This is part two of a two-part series, looking at questions Michigan football is leaving for us, featuring The Whole Ten Yards Radio host and contributor to FBSchedules.com, Clayton Tinkle. Click here to view part one.
1. When Michigan goes on the road, they’re getting a legitimate opponent each time–Penn State, Michigan State, Northwestern and Iowa. What is the toughest road game Michigan has on its schedule?
Tyler: I’m picking the sexy answer and saying Northwestern. It’s scheduled for the heart of November, right in the meat of what we’re expecting to be a good race in the Legends Division. The health of Kain Colter has been shaky this season, but if he can sustain himself and be at 100% when Michigan comes to town, the Wolverines will have a very tough, unique challenge to deal with. Pat Fitzgerald is one of the best coaches in the country and really doesn’t get enough credit for what he’s been doing with this Wildcat team. And something else to consider: Northwestern will be very well tested by the time this date rolls around, after games at home against Ohio State and on the road against Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska.
Clayton: This one may be a surprise, as the obvious answer is traveling to Evanston to play the Wildcats, but the toughest road game on this schedule is Penn State. The last time the Wolverines won in Happy Valley was also the last time Michigan went to the Rose Bowl. Even then–in 2006–Michigan had to stop the Nittany Lions on a last minute drive to secure a 17-10 victory. Michigan has dropped its last three against Penn State, and that has to do something to the players’ psyche. Speaking of psyche, Beaver Stadium will be rocking for this contest. It’s already sold out. It’s homecoming and there will be a white out. Good luck, Devin Gardner.
2. Devin Gardner has used his ability to run on many occasions to keep plays alive, get the needed yards and sometimes bust one open for a big gain. But you could definitely argue that Gardner shouldn’t be exposing himself as often as he did in the non-conference games. Do you think Gardner should be running less often from here on out?
Tyler: Unlike Denard Robinson, who was a shade under 6-foot, Devin Gardner has very good size and strength for a quarterback. He’s tough to bring down when he has to fight for the extra yards, and I’ve yet to see him take a hit that looked too terrible for a quarterback outside the pocket. I’m more concerned about his running technique than anything else. He holds the ball like he can’t wait to have it knocked loose–hot potato. But that’s just a bad habit he’ll have to snap out of. I don’t think Gardner should be running the ball any less than he already is. Most of the time, his yards are very much so needed.
Clayton: If you’re complaining about Devin Gardner’s running, you’re probably also the same person clamoring for Shane Morris. Gardner has taken off in some key situations and in most of those situations he’s broken a big run and made a play, which is what a struggling offense needs. I’m sure Al Borges worked on this during the bye week. Let’s not kid ourselves, though. The offensive line play has been less than stellar and that has to change. Once that does, I think we’ll see less scrambling from Gardner.
3. This Michigan team certainly seems prone to playing down to its lesser opponents. Do you see any “trap” games on the schedule?
Tyler: Indiana. That Hoosier offense is electric, and if Mattison’s crew isn’t on its A game that particular day, it’s going to be a long game. Plus, are we sure the Wolverine offense is capable of going into and winning a shootout? It doesn’t seem very likely right now. The good news is this game will be in the Big House in front of 110,000 screaming fans, and the Hoosiers haven’t shown very much resilience thus far.
Clayton: The easy answer is saying traveling to Iowa or at home against Indiana are trap games. I just don’t see that, though. The right answer is no. There are no more trap games. I’ve said this a few times, and I’ll say it here as well. Michigan has had its scares, and they survived both of them. Mentally–after this bye week, anyway–team 134 should be ready for anything. If they lose now it’s simply because they got outplayed, there’s no other excuse. They’ve seen what happens if they don’t play with the right mindset and I think it scared them straight.
4. So much talk has been made of the possible rematch between Michigan and Ohio State in the Conference Championship Game. If that does happen, what effect do you believe that would have on the current state of the rivalry?
Tyler: It certainly wouldn’t–it shouldn’t–be referred to as “The Game.” That title is saved for the annual regular season meeting in November. I’ve come across some people who firmly believe a rematch would spell trouble for the rivalry. I think they’re arguing that this would take things off the normal course, but who would complain about seeing Michigan and Ohio State square off in back-to-back weeks? I know I wouldn’t.
Clayton: Michigan and Ohio State fans would fill an arena for a badminton match if they could. Yes, for those of you wondering, I did have to Google how to spell “badminton”–I mean, who uses that word? In all seriousness, it would just fuel the fire even more. Unless the same team wins, you’ll hear the debate about which game means more: the regular season finale or the Big Ten Title? You can’t tell me Jim Delany isn’t sitting in his office doing the Birdman hand rub when the idea of a rematch pops into his head. That’s huge for both schools involved and puts the Big Ten under the national microscope.
5. If Devin Gardner continues to perform the way he has been, how long do you think it will be before we see Shane Morris step in?
Tyler: I don’t believe we’ll be seeing Shane Morris step in permanently. Gardner is a talented quarterback who just needs to get his head screwed back on. It’s nothing against Shane, but I think the coaching staff–and Gardner–should have a sort of stubborn approach to this situation and just establish, leaving no question about it, that Devin Gardner is the man for the job. Should he have a bad performance today against Minnesota, it’ll only fuel the fire for those lobbying for the removal of Gardner. But this really shouldn’t be a tough decision to make. Devin Gardner is the guy.
Clayton: Assuming that Gardner is back next year and the Wolverines make the next two Big Ten Championship Games and they play in two bowls, it’ll be about 24 more games until Shane Morris starts a game at Michigan. That’s 1,440 minutes of football. Devin Gardner is better than Shane Morris, and I don’t think that’s a debate. Shane Morris will probably start his first game for the Wolverines on Thursday, September 3, 2015 in Salt Lake City, Utah against the Utes. I’m just not on board with benching a very, very good quarterback because he’s having a slump. Nothing against Shane, but it’s Gardner, FerGodSakes.