitic with during the dog days of no college football.
This situation revolved around Michigan senior quarterback Devin Gardner and sophomore Shane Morris, both highly recruited players out of high school, both completely different in style from one another. Where Morris’ ascent came from is tough to pinpoint, at least in terms of overtaking a senior leader for the starting job.
But this much is known three weeks into Michigan’s season: Devin Gardner has to be better, whether he’s being, has been, or will be pushed or not.
Gardner is one of the biggest enigmas in college football: immensely talented, immensely bounced around since arriving in Ann Arbor, immensely brilliant at times doing things other people just can’t do, and immensely terrible in moments that leave you scratching your head until you start scraping brain matter.
Early on in his collegiate career, Gardner was brilliant, setting his feet and his eyes and making the throws, going through reads, and not relying on his size and speed to bail him out without doing the appropriate “quarterback things” first.
Gardner was heralded by Sports Illustrated at one point as a potential first-round draft pick as a quarterback, but he seems to be falling back into the same issues that plagued him last season.
Time and time again against Notre Dame and even Miami University this past week, Gardner bailed quickly at the first sign of trouble, a shade back to his 2013 campaign. He badly overthrew a pass that was intercepted this past Saturday to an open receiver during Michigan’s spectacular turnover circus of a second quarter.
Good Gardner is more important than ever as Michigan still deals with a receiving corps that lacks the know-how to be primary targets. Devin Funchess is the lone player back with that type of experience in being counted on week in and out. Jeremy Gallon, who was Gardner’s ultimate security blanket in past seasons, is gone.
After it was all academic but the score against Miami, that Morris fellow came on and delivered some strikes that were dropped (albeit against a “myriad of depth chart” Red Hawk defenders), at least giving a sign that the future may be bright during the “Gardner, AD” years at Michigan.
However, Miami hadn’t won a football game in over a year, and it felt eerily like UConn or Akron last season for Gardner, a place he wasn’t supposed to be.
With the Big Ten just a complete cluster from basically everyone other than Michigan State on down, the Wolverines have a chance to have one of those seasons that builds fan confidence back in the program, which is remarkably down these days.
They’ll need a better Devin Gardner to do that.