Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner is coming off a turnover-free game in the win over Minnesota last weekend. (Leon Halip / Getty Images)
Ann Arbor — Overthinking: Bad.
Clear head: Good.
Pretty basic stuff.
But for Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner, playing with his mind clear of any negativity was the difference last Saturday against Minnesota. It was his cleanest performance — no turnovers — and he managed the game well.
But as Gardner said, that game wasn’t the real test for his new approach to running the offense.
“I made a conscious decision to not get rattled anymore,” Gardner said as he prepared to lead Michigan to Penn State Saturday. “I went into the game, no matter what happened, I was going to stay calm. That worked out. Obviously, a lot of things went right, so there wasn’t much of a test. But I feel like I did a good job of it.”
A lot of things went right:
■The running game, although the numbers weren’t gaudy, kicked into gear with Fitz Toussaint and Derrick Green.
■The protection was there for the most part from the reconfigured offensive line.
■Devin Funchess emerged as the big-play target in the receiving game.
But the thing that went most right for Michigan was the elimination of turnovers.
The Wolverines had 12 turnovers the first four games, including 10 by Gardner (eight interceptions).
“That’s the biggest thing,” Gardner said. “A lot of people, you sit with yourself and talk to yourself and you’re thinking of every mistake you ever made. But if you talk to others, it helps to stay out of your own head and encourage others. “
Michigan took the pressure off Gardner against the Gophers. He had seven carries and didn’t make high-risk throws.
Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges said his work with quarterback Jason Campbell while at Auburn helped influence how he dealt with Gardner during the bye and throughout the season.
Campbell was having his share of issues at the time, and fans wanted the backup.
Borges said he told Campbell he believed in him and told him to play freely, go for throws, go for big plays and any mistakes would be fixed.
What Borges didn’t want was fear from his quarterback. The same went for Gardner.
“All it was was making a kid believe that you still were convinced he was the answer when a lot of people might not have thought that,” Borges said. “If the guy coaching you is the same way or starts scaring him, he will go out there and play so guarded you won’t get anything out of him.
“There has to be a delicate balance between keeping him aggressive and using good judgment and making sure he understands what you want, with not turning the ball over being at the top of the priority list.”