September 18, 2013 at 1:00 am

Terry Foster

Michigan QB Devin Gardner must stop trying to do too much

Michigan QB Devin Gardner: On moving past the Akro...
Michigan QB Devin Gardner: On moving past the Akro...: Gardner looks forward to playing under the lights this week

Ann Arbor — Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner is a fantastic athlete with great potential. When he plays you stand and take notice.

He excites a crowd and he can score on any play. However, on a Saturday night when the rest of his teammates vow to rev it up during a prime time clash at Connecticut, Gardner must tone it down. He is the leader of this team, and Gardner must learn that sometimes less is more.

He is a turnover machine, and that is the one component that can undo Michigan and turn championship dreams into another so-so season. Gardner has started eight games the last two seasons as Michigan’s quarterback and he has thrown at least one interception in each of them.

During Michigan’s narrow 28-24 victory over Akron, Gardner threw three picks and fumbled once. He has too much energy and moxie to become a “game manager,” but he must learn to know when to back off on the throttle. He must think about winning and not necessarily putting on a show.

Certainly Gardner has heard this before from coaches. But he keeps trying the high-wire act in the end zone. A week after throwing a wild pass in the end zone against Notre Dame that resulted in a pick-six, he tried the same thing against Akron.

This time the ball fell to the ground out of harm’s way.

Shades of Denard Robinson

The temptation will be there again Saturday. We might think more of the Huskies as a basketball power than a football power, but this game is huge for them. The Huskies will be hyped up. Their athletic director, Warde Manuel, is a Michigan man, having played under the legendary Bo Schembechler. The place will be rocking Saturday night.

Michigan must prove it is indeed a legitimate Big Ten championship contender after the Akron near-disaster. Quite frankly, the Wolverines deserved to lose that game; the Zips played harder and with more focus.

You could see the pain on Gardner’s face after that game. He is a fun-loving guy with an appealing personality and good spirit. He did not have that last weekend.

“This won’t happen again,” he vowed after the Akron game.

Offensive tackle and co-captain Taylor Lewan tried to protect his quarterback from criticism by saying the offensive line failed him. That is only part of the truth. Gardner turned into Denard Robinson, the guy many Michigan fans could not wait to be rid of.

Gardner’s accuracy left him last Saturday. His decision-making was questionable and Gardner often got out of a jam by running. Some of this is on the coaches. They are trying to run a pro-style system with a guy who is not a classic pro-style quarterback.

Play to his strengths

Gardner is more Michael Vick than Peyton Manning. Maybe a few more plays designed to use his dual-threat abilities are in order.

Here is one more thing to ponder: In his first eight starts Robinson completed 65 percent of his passes and threw an interception every 33.2 attempts. In his first eight starts, Gardner completed 59.8 percent of his passes and threw a pick every 22.7 attempts.

Gardner can be a better quarterback than Robinson — certainly more complete. And he must remain a player that takes risks from time to time. He just does not have to swing for the fences on every play.
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A week after throwing a wild pass in the end zone against Notre Dame that resulted in a pick-six, pictured above, Devin Gardner tried the same thing against Akron. / John T. Greilick / Detroit News
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