Al Borges knew junior quarterback Devin Gardner could throw. What Michigan's offensive coordinator didn't know involved just how well Gardner would hold up when Big Ten games were on the line.
So far, so good. Gardner is 3-0 as Michigan's quarterback, connecting with receivers at a 65.7 percent clip, with seven touchdown passes in three games. He's earned Big Ten Player of the Week honors in two consecutive weeks, and has opened eyes across the conference.
Borges' biggest surprise involved not Gardner's natural abilities, but his response to standing in the spotlight.
"It's his composure, as much as anything," Borges said. "Somebody asked me if I was surprised by his accuracy. Not at all. All of his numbers in practice have shown you he's an accurate passer.
"But so many things are game specific. Things can go wrong, and it's being able to deal with those things. The biggest surprise is how composed he stayed. Not that I didn't think he would, but you don't know. Nobody knows. Until those lights go on, and the bullets start flying, you just never know."
What Gardner has gained over the past three weeks is immeasurable, Borges hinted. All those snaps will certainly help him if he gets the call again to split quarterback duties with sophomore Denard Robinson in Columbus.
"He's a lot more ready because he's played three games," Borges said. "That makes a huge difference. The more a quarterback plays, the more he experiences. It's like anything - you grow in the position. And as you grow in the position, you tend to minimize your errors.
"That's not always true. I see 15-year veteran quarterbacks throw four picks in a game, but for the most part, a lot of the growing pains get ironed out as you play more."
"So many things with the quarterback are game specific. You won't see the error all the time in practice. Then all of a sudden, he makes the error in a game. You may have talked about it, but he didn't really, what I call body-learn it."
Borges admitted he didn't know a lot about Gardner when he arrived in Ann Arbor. He'd heard all about Robinson, who passed for 2,500 yards and rushed for 1,700 more the year before.
The new OC found out quickly in spring practice, though, that Robinson wasn't the only quarterback on the roster. He devised the "Deuce" package, sending Gardner in at quarterback in several games in 2011, moving Robinson to a running back or receiver spot.
When pressed about the duo getting extensive on-field time together against Iowa, Borges shrugged it off as merely an expansion of what Michigan did with the two in 2011.
"We did some of it last year, guys," Borges said. "This isn't completely new. With Denard getting injured, it kind of forced the issue. We did some of this stuff a year ago.
"A year ago, we were constantly putting plays together for the Deuce package, and some games we used it more than others. It isn't a completely novel concept."
It is a focus of the week, though, given the extensive amount the combination saw the field last week. Robinson rushed for 98 yards on just 13 carries, while Gardner threw for more than 300, connecting on three touchdown passes and running three more into the end zone.
Borges steadfastly refused to answer any question even touching upon schematics with the combo, given the week. He did admit, though, it might give the Buckeyes something to consider.
"You always want them to be forced to defend you," Borges said. "That's always good. They create enough headaches defensively. They've got us doing the same thing, so it's not like it's a one-way street.
"They cause some problems with their schemes, just like I'm sure they're going to tell you we do too. At the end of the day, we all want to think we're George Patton, and we're going to orchestrate the battle. And we do, to a degree. But this game is won or lost by the players.
"Our job is to try to put them in the best position to succeed, knowing that sometimes it's not going to work. All of them are like that, but particularly the Ohio State-Michigan game -- this is about the players rising to the occasion and overcoming adversity if they're playing on the road."
• Borges hasn't been around Michigan-Ohio State long, he readily admits. But he's seen and experienced enough to get a really good feel for the classic.
"Oooh, it's Ohio State week," he said. "Make no mistake about that. Brady [Hoke], everybody
and we haven't even practiced yet. You can feel this game is different. It was last year, and it is this year. I think it's going to build a little bit to a crescendo as the week goes on.
"I've only been here a year. So I do not even pretend to have the appreciation for it some of the people who have been here a long time do. But I'm gaining it, quickly. This is a big deal.
"We're going to pour our guts as coaches, and players, and the whole Michigan football family, into winning this game. We're going to leave it all out there."
• Borges recalled having to devise an offense for two tailbacks at one time, at Auburn. It worked out pretty well, with Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams becoming a devastatingly effective combo for the Tigers.
It's a little different scheming with a pair of quarterbacks on the field at once, he said, but it's a whole lot easier than trying to develop Xs and Os without talent.
"My creative juices are flowing all the time," Borges said. "Depending on the game, I'm considered creative or idiotic, but they're always flowing. That's what makes this game fun for coordinators.
"There are so many things you can do with 11 guys. It's like no other game. You can scribble so many different ways. Half of them are good and half of them are bad. The half of them that are good, you've got to time them out right when you call them.
"That's one part of what makes it fun. The kids are what makes it the funnest. You work with young people, and it keeps 57-year-old men fairly young."
...More... To continue reading this article you must be a member. Sign Up Now!