I wish I had a time machine
Now that the regular season is over and we can now say for certain that our season came down to Denard’s ulnar nerve and a maddening loss to the Huskers, I wanted to take a retrospective look at what proved to be the key personnel decision on offense for Michigan this season; moving Devin Gardner from quarterback to wide receiver. Of course, there’s been numerous threads debating the wisdom of having Bellomy as the back-up to Denard over Gardner, but what really hasn’t been looked at is where we would’ve been in the first 8 games without Devin at wideout. This is my rudimentary, George Bailey analysis of such a scenario. I apologize up front for not having the Mathlete’s ability to take statistics and convert them into revelatory truths, but here we go.
Alabama -Devin had only the one reception in this game, but it was a 44 yard touchdown, so that’s nice. Of course, it didn’t matter because, oh yeah, we’re playing Alabama. Why the BLEEP are we playing this game? Impact: NEGLIGIBLE
Air Force - This is easily Gardner’s best game at WR. He had 5 receptions for 63 yards and a touchdown. Ironically his performance gets overshadowed by the debut of Funchess. Still of his 5 catches, 1 of them converts a third down which is followed by a 30 yard touchdown pass to Funchess, another is his TD catch and his final reception is a 20 grab on first down on a drive that ultimately yields a field goal. Of all the games where Gardner appeared at receiver, this game sticks out as the one where he made a difference between Michigan winning and losing. Impact: MAJOR
UMass – Gardner snagged 2 receptions for 48 yards including a touchdown, which doesn’t really matter because Michigan is playing UMass and it’s not 2010. Impact: NEGLIGIBLE
Notre Dame – Devin hauled in 3 receptions for 40 yards, which was 2 less than the Notre Dame defense hauled in on what was probably Denard’s worst game as a starter at Michigan. Two of his receptions came on a drive that ended with an interception, with the other converting a 3rdand 10 that lead to Michigan’s 2ndfield goal. His biggest play in this game, though was probably the 40 yard bomb he dropped late in the 4thquarter with Michigan still trailing by 10. Of course, after this game, Borges begins to adjust the offense to emphasize the run more than the pass. Impact: MINOR
Purdue – Gardner had 2 catches for 31 yards and another touchdown, which is a lot considering that Denard threw only 16 times in this game. Still Michigan blew out Purdue the old-fashioned way in this game, by running the football. Impact: MINOR
Illinois – Gardner only got one catch for 17 yards in a game where Michigan didn’t have to do much to whip the Illini. His grab converted a 3rdand 10 on a drive that ultimately resulted in a punt. The only thing of note in this game is that Denard leaves the game with an injury to his throwing arm in the third quarter. Bellomy comes in at QB and hands off a lot until Denard returns. Impact: NEGLIGIBLE
Michigan State - Gardner tallies a single catch for 13 yards on a drive that ends with Michigan punting. Devin actually has a pretty poor game here running some sloppy routes and not making some big catches due to some poor footwork. Still, Michigan wins despite his lackluster performance because Drew Dileo is the mother-fucking threat. Impact: NEGLIGIBLE
Nebraska - Devin had no receptions from Denard before DOOM. His sole reception for 15 yards from Bellomy is described by Brian as “Inexplicable Laser to Devin Gardner”. Once Denard is out, the only way Devin can help Michigan in this game is by going back in time and prepping to be the back-up for this game…argh. Impact: NEGLIGIBLE
So….what does this tell us? Well, I guess if the hope of the coaching staff was for Gardner to come in and become Hemingway 2.0; ummm… that didn’t happen. It’s pretty easy to argue that Gardner only played a decisive factor in just one game as a receiver. I don’t think any of us at this point would hesitate to trade a loss to Air Force for a win over Nebraska and a spot in the B1G CG. Granted, without the benefit of hindsight back in September, under this scenario, the board meltdown after an Air Force loss and 0-2 start would’ve been epic.
Still I believe the decision to move Gardner to wide receiver is pretty defensible because getting your 11 best athletes on the field at the same time is usually a pretty good idea. The decision in my mind becomes a little less defensible after the ND game only because Borges seemed to shy away from a balanced passing attack with Denard helming the offense. Of course, the Denard-lead offense and the Devin-lead offense were two completely different things, which may explain why Devin was never really considered for moving back to QB until absolutely necessary. In the end, Borges and Hoke pushed all their chips in on Denard staying healthy and crapped out.
The takeaway from all this for me is to follow the advice espoused by Magnus. You take a QB in every recruiting class. Make sure you have a viable alternative at the QB spot because you never know when you’ll need that guy. Hoke and company learned that lesson the hard way this year.