Michigan wide receiver thrives in switch to QB

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 3, 2012 - 9:53 PM

Devin Gardner felt and looked comfortable passing and running while filling in for injured Denard Robinson.

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Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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For those Gophers fans who weren't privy to the whole story Saturday, the pregame news that injured Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson would sit and Devin Gardner would have to take over was probably viewed as a game-changer.

The star quarterback on the bench and a current wide receiver taking his place under center? That seemed about as promising as it gets.

There was one problem: Gardner refused to follow the script.

Gardner -- a quarterback until this season -- led Michigan to a 35-13 victory over the Gophers, throwing for 234 yards and two touchdowns, scrambling into the end zone for a third and taking the Wolverines on four TD drives of 79 yards or longer.

For a guy who has played quarterback most of his life -- only moving to wide receiver this season because there was no role for him behind Robinson -- it felt like home.

"I play quarterback, so I felt good," Gardner said.

It showed. After a sluggish start for both teams, Minnesota scored in the second quarter for a 7-0 lead. Gardner came into the game without having thrown a pass. And at that point Saturday, he hadn't even managed a first down. But the junior systematically marched the Wolverines into Minnesota territory, mixing short passes with several quarterback scrambles.

Then, on third-and-17 from the Gophers 45, the 6-4, 203-pound Gardner treaded water in the backfield for several seconds -- running right first, then left -- before finding receiver Drew Dileo in the end zone for a momentum-turning touchdown.

"I just tried to make the best play I could," Gardner said. "I saw Drew waving his hands, running down the field. So I threw it up and just prayed that it got down as fast as possible."

Dileo changed his route and got there for the catch, allowing Gardner, who admitted he was worn out from all the running, to retreat to the sideline.

"He did a tremendous job of escaping the pressure," Dileo said.

It was a glimpse at the type of quarterback the Wolverines brought in two years ago. Gardner came to Michigan in 2010 as the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the country, according to Rivals.com, but eventually lost the starting QB battle to Robinson. This season Michigan decided to get Gardner on the field any way it could; he had four touchdowns in eight games as a receiver.

"He fashions himself as a quarterback and really made the move to help us as a football team," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said, "so that tells you a little bit about him."

Gardner said the transition helped his quarterbacking skills.

"Playing receiver, you know what kind of balls you don't like," he said. "In practice ... if you throw a bad ball, you have to redo it and you know you get really tired rerunning routes [as a receiver]. The quarterback doesn't really get tired because all he's doing is dropping back. So it just helps to appreciate what they do."

Saturday, Gardner's teammates appreciated him.

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