The Antagonist: Devin Gardner as the New Face of Michigan Football

By Kyle Rowland on April 16, 2013 at 9:30a
Devin Gardner in a borrowed orange jersey for Michigan's spring game.Devin Gardner, not wearing red (MGoBlog/Fuller)

Ohio State and Michigan held spring games on Saturday. They were largely mundane affairs, as these glorified practices tend to be.

The Buckeyes played their game in an Ohio city that isn't nuts about Ohio State football – yes, these places exist – and borders SEC country. The Wolverines were at home in Ann Arbor, but the game was contested in snowy conditions, not exactly ideal for building excitement within the fan base. Fewer than 20,000 turned out to Michigan Stadium.

But the first post-Denard Robinson spring game provided Michigan fans with hope, this coming on the heels of a heartbreaking defeat in college basketball’s national championship game.

At nearly the same moment, Ohio State and Michigan, with games separated by 250 miles, gave fans a glimmer of what could come in the fall. Braxton Miller completed a 49-yard pass on the first play, while Devin Gardner connected with a receiver on a 29-yard strike.

Saturday's performance from Miller was expected. He dazzled with his arm and his legs, leading the Scarlet team to four touchdowns in a 31-14 victory. What Gardner would do, though, was a little more uncertain. After all, this was a player who began 2012 as a backup quarterback, then shifted to wide receiver, only to be thrust into the starting quarterback position when Robinson was injured in late October.

Gardner played well in spot duty, winning his first three starts while ending the season with consecutive losses to Ohio State and South Carolina. He completed nearly 60 percent of his pass attempts for the season and tossed 11 touchdowns and five interceptions.

But now the Maize and Blue is undoubtedly Gardner’s team.

“It’s his throne now,” senior safety Thomas Gordon told the Michigan media. “He’s a lot more comfortable back there and has taken control of the offense. It’s really exciting.”

Said Gardner: “It felt kind of weird not having Denard around. I’ve had him around since I got here. But other than that, it felt like it was my team.”

Recruits are taking notice, too, as Drake Harris, one of the top wide receiver prospects in the country, committed to Michigan on Sunday. His reasoning: Gardner’s two more seasons of eligibility and a chance to play early.

In five series on Saturday, Gardner completed 11 of 16 passes for 145 yards and a touchdown. During one stretch, he successfully linked up with intended receivers on 7 of 9 passes. And he showed off the skills that made him a coveted recruit three years ago – arm strength, accuracy and quickness. He’s a dual-threat quarterback that can succeed in a pro-style offense.

“Devin naturally throws a tight ball,” head coach Brady Hoke said.

It all plays into something Gardner wants himself and his Michigan teammates to have, or in this instance not have, this season – limitations. Prior to the start of the spring, Gardner made a note to himself vowing that nothing would hold the Wolverines’ offense back.

There were flashes of the pre-Rich Rodriguez offenses that the Lloyd Carr-era Michigan teams employed – utilizing the tight end, screens and deep passes using play action. 

“You can tell from the play-action game standpoint how comfortable Devin is and how good he can be in that offensive style,” Hoke said.

The area most likely to limit the Wolverines is the offensive line. Unlike their enemy to the south, Michigan doesn’t return a unit almost entirely intact. Instead, the Wolverines have to replace three starters. One of the highly regarded underclassmen vying for a starting job is Kyle Kalis, already a perfect villain in the eyes of Ohio State fans for decommitting from the Buckeyes.

The offense will go as far as Gardner will take them. When he’s not texting offensive coordinator Al Borges to discuss strategy, Gardner is gathering teammates or reading his playbook. Love him or hate him, Robinson was an excellent leader for Michigan, and the Wolverines will need the same quality and demeanor from Gardner if it hopes to supplant Ohio State atop the Big Ten.

Gardner took a few lumps in Columbus.

“I’m proud he’s figuring out being the Michigan quarterback is something special,” Hoke said. “His work ethic, his intelligence, all those things – he is a football junkie, and he's done a nice job of wrapping his arms around his responsibility.”

In Robinson, Michigan had a quarterback that was part Barry Sanders, no parts Peyton Manning. Still, it seemed like he could always find a way, even when arm punting with the best of them. He wasn’t able to lead Michigan to a Rose Bowl or national championship, and the Wolverines never really got that signature win during Robinson’s reign. Victories over a 6-7 Ohio State team and undeserving Sugar Bowl participant Virginia Tech do not count.

Now Michigan has a quarterback that can make the tough throws and also evade would-be tacklers. In the huddle, the Wolverines have a strong presence. In a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately culture, Gardner could be the final piece to the puzzle for Hoke.

“(Gardner will) let that thing fly, it doesn’t matter where he’s at on the field,” Gordon said. “He’s so competitive. With him back there…he can do everything. You never know with Devin, so you’ve really got to be on your P’s and Q’s.”

For over a year, the talk emanating from Columbus 192 miles north to Ann Arbor has centered on Urban Meyer and Hoke. Two head coaches from Ohio that are deeply entrenched into their respective universities. There are emotions and images that evoke the Ten-Year War.

But the next two years are all about the quarterbacks: Braxton vs. Devin.

“I feel like we worked hard to get to that point,” Gardner said. “I feel like we’re right there. Last year we had a few faults where it just escaped us. The way we’ve been working this winter and this spring, I feel like that’s not going to be an issue.

“When we need that big play, we’ll get that big play. When we need that extra yard, we’re going to get it.”


Comments Show All Comments

sfgoody's picture

I'm going to enjoy watching us beat Devin Gardner some more.


alust2013's picture

I could watch that happen a couple more times. Perhaps a repeat of the 2006 game?

...and Michigan still sucks.

stevebelliseeya's picture

Excellent I need to go be sick.

"We are eternal. All this pain is an illusion." - Tool

Bam_Childress's picture

Now Michigan has a quarterback that can make the tough throws


5 ft 9 in - 185 lbs - ALL HEART

toledobuckeyefanjim's picture

The arm-punt era is over. scUM should be very predictable on offense now.

DannyBeane's picture

Now Michigan has a quarterback that can make the tough some throws
Fixed that for you

avail31678's picture

Good article...but I think it's remiss in not mentioning the D-Line of OSU.  You touched on their O-line having spots to fill, but didn't mention the possibility of Diesel and Spence wreaking havoc.  That would have made reading an article that is positive overall in tone and whose subject is a scUM player a little easier to stomach.  :-)
In all seriousness, good read.  I like can sorta appreciate Denard and Devin for their competitiveness and being seemingly good kids.  It actually reaffirms my burning for scUM - they can have some good guys in their program, and I still hate them.
go Bucks!
EDIT: fixed a spelling error

Hardware Sushi's picture

That is the strength of the Michigan liine - the tackles.
They have a top-10 NFL pick in Lewan and a potential 1st/2nd teamer in RT Schofield.
The interior of the offensive line are the three new starters.

buckguyfan1's picture

Let me think about this....

Lets Play

ausmos's picture

He is being vastly overhyped based on a few good games against horrendous defenses and a spring practice. He was turrrrrible against competent defenses. He will also suffer from having an inexperienced line and below average receivers.

Hello_Heisman's picture

I'm pretty sure South Carolina was a competent defense and he played effectively against them.  Offense put up 28 points and he drove them to what should have been the winning touchdown in the final 3 minutes before the defense blew it at the end.  I put more stock in that game than some of the others he played in because of the quality of competition and the fact that he was able to get some legitimate reps in practice at the QB position for the first time all season in the weeks leading up to the game.

60% of the time it works.....every time

Tom57's picture

I fully agree that the TTUN O looked solid against a USC D that was formidable.
Everyone ooos and ahhhs about the Clowney shot on the RB but for the most part Lewan held his own in that game, and Gardner made plays.
TTUN is still rebuilding, but they are getting closer. If the OL comes together, adds some more depth and they add 2 more power RBs along with Drake and one more WR the O will be in good shape.
I think their D may still be two more classes away.
I expect the Huskers to win this season, and TTUN to be 9-3 or possibly 8-4.

Hovenaut's picture

Here's a great Gardner pass, C.J. was wide open.....

nickma71's picture

He threw high when under heavy pressure.

Buckeyevstheworld's picture

That D-Line was about to devour him.

"YOLO" = I'm about to do something extremely ignorant/stupid & I need an excuse to do it.

Hovenaut's picture

Spence was closing in....think we'll be seeing that again in November.

JYBUCKEYE's picture

lol.  Watch the o-tackle lined up in front of Spence.  He blocks down then looks back just in time to see Spence fly by him.  I can only imagine his facial expression being like the gif of TTUN punter. 

Deadly Nuts's picture

lol, he was about to get spun into a black hole.


MN Buckeye's picture

Robinson and Manning do not belong in the same sentence.

FROMTHE18's picture

MorrisThink what our fullback did to him, and then think what Spence and Washington will eventually do to him...who's their backup again? please let it be this guy...

skid21's picture

I was shocked at how stiff that guy is.

Dougger's picture

Victories over a 6-7 Ohio State team and undeserving Sugar Bowl participant Virginia Tech do not count.

and i could watch that boren gif allllllllllllllllllllllllll day. so great watching it happen live

I like football

Doc's picture

Let them hype themselves all summer long.  Fall Is Coming! and so are the Buckeyes.  Muck Fichigan!

CJDPHoS Member

The Official DDS of 11W

chitown buckeye's picture

While I get that it is fun to make fun of him and scUM in general. When Shoelace got hurt and they went to Gardner full time they were on to something. Now do I think Gardner is the answer, no but he scares me much more the Denard ever did. He has potential to become a much better passer and with his mobility that can be scary. However, I like our fast DE's and Dline against him.

"I'm having a heart attack!"

Doc's picture

Does AACC have to commemorate everything?  They have patches on their uni's for the Spring game.  What is that all about?  

CJDPHoS Member

The Official DDS of 11W

FROMTHE18's picture

how else would they maintain that self-promoted sense of relevancy 

hail2victors9's picture

It probably coincides with their efforts in a great cause.  

Michigan Football and C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital have teamed up once again. Since 2010, the Spring Game has raised nearly $1 million for the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

Commemorates the event and merchandise purchased, as opposed to everyday merch.  They also auction off the game worn jerseys for the same charity.

$5 — An authentic Spring Game jersey patch identical to those worn by the players during the 2013 Spring Game


Those who stay will be CHAMPIONS!

~Bo Schembechler

avail31678's picture

Ahh...helping the tots at the C.S. Mott....  Not bad, not bad (I simply can't all-out gush and congratulate scUM - even amidst good charity - "not bad" is all they get).   
Upvote for you....but only because of the tots :-)

buck4's picture

If think we are all under estimating UM this year.  I might be alone here, but I am a little worried that the 12-0 season might have had a negative impact on us.  We only won by 5 points last year and it was at the Shoe.  
Michigan was plagued by a ton of injuries last year and while we are quick to point out last year's record, Michigan was in just about every game except Alabama (and yes if Denard stays healthy they beat Nebraska IMO). They played most of their tough games on the road as well.  They lost some guys, but will be playing with personnel that better suites their system and have more talent and size.
I know that Urban will have this team ready to go and I hope that this team looks at Michigan as a power house that when the coin flips, we need to execute perfectly on every play.  I have seen it too much in my lifetime where a much better OSU team loses to a mediocre Michigan team. 

avail31678's picture

...they lost some guys...

They lost the most in the B1G.  Plus I believe their best defensive player will likely miss the entire season.  I'm not underestimating them - they'll be formidable, but they lost one of the B1G's most productive offensive players ever, lost three O-lineman and more.  Also, they didn't have to play Wisky or Penn State last year - this year they get PSU away and also have to travel to MSU and NW.  Not neecessarily losses, but not gimmees.  I'm predicting a 9-3 regular season.  They still have ND who is coming off a BCS titel game berth with an outstanding recruiting class as well. 
I guess I'm predicting only a small improvement (i.e. they don't lose to Bama this year since they don't have to play them).  Losing to ND again is quite possible, and I think they'll drop at least one conference game besides (hopefully) us.
Michigan sucks.  Go Bucks!

buck4's picture

As this is true they lost a very productive player in Denard, I think he was more of a liability than an asset.  Michigan got way too predictable with him in the offense

BME_Buckeye's picture

They lost the most in the B1G.  Plus I believe their best defensive player will likely miss the entire season.  I'm not underestimating them - they'll be formidable, but they lost one of the B1G's most productive offensive players ever, lost three O-lineman and more.

If you are referring to Jake Ryan who is out with an ACL injury, I saw something on Mgoblog that he may be back mid October which will give him enough time for the game. Not sure how  accelerated his rehab will be though. As for Michigan Offensive Line, they are just like OSU DL, reload and insert the next one. I will concede when I say this that Hoke has done an excellent job saturating the field of OL/OG talent (4*/5* guys) that they can easily have another guy step up. OSU and Michigan both have time to develop their strengths before The Game and should make for a competitive game this year. 

Look closely, because the closer you think you are, the less you will actually see.


Poison nuts's picture

You're not alone. We as fans may be underestimating them, but the good thing is, we just watch the games. The coaches will have them ready to play, of that I'm certain. For the record, I do think UM will be good this year, but am confident the Buckeyes will be ready.

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

whobdis's picture

One thing seems looks like the B!G is going back to the days of being ruled by the Big Two. Both are recruiting well and there is a big gap between them and the rest of the conference. M played us tough at home but that game is always that way. Heck..the year before was one our worst seasons ever and we were close to pulling that off at M so playing there doesn't bother me. I think by seasons end our offense will be even more potent as Herman/Urban figure out ways to get some of the more explosive freshman integrated into the offense. Should be fun!

Dougger's picture

and we didn't have john simon either...
I think we can all be in agreement that 12-0 doesn't mean they were a flawless product; they just found a way to win games.

I like football

Hello_Heisman's picture

@Buck - I'm a Michigan fan but I generally agree with you that a number of the 11W posters are underestimating Michigan as a threat.  I think OSU will have a better record than Michigan this year, but I do think that Michigan will be much more of a threat to win The Game this year than many folks on this site realize.  I predict Michigan will go 9-3 or 10-2 this year, depending on the outcome of The Game.  In my mind, it's a toss up because it's in Ann Arbor.  If The Game was in the Shoe I'd probably guess OSU by a touchdown.

60% of the time it works.....every time

MN Buckeye's picture

Agreed, Hello.  The home-field advantage is big, and anything can happen on the road.  This is where the playmakers need to make plays, and one key play can change the course of the game.  While I think we will be the stronger team, I am not assuming a win here.

Hello_Heisman's picture

Home field is definitely a key in college sports. Remember, these kids are only 19, 20 years old. Emotions can certainly get the better of them no matter how talented or well coached they are.

60% of the time it works.....every time

TheShookster's picture

Devin Gardner reminds me of Cardale Jones....They're both tall, athletic quarterbacks who wear the #12 and have the skills of a 3rd string QB

He ain't even stretch doe!!

MAVBuck's picture

Glad he's our 3rd string QB but wouldve loved to see Jones as the QB in Toledo (his other final school of choice). Get the feeling he wouldve done well in that offense.

Ahh Saturday's picture

The best thing you can say about Gardner is that he's inexperienced, so it's possible to hope he'll improve. As far as the earlier poster who suggested that DG might be nice or likeable, or something other than repugnant, he's one of those guys who burned a letter from OSU and posted it online. I don't care if he's nice to puppies and children, when he goes up against the Buckeyes I wish him nothing but pain and misery. I expect him to get heavy servings of both.

avail31678's picture

LOL - I didn't know that was Gardner!  Full-out hate back on!!!

Poison nuts's picture

Puppies & Children & Pain, Oh My!

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

RBuck's picture

Can't wait until Mr Gardner meets Misters Spence and Washington.

Long live the southend.

MAVBuck's picture

Even more than watching Gardner vs Spence/Washington I cant wait to see those 2 against Kalis!

okiebuck's picture

Guys; do any of you really think Urban Frank Meyer; he with scarlet blood flowing through his veins will ever, ever, under estimate TSUN??? Not going to happen my friends...:)

"Fate has cards that it don't want to show"

Jrome82's picture

When we need that big play, we’ll get that big play. When we need that extra yard, we’re going to get it.” ... as opposed to the referee giving you the terrible first-down call in the 2013 Outback Bowl against SC ?


Hello_Heisman's picture

Since that first down led to zero points for Michigan (quite the opposite - the very next play was Clowney decapitating Vincent Smith and forcing a fumble), that's a pretty weak argument against Gardner.  As I mentioned earlier, he put up 28 points against a reputed high profile SEC defense including a late touchdown drive that should have sealed the game, this after being down by two scores in the first quarter.  The officials didn't have anything to do with Michigan scoring 28 points in that game. 

60% of the time it works.....every time

onetwentyeight's picture

Not saying this in a taunting way (OK MAYBE A LITTLE but still) - but what exactly is Brady Hoke's track record w/QBs like Gardner? I honestly don't know. Did any of his SDST/Ball St guys play exceptionally well under his tutelage? I always got the impression he was more of a defensive coach ... 
What is Borges' track record developing QBs? Nobody notable comes to mind. 
Urban's QBs might not all succeed in the NFL (sorry Timmy) but there's a proven record of him maximizing the F*CK out of their skills in college. 

Hello_Heisman's picture

Off the top of my head, Borges coached Cade McNown at UCLA and Jason Campbell at Auburn.  Both had very successful NCAA careers and were drafted in the NFL.

60% of the time it works.....every time

causeicouldntgo43's picture

After seeing Al Borges in action last year calling plays, I don't think we have to worry too much about how good Gardner may  be...............Please Al, sign that long term contract.

harleymanjax's picture

When reached for comment about Gardner's chances against the Buckeyes Spence said.........

"Because I couldn't go for 3"

CentralFloridaBuckeye's picture

"Down goes Gardner!  Down goes Gardner!"
That's what we'll be hearing when Spence and Washington are going after him in November!  Just like Ali and Frazier!!
Go Bucks!!

OSUAndy07's picture

Love that gif of Boren sacking Gardner. Can watch it all day

"But I'm tryin' Ringo. I'm tryin', real hard, to be the shepherd"

acBuckeye's picture

They'll be much more of a pro-style offense..... which our defense, as bad as it was at times last year, showed it could handle with relative ease.