Michigan QB Gardner gaining control

Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner (98) looks for an open receiver to throw a pass to during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game against Minnesota, Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, in Ann Arbor, Mich. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner (98) looks for an open receiver to throw a pass to during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game against Minnesota, Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, in Ann Arbor, Mich. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)
Posted: October 13, 2013

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - There is no worse feeling for a quarterback, Michigan's redshirt junior Devin Gardner said this week, than to have to look over your shoulder. Before last week, as doubts built over Gardner's ability to lead the Michigan offense, Gardner had begun to play with that apprehension.

When Michigan plays Penn State on Saturday, the game will again pivot on Gardner's play. His arm and legs, which have drawn comparisons to the San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick, make him Michigan's most dynamic player. He has led Michigan to a 5-0 start. But when he has tried to do too much, his 10 total turnovers have nearly lost Michigan games.

The trouble for Devin Gardner started late in Michigan's win over Notre Dame on Sept. 7. It was Gardner's best game as the starter, his wide complement of skills on full display. He completed 21-of-33 passes for 294 yards and four touchdowns. He rushed for 82 yards and another score.

But in the fourth quarter as Gardner tried to elude a sack, he inexplicably ran into his own end zone, where he threw an interception. That began a string of turnovers - seven more in the next two games - that nearly led to upsets against lowly Akron and Connecticut in the following weeks. For three straight games, Gardner had a turnover returned for a touchdown.

As doubts crept in for the typically super-confident Gardner, Michigan's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Al Borges, had to juggle competing goals.

"Start scaring him and he'll go out there and play so guarded you won't get anything out of it," Borges said. "There's got to be that delicate balance between keeping him aggressive and using good judgment."

On the sideline, Gardner has sought out teammates, "making sure I talk to others and stay out of my own head," Gardner said.

After a bye, Gardner said he felt relaxed last week against Minnesota. He responded with the first turnover-free game of career at quarterback. He called it "refreshing."

Michigan took the pressure off with its running game, and Gardner wasn't the team's best playmaker, as he usually is. But he managed the game, and against Minnesota, that was exactly what Michigan needed. In a hostile environment this week on the road, where Michigan has struggled with turnovers, it'll need the same.

"I just want to be the best quarterback for the team," Gardner said.

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