ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- In most good quarterbacks there’s a mentality that if they must, they can do it all. If they’re called upon, that they can put their team on their back. And that if their team needs heroics, they’ll deliver.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke has defined this trait in quarterback Devin Gardner as a Superman-deal -- it’s not something to coach up or coach down, just a part of the player.
“I think he has been Superman a long time,” Hoke said. “When you grow up being Superman, you have that in your mind.”
But even Superman has shortcomings, and Gardner’s kryptonite -- whatever it has been these last two games -- has been all too evident.
Gardner had a stellar performance against Notre Dame in which he led the Wolverines to a 41-30 win, while throwing for four touchdowns and 294 yards on a 21-of-33 performance (64 percent completion rate).
However, he followed that with two poor performances against Akron and UConn, two teams whose respective defenses rank 107th and 70th in the nation. Against those two teams, Gardner was 27-of-42 for 345 yards with two touchdowns as well as two interceptions.
Because the Wolverines aren’t quite where they want to be with the run game or with their receivers, Hoke has relied on a big risk-big reward offense. They know Gardner won’t make the 30-yard run or the 25-yard pass every single time, but he does every so often.
Gardner believes he can make it every time.
“It’s innately what’s in him,” Hoke said. “It’s in his DNA.”
But lately, Gardner’s superhero qualities are getting the best of him.
Several of Michigan’s problems can be traced back to Gardner’s inability to hold on to the ball. Gardner throws a pick 7.9 percent of the time he passes. That rate is the worst in the country and he’s tied for 119th (of 121) with those eight interceptions.
Gardner’s FBS-high 10 turnovers in just four games have cost Michigan an expected 13.8 points this season. That’s the second-most points any single quarterback has lost his team so far this season. Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday has given away 14.4 points this season while leading his team to a 3-1 record, while Western Kentucky QB Brandon Doughty has lost 12.4 points to turnovers this season. His team is 2-2.
If there is a silver lining, it’s that of the three FBS QBs who’ve lost their team more than 10 points due to their individual turnovers, it’s that the Wolverines are the only team that’s still 4-0.
Now, that isn’t just Gardner. A mistake doesn’t usually happen just because of one player. There are several moving parts on Michigan’s offense and not all have been working as the Wolverines would like.
Gardner is behind an inexperienced interior offense line and even the veteran linemen have made mistakes -- left tackle Taylor Lewan’s holding penalty against UConn brought back a 39-yard Gardner jaunt.
But Hoke keeps trying to remind Gardner that even though he can make those big plays, he doesn’t have to every single time.
“I think it’s a fine line because you’d rather try to tame a bucking bronco than an old mare,” Hoke said. “That’s kind of what you have to do. But it still comes down to the fundamentals -- our footwork and all the things that you know. At the end of the day, it always, any position, comes down to fundamentals.”
If there’s a time to revisit, it is now, in the bye week. There might not have been a more aptly-placed bye week than the Wolverines’ as it appears Gardner needs a return to the basics as Michigan begins its hunt for a Big Ten title next weekend and he (as does the rest of the team) has plenty to work on.