September 13, 2013

Five TD passes a possibility?

David Klingler fired 11 touchdown passes for Houston in a win over Eastern Washington back in 1990. Case Keenum gunned nine TD tosses for Houston against Rice years later.

So when is a Michigan quarterback going to man up, arm up, and fire off a dozen or so in a rout over Akron, or UConn, or perhaps Notre Dame?

The answer: probably never. It just doesn't work that way around Stadium and Main, according to former U-M quarterback Spencer Brinton. And that's okay, he cautions.

"Michigan has always wanted to be tough at the line of scrimmage, run the ball," Brinton pointed out. "They're not Washington State. It would be totally feasible for WSU to come out and throw for five, six, seven touchdowns, because of the type of offense that they run.

"It definitely could happen [at Michigan]. I just don't see it happening."

Thoughts of even a five-TD game arose again after redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner gunned four touchdown tosses against Notre Dame. That tied him for the most ever in a contest by a Michigan quarterback.

Gardner's four touchdown passes represented the 19th time a Michigan quarterback has notched that many in a single game. Starting with Steve Smith against Purdue in 1983, the host of Wolverines has delivered the quad seven.

Elvis Grbac, John Navarre and Chad Henne did so three times apiece. Denard Robinson fired four TD passes in the win over Notre Dame two years ago, making Notre Dame the victim the last two times the Wolverines have left a secondary with smoldering shorts.

But five? Well, Gardner is certainly capable of upping the ante from Under The Lights II, but it's certainly not a goal to be grasped by offensive coordinator Al Borges or anyone throwing the switches from the press box or sidelines.

And it never has been, in Brinton's association with the program.

"They just have a more balanced approach than a team that is a little bit more pass happy," he pointed out. "There's always a chance it could happen, but if they threw so many touchdowns, they'd probably feel they were a little off balance with the running attack.

"In a game like this weekend, against Akron, I don't think it would happen. They're going to try to go in well balanced. They're going to try to run the ball. Plus, if it's a blowout, they'll switch people out."

The best possibility for a handful to TD passes, Brinton noted, would involve a contest like the Notre Dame shootout, where starters are in the game all four quarters and it's a tight game, back and forth. And even then, there's balance.

Gardner accounted for six touchdowns last fall against Iowa, but three came through the air and three more on the ground. And usually, Brinton noted, Michigan isn't in a desperate situation, offensively.

"Go back to Navarre's game, where he broke the record for single-game passing yards [389 in a 2003 loss at Iowa]," Brinton said. "That rarely happens at Michigan, but the circumstances were that we were down so much that he had to throw.

"The coaches don't want that to happen. It had to happen. We needed to pass the ball."

Had redshirt freshman wide receiver Jehu Chesson not delivered a key block to spring fifth-year senior Jeremy Gallon free against Notre Dame, Brinton noted, that long touchdown pass might eventually have gone down as a rush TD, field goal attempt, etc.

"There are so many variables that play into it," he said. "You don't see Michigan going deep on the outside that much. You look at Braylon [Edwards] against Michigan State, in the triple-overtime. That was because it had to happen. Games determine that."

Certainly, Gardner is more than capable of becoming a handful for the opposition, while recording a full hand's worth of scoring strikes. But history is working against him, and that history is pretty solid.


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