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.