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March 8, 2013

The Week That Was: Gardner news is promising for the future

It was a good week for Michigan basketball and football fans after U-M bested rival Michigan State and took care of Purdue, setting up a championship bout Sunday with Indiana. While on the gridiron, Devin Gardner was granted a fifth year of eligibility.

Michigan goes 2-0 in hoops, creating a championship opportunity

After falling to Michigan State 75-52 in East Lansing Feb. 12, the Wolverines were looking for redemption when they hosted the Spartans March 3. U-M led by as many as 10 with about four minutes to go but MSU would tie the score at 56-56. Sophomore point guard Trey Burke then made two huge plays, nabbing a steal and driving for a dunk to put Michigan ahead 58-56 before swiping another State pass in the waning seconds to secure the victory.

On Tuesday, Indiana fell at home to Ohio State, putting four more teams into the title race, but Michigan had to have a win at Purdue Wednesday, and that would not be easily accomplished. The Boilermakers led by 12 with 12 minutes to play but the Maize and Blue responded, outscoring Purdue 40-23 down the stretch to secure the must-have victory.

With the 2-0 week, Michigan can claim a share of its second straight Big Ten title if it beats Indiana Sunday (4:00 p.m. CBS)

What They're Saying

While Michigan exacted revenge on Michigan State, the Maize and Blue didn't really prove they're ready for a dominant run in the NCAA Tournament. The Detroit News columnist Bob Wojnowski writes that Trey Burke and Gary Harris will be key to their teams' postseason success: "After the Wolverines escaped with a 58-57 victory Sunday, it again was clear why both teams will be wildly unpredictable at tournament time - capable of a run, capable of being run down. What we saw in a riveting clash in a far-louder-than-normal Crisler Center was further evidence these teams will go as far as their star guards take them."

Trey Burke was indeed the star of the game for the Wolverines, which should come as no surprise, ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein said: "For 39 minutes, he waited for the moment. He placed Michigan in the position to win anyway, scoring 21 points, dishing out 8 assists, grabbing 4 rebounds and making 5 steals -- the last two coming in the last half-minute of the game.

"It was what he wanted. The game on the line. The pressure on him to make a play. Burke did something similar the past two seasons against Ohio State in this building -- but this time Burke understood the gravity of everything.

"After he dunked it, he felt relieved. Michigan wasn't done yet, both in this game and for the season. Of all those plays he made, this one ranked above them all."

While Burke has been and likely will remain U-M's MVP the rest of the year, Tim Hardaway Jr., could have a big impact on the Wolverines' postseason fortune, the Detroit Free Press' Jamie Samuelson blogs: "Rivalry games are snapshots of where teams stand. And Sunday was no exception. Any team that makes a run is going to need contributions from up and down the roster. But any team that makes a run also has at least one x-factor that has to turn up positive if that run is to extend beyond the second weekend. And if Sunday taught us anything, it's that we can officially declare the X-factors for the Wolverines and the Spartans.

"Tim Hardaway Jr. and Keith Appling. If those two guys show up, look out. If they don't, well, look out."

The postseason gets underway March 14 with the Big Ten Tournament in Chicago, but first things first - a matchup with the Hoosiers with conference glory on the line, MLive.com's Nick Baumgardner writes: "Michigan's been battered, bruised, humiliated and heartbroken over the last month. The Wolverines got their guts ripped out by Ben Brust, their heads kicked in by Michigan State and their pride stomped on at Penn State.

"They were dubbed as soft, and seemed to be falling like a rock.

"Then March arrived, and none of that matters anymore.

"Michigan has survived all its ups and downs, questions and fits of insanity, and stands exactly where it wanted to when the season began.

"One game, one time, for a Big Ten championship banner."

My Take: It hasn't always been pretty, and a week ago after Michigan lost at Big Ten doormat Penn State, it was fair to question whether this promising season would become one of disappointment, first in the hunt for a regular-season trophy and then in the NCAA Tournament. What a difference a week can make.

U-M still isn't close to peaking, and the Maize and Blue need to start dialing up their intensity on both ends of the floor for a full 40 minutes. They started slow defensively against State but then locked down the Spartans in the final 30 minutes while they needed a kick in the butt again against the Boilermakers. They won't be afforded the same luxury with Indiana or come tournament time.

What this past week, and really all season, has shown is that when Michigan brings its 'A' game mentally and emotionally, the physical stuff takes care of itself, and the Wolverines can beat anyone they face. Their approach has been inconsistent, but it was tested the past week and the results have been positive. It will be tested even more severely over the next 10 days, and their performance Sunday vs. Indiana and in the Big Ten Tournament will reveal plenty about the Maize and Blue's legitimate NCAA possibilities.

Devin Gardner receives a medical hardship

Gardner appeared in three games as a true freshmen in 2010, throwing 10 passes, before missing the rest of the season due to a back injury. While it appeared that he might never get that year back, the Wolverines applied for a medical hardship, and on Tuesday, the Big Ten granted the redshirt, granting the Detroit native two more seasons of eligibility if he chooses to use them.

A wide receiver for the first eight games of the 2012 season, Gardner took over as U-M's starting QB in four November contests and Michigan's bowl game for an injured Denard Robinson. He completed 75 of 126 attempts (59.5 percent) for 1,219 yards with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions. He also rushed for seven TDs.

He is expected to start under center this fall and in 2014, if he returns for a fifth year.

What They're Saying

TheWolverine.com's Chris Balas writes that this announcement not only sets Michigan up for a solid season in 2013 but that it greatly enhances the future of the program, arguing: "Gardner's return - should he continue to meet expectations - ensures Michigan one of the Big Ten's top signal callers for two more years.

"If he comes back for his fifth year, as expected, the 6-4, 210-pounder also gives incoming freshman Shane Morris, [redshirt sophomore] Russell Bellomy and 2014 signee Wilton Speight more time to mature. Morris could use a year to get bigger and stronger, and he and Gardner already have an outstanding relationship.

"The Wolverines are already a Big Ten contender in 2013, but watch out for 2014. The schedule will be tougher, but that team could do some special things."

MLive.com's Kyle Meinke couldn't agree more: "If Gardner sticks around for 2014, Michigan could have experienced, pro-style talent at every offensive position for the first time since the mid-2000s -- a nice complement for a defense that would be playing its fourth season in Greg Mattison's scheme.

"And lest we forget: If Gardner starts in 2014, the Wolverines would have two years to groom incoming quarterback Shane Morris before he's thrust into starting duty. Having a fifth-year senior under center in 2014, rather than a redshirt freshman, is a major plus in all but the most exceptional cases.

"That could turn out to be big news for Michigan -- and bad news for the rest of the Big Ten."

The key to all of this is two-fold, a veteran QB is always an asset, but in 2014, when U-M has national title aspirations, the critical factor might be more so that Michigan doesn't have to go with a novice signal-caller, ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein further explains: "If Gardner had not been given the extra year -- or if he chooses not to use it -- the Wolverines would have a first-year starter in either Russell Bellomy, who by then would be a redshirt junior, or Shane Morris, who will be either a redshirt freshman or sophomore depending on whether he plays in 2013.

"That usually does not equal big-time success on a national stage. But with a senior quarterback to lead Michigan, the likelihood of a successful season, and a potential Big Ten or national championship, becomes much brighter."

My Take: This is a huge win for the Wolverines. Everyone is focusing on what it means in 2014, and rightfully so - the Maize and Blue will return depth, experience and talent at almost every position offensively and defensively, and could be poised for a run at a playoff spot - however, this is also exceptionally good news for 2013 because now it takes some pressure off Gardner to develop more rapidly than he's ready for.

Yes, it is quite possible the redshirt junior would have seized this final opportunity and turned in a spectacular season, but it is just as likely that the thought of needing to cram in one great year before his eligibility expires could have caused Gardner to press, forcing the bad decisions that lead to inopportune turnovers. With two years remaining, Gardner can relax and showcase his talent over a broad spectrum, becoming the kind of quarterback Michigan needs to win.

His eligibility in 2014 also lessens the need to play Shane Morris as a true freshman this year. Maybe Morris does play - if he's the second-best QB on the roster, he should be the backup - but if doesn't have to waste a year of eligibility, he shouldn't. Gardner will one day depart, and it would be terrific for Morris to have three seasons left instead of just two. Let him learn behind the scenes this fall and compete for the No. 2 gig in 2014.

Michigan hires Roy Manning to coach outside linebackers

A former U-M linebacker himself from 2001-04, Manning was hired Monday to fill the assistant coaching vacancy created by the departure of Jerry Montgomery. While Montgomery coached the defensive line, Manning has been hired to work with the outside linebackers. Michigan made no other announcement but defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is now listed as the defensive line coach on his official bio.

"It's a dream come true -- a true dream come true," he said in an interview with MGoBlue.com. "I've told people that I grew up always wanting to go to the NFL, and I did that. And then I transitioned into coaching, and this was the next dream.

"It took me a lot shorter time than it did to make it to the NFL, but I'm excited."

What They're Saying

TheWolverine.com's Andy Reid spoke to Adam Fearing, a former Cincinnati Bearcat coached by Manning, and Fearing raved about his former coach: "He was real young when he was here as a GA and just full of energy - but that never really changed with him. He would get the guys hyped. Not being that far removed from playing at Michigan and in the pros, he still knew what it was like to be a player.

"He would get to you in a positive way and gets you excited to do the things that might seem kind of minuscule in practice and workouts but are important in the long run. It was refreshing. You definitely thought, 'This guy can be good if he decides to stay with coaching.'"

My Take: Manning is a local kid from Saginaw, Mich., with an infectious personality, a true passion for coaching and for Michigan, and as a former Wolverine, he can relate with the current players. All of those traits will help him on the recruiting trail, which is where his primary responsibilities lie. Montgomery quickly established himself as one of U-M's best and Manning has big shoes to fill. There is no reason to believe he can't do it, but because he's still so young in this profession, he'll have to prove it.

As for coaching, Manning will handle Michigan's outside, SAM, linebackers while Mark Smith will continue to work with the inside, MIKE and WILL, linebackers. It is not certain yet if Manning will have the rush ends or if Mattison will assume the entire defensive line. Coach Brady Hoke also oversees the nose tackles.

The coaching will take care of itself, though, especially now that Mattison will be more hands-on. Truly the value of this hiring will be deemed a success or not based on Manning's recruiting prowess.


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