By Ashley Dunkak
ANN ARBOR (CBS DETROIT) - Just don’t fall. Run out there, jump up, touch the banner. Just don’t fall while you’re doing it.
Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner’s entrance in the season opener was a moment to be cherished, and Gardner certainly felt the magnitude of the situation.
“It was amazing,” Gardner said. “I can’t even really describe how I was feeling. My heart was racing. I was just like, ‘Don’t fall while you’re running and touching this banner.’ I really can’t describe how it felt. It felt great.”
Gardner’s first game as the bonafide starter – last year he started games at the end of the season, but only because Denard Robinson was injured – yielded mixed results. He threw two interceptions, and Central Michigan wound up starting drives on Michigan’s six-yard line and 29-yard line, respectively. Against a better opponent, two picks could be suicide.
But Gardner also showed tremendous promise. He came up with big plays, completing six passes for 10 or more yards, including two that went for 45 and 36 yards. In all Gardner connected with receivers on 10 of 15 passes for 162 yards.
In addition, Gardner displayed an affinity for turning broken plays into big gains with a capacity to scramble effectively. He recorded 52 rushing yards in the game, only a few yards fewer than running backs Fitzgerald Toussaint and Derrick Green. Running is a plan-B option with which Gardner seemed perfectly comfortable.
“When I’m running around, I’m pretty calm,” Gardner said. “My face is pretty straight, I’m not really chaotic, my head’s not spinning or anything, and I feel like my calmness allows me to help my teammates be calm. When they see me running around calm, they’re like, ‘Is he scrambling? Or is he not?’ It’s kind of probably refreshing for them, and then when they get open, I get an opportunity to hit them, and if they don’t, I’ll just run.”
At times, that makes life a little more interesting for the guys trying to protect Gardner.
“It’s kind of hard because you’re blocking your guy, blocking your guy, and you feel him start running this way, and then the other way, so you have no really clue of where he is,” offensive lineman Michael Schofield said. “You just try to stay in front of your guy as much as you could.”
Of course, all that running also has head coach Brady Hoke holding his breath at times.
“He’s athletic, and sometimes I’m crossing my fingers when I see him out there being athletic,” Hoke said, adding later that Gardner can continue scrambling as long as he does so in a somewhat responsible manner. “As long as he does a good job of protecting himself, then we’ll let him do what he does well.”
As far as the interceptions, Hoke would rather have a passer be aggressive versus passive.
“One for sure was one that he should have probably made a better decision on, but at the same time, he’s got a lot of confidence in his ability, and you like that,” Hoke said. “I’d rather have a quarterback that has that confidence than a guy who you have to keep feeding all the time, so I thought he had a good game. I wouldn’t say ‘elite,’ or ‘excellent’ or anything, but I thought he had a good game.”
Gardner concurred, saying that he thought he managed the game well, made the right throws when he could and improvised well when plays broke down. The exception to all this, of course, is the turnovers.
“The first one was an execution deal,” Gardner said. “I didn’t execute at all. I made a bad read and threw it – it was a decent pass but it was a bad read, so it got turned over, and then the next one, I got hit while I threw it, so it kind of went farther. You can somewhat control that, but not as much as you’d like to.
“I wish I had them both back,” he added, “but they’re done now and on to next week.”