The Wolverine

2014 Michigan Football Preview

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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84 ■ THE WOLVERINE 2014 FOOTBALL PREVIEW Michigan doesn't possess all of Alabama's weapons at this point. That hasn't stopped Nussmeier from making his point, in a forceful and focused manner, with regard to execution perfection on a streamlined playbook. Gardner's description of Nussmeier as "in- sane" has everything to do with a maniacal de- mand for getting it right. That, the QB offered, is making a difference. "Not that Coach Borges wasn't a great teacher," Gardner said. "He knew a lot. But Coach Nuss is amazing at relaying his mes- sage, and showing us and teaching us how he wants it done, explaining protections, and where they're weak. "His ability to relay his message is so amaz- ing. He demands perfection. It's never good enough. That's really been beneficial for all the quarterbacks." Nussmeier oversees "still drills" in warm- ups, when quarterbacks connect to a spot on a receiver — left shoulder, not inches away, where a hand in a game could knock the ball loose. From there, it goes to critically dissect- ing even the plays that would have them stand- ing and cheering in Michigan Stadium. "Even when it's a completion, maybe for a touchdown, it's: 'That's not good enough. That was a great play by a receiver, but it could have been an even better throw, to make it easier on him,'" Gardner noted. Nussmeier brings credibility one can't buy when it comes to teaching quarterbacks. He played the position in the NFL and the CFL. He threw for more than 10,000 yards at the University of Idaho. Don't tell him not to put too much weight on one position. "When we don't win, I have a big part," Gardner said. "I have the largest part of any- body, whether we win or lose. That's tough, but that's the position I chose. He always talks to me about being able to kill the outside noise." Gardner grinned when noting a conversation relayed from the new boss. A freshman talked to Nussmeier and reportedly said: "We'll go as Devin goes." "For a freshman to look at me that way, that just gives a small perspective of how the whole team looks at it," Gardner said. "That's absolutely true. I can't wait." Gardner did wait a long time in ascending to the position. He knows others that faced that same struggle, including a three-time Super Bowl champion. Now that the ball rests in his hands, he can't rest. His coaches have let him know the expec- tations, from personal production to leading others. The process isn't finished, according to U-M head coach Brady Hoke. "An important part of it is his leadership, and how he comes to work every day," Hoke insisted. "From body language to the intensity that he's calling the huddle with, slapping a guy on the butt when he makes a good play, and being a teammate … "He just has to continue to grow. It's the attention to detail, the fundamentals and tech- niques, his mechanics with his feet, his me- chanics with the football. Devin is such a gifted guy, he thinks he's got to do everything. "He doesn't. We're going to have an offen- sive line. We're going to have tight ends. We're going to have wide receivers who can stretch the field. Taking some of that off of him by be- ing able to run the ball is a real positive for us as a team, and for him." Gardner freely admits trying to do too much early last season. Of his 11 interceptions on the year, no fewer than eight occurred in non- conference play. His combined five pickoffs against Akron and UConn helped make nail- biters out of projected pummelings. He threw two more interceptions in the ill- fated second game of the Big Ten schedule, the protracted stumble in Happy Valley. The rest of the season, he threw one pickoff. Gardner seemed pleased over that distinc- tion getting pointed out. He insists he's making progress, and continued to build this spring on ball protection and self-protection. "I've gotten better in protecting the ball, throwing the ball away when it's not there, and checking it down," Gardner said. "Coach Nuss is crazy about that. If it's not there, check it down and give a back the chance to get two or three yards. Take hits off yourself, and learn the protections to take a lot of hits off. "Oh, and I'm going with the softball team. I'll work with them and see if they can teach me how to slide." The 2013 Wolverines experienced a differ- ent kind of slide, beginning in earnest three weeks after the Penn State missed opportunity. The trip to Michigan State didn't hinge on one play. It incorporated one hit after another, mostly on a besieged Gardner. The Rose Bowl-bound Spartans recorded seven sacks that day, but claimed 27 hits on Michigan's battered QB. The 29-6 loss dam- aged more than the Wolverines' ego. "Physically, I got beat up pretty good in that game," Gardner acknowledged. "I had rib 1. Rick Leach, 1975-78 — Leach managed 4,284 passing yards and 48 touchdowns for the Wolverines in an era far removed from the throwing frenzy of today. He also ran for 2,176 yards and 34 touchdowns, while av- eraging 4.5 yards per carry. More importantly, he guided the Wolverines to a 38-8-2 record in four years with three Big Ten championships. 2. Dennis Franklin, 1972-74 — Franklin passed for 2,285 yards and 18 touchdowns over the course of three seasons in Bo Schembechler's run-heavy option attack. He also rushed for 1,212 more yards and 16 touchdowns. The Wolverines put up an incredible 30-2-1 record behind Franklin during those years, but going 0-2-1 against Ohio State (including losses of 14-11 and 12-10 in Columbus, and a 10-10 tie in Ann Arbor) kept Michigan out of bowl competition. 3. Denard Robinson, 2009-12 — Robinson obliterated the Michigan record books in many ways, passing for 6,250 yards and 49 touchdowns, while rushing for 4,495 yards and 42 scores. He was, hands down, the most electrifying Michigan quarterback of all time in the open field, off- set somewhat by him throwing more interceptions (39) than any other Michigan QB. He never guided the Wolverines to a Big Ten championship — a void that might have been filled had he not gotten injured in his final season. Had he played behind the Michigan offensive lines of the 1970s, all bets are off. 4. Steve Smith, 1980-83 — Smith threw for 4,860 yards and 42 touch- downs over the course of his career, while piling up 1,736 yards and 31 touchdowns on the ground. He helped guide the Wolverines to a Big Ten championship in 1982, even with a loss to Ohio State at the end of the season. 5. Devin Gardner, 2011-13 — Gardner, like Robinson, has racked up some eye-popping totals, including 4,440 yards and 34 touchdowns pass- ing, along with 658 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground. He still has a year to perform for the Wolverines. Like Robinson, though, he's guided Michigan through a dry spell in terms of team success at the Big Ten championship level. He gets one last chance to change that, while adding to his considerable production. — John Borton Top-Five Michigan Dual-Threat Quarterbacks Since 1969 82-84.Devin Gardner.indd 84 6/18/14 3:57 PM

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