Forecasting Devin Gardner: The SDSU Comparison

Forecasting Devin Gardner: The SDSU Comparison

Submitted by Ron Utah on June 7th, 2013 at 4:26 PM

I will not use an Outback Bowl pic, because uniformz

Devin Gardner replaces the most exciting--and perhaps most-liked--player in Michigan history.  The QB-turned-WR-turned-QB got his first chance to lead his childhood favorite for Michigan's final five games in 2012, and did so with stunning success.  For 9-out-of-10 halves, the Michigan passing offense was more efficient and more potent than it had been in years, with the only stinker coming in the second stanza of the Ohio debacle.

Against three ranked teams (NW, OSU, and South Carolina), Michigan scored 38, 21, and 28 points--and the 21 all came in one half.  Michigan converted a ridiculous 56% of their 3rd downs with DG running the offense, which would have been good for #1 in the country.

The question: Is a five-game stretch during which the offense was a transitional patchwork of schemes and strategies from the Borges-Denard Fusion Cuisine model a good sample from which to predict DG's 2013 production?

The answer to that question is almost certainly NO.  The reality is that only one game--the Outback Bowl--offered enough time for the offense to install a pro-style attack, and even for that game the unique talents of #16 were significantly altering Michigan's tendencies.  So...where might we find a decent sample?

How dare he wear red

I'm not going to pretend Ryan Lindley is a perfect comparison: Lindley was a three-star recruit with offers from SDSU and...Idaho.  He played in the Mountain West and never faced a team like Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio, or South Carolina.  But there are some similarities, and perhaps most importantly:

Al is clearly excited he can still get his fist in front of his belly

The 2010 Ryan Lindley was the QB for a 9-4 SDSU team--roughly the average (or just below average) expectations for the 2013 version of the Wolverines.  This is important, because a team losing a lot of games will throw more, and a team winning a lot of games will run more. /broad generalization

In 2010, the Aztecs (that's San Diego State's mascot) threw the ball 426 times and ran it 439.  That's a 49/51 pass/run ratio, which is, like, really balanced.  I expect Michigan to look similar this year, and perhaps be slightly more run-heavy since that seems to the strength of the young O-line (and it's easier for young guys).  By comparison, in the five games where DG was QB in 2012, Michigan ran the ball 59% of the time, even though three of those games were extremely close.  The Outback Bowl was more balanced, but still had to get #16 more involved, and finished with a 45/55 pass/run ratio.

Back to Lindley.  He is similar to DG in that he is very strong-armed but maybe not as accurate as you'd like.  DG is more accurate, and far more athletic, although Lindley moved decently and could throw on the run.  I don't think Borges will call the plays that differently, but may coach DG to run a bit more when the lanes are there.  Here's Lindley's 2010 stats:

G Att Comp Pct. Yards Yds/Att TD Int Rtg Att/G Yds/G
13 421 243 57.7 3830 9.1 28 14 149.43 32.4 294.6

That would be the best passing season in U-M history (yards and TDs), and by some distance (499 yards and 3 TDs).  SDSU had two very good receivers who accounted for 136 (56%) of the team's 244 receptions and 67% of the teams passing yards.  In fact, their third leading receiver (by yardage) wasn't a receiver at all--it was RB Brandon Sullivan (26 rec, 383 yds).  The number four guy was a TE named Gavin Escobar, who is now in the NFL and racked-up 29 catches, 323 yards, and 4 TDs.  I mention that because I believe those numbers are least we can expect from Funchess this year, and because I believe we'll have much more receiving production from our backfield.

Here are DG's numbers from last season, actual and extrapolated:

G Att Comp Pct. Yards Yds/Att TD Int Rating Att/G Yds/G
5 126 75 59.5 1219 9.7 11 5 161.66 25.2 243.8
13* 328 195 59.5 3169 9.7 29 13 161.66 25.2 243.8

Even with the extrapolations, DG has nearly 100 fewer attempts than Lindley did.  Again, I expect that to change, and would guess that DG will probably throw the ball 350-400 times.  Michigan ran 820 plays in 2012, and I believe blowouts will allow DG to sit out a few quarters, giving around 20 attempts to other QBs.

The 2013 U-M version of Borges' WCO seems unlikely to have two near-equal WRs atop its receiving chart.  Jeremy Gallon will likely lead all receivers, but Borges has a long history of having two primary WR targets in his offense, and that is good news for Amara Darboh.  I expect that whoever emerges as the #2 WR will vastly exceed expectations and have at least 40 grabs.  Of course, Funchess could take on that role, but that hasn't been the Borges pattern.

So what happens if you extraploate DG's numbers with another 50 attempts or so?  Really good stuff:

G Att Comp Pct. Yards Yds/Att TD Int Rating Att/G Yds/G
13* 375 223 59.5 3638 9.7 33 15 162.00 28.8 279.8

Those stats would have made DG #16 in yards, #2 in yards/att, #9 in TD passes, and #8 in QB Rating nationally in 2012.  He would still rank #66 in att/game, so we're not talking about a pass-happy offense.

In terms of Michigan history, that would be #1 in passing yardage, moving well ahead of Navarre's 3,331 in '03.  It would be #1 in TDs, well ahead of Henne's 25 in '04.  And it would be tied for #4 in completions.  But before you say, "No way does DG set single-season records in yardage and TDs his first year as a starter!" consider this: DG's extrapolated 2012 numbers would make him #2 in yardage and #1 in TDs--and that was running a watered-down version of Borges' WCO.  Even if you bump DG's yds/att down to Lindley's 9.1, you still finish with the #1 passing offense in U-M history, with Devin throwing for 3,412 yards.

This is obviously not a perfect prediction, but it is reasonable to believe that DG has a very good chance of having one of the best passing seasons in Michigan football history.  Before you get too excited about that remember this, too: Lindley's '10 Aztecs went 9-4.