When the Michigan Wolverines handed Devin Gardner the No. 98 jersey last season to recognize Tom Harmon, there wasn’t a whole lot done to help him look anything like a guy who deserved to be wearing it. That’s because, between an offensive line that couldn’t have pushed over a squatting baby and running backs who either got taken down on first contact or simply couldn’t find a hole, zero assistance was given to Gardner. In turn, he was forced to become the star quarterback and running back for a team that is supposed to be taking on a ground-and-pound approach.
The No. 1 reason Gardner’s 2013 season is criticized is because of turnovers — he had many of them, to be fair. 11 interceptions and 11 fumbles doesn’t look good on paper. But step outside the box, observe the game as a whole, and it becomes clear just how much pressure was placed on Gardner last season; and the mistakes become excusable, even expected.
Sticking out like two sore thumbs on the 2013 schedule are games against Michigan State and Nebraska. The Wolverines’ offensive line played dismally, giving any hope of a traditional ground attack a swift kick to the curb. After watching games like those, it becomes a mystery as to how Gardner even survived the season — he started and finished every game, except for the bowl game.
A quarterback with the talent and potential of Gardner deserves so much more from his team. The criticism is almost completely undeserved most of the time, and as a future in the NFL rests on the horizon, his health is an issue for both now and later.
Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier has simpler plans for the offensive line this season, and hope remains high that the crew can offer more productivity in the run game and pass protection. Without tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield, though, optimism from the outside is hard to find.
Sophomore running backs Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith are probably going to share carries to begin the year, and hopefully one of them is able to break away and become something of a feature back in Michigan’s offense, something that hasn’t been seen in a long time. (No, Denard Robinson doesn’t count.)
If this team can get things rolling on the right track, Gardner’s true potential is going to be undeniable. We’ve seen glimpses of it in the past, but because of some inconsistency on his end and a lot of inconsistency everywhere else, the brightest colors continue to elude Michigan. Hopefully 2014 is a season for change in regards to giving Gardner what he deserves.