COLUMBUS – Devin Gardner insisted it wasn’t a prediction, just confidence.
Michigan’s quarterback, while on a syndicated radio program called “The Huge Show” in June, said, “I mean, we always have room for improvement, but this is definitely a championship-caliber football team that will win in the Big House, you know, against Ohio State.”
When that was interpreted as a prediction – maybe even a guarantee – of a Michigan victory, Gardner said he was misunderstood.
“I was very surprised because I never said that word, I never said guaranteed, I never said promised,” Gardner said at the Big Ten preseason media days.
“I was not trying to make a statement. The only statement I was trying to make was that I trust my teammates, I trust my coaches and I trust myself. That’s it,” he said.
With the OSU-Michigan game at Michigan Stadium only two days away, beating Ohio State is about the only one of the lofty goals Gardner talked about that is still available to the Wolverines.
This game is the last chance for Michigan to make a statement this season.
A 7-4 overall record and sitting in fifth place in the Big Ten’s Legends Division is not what Michigan (7-4, 3-4 Big Ten) expected heading into its game against No. 3 OSU (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten).
And the struggles Gardner and Michigan’s offense have had are among the biggest reasons the Wolverines haven’t been contenders.
Before the season, Gardner described himself as a quarterback who “has displayed a great deal of mental toughness throughout my whole career here.”
That toughness has been tested often this season.
Gardner has passed for 2,509 yards and 17 touchdowns and rushed for 473 yards. But he has thrown 11 interceptions and lost 5 fumbles.
The offensive line hasn’t been effective in the running game or at protecting its quarterback. Michigan has allowed 103 tackles for losses, ranks No. 100 nationally in rushing and No. 95 overall offensively. It has allowed 32 sacks, 20 of them in November.
Gardner has had some big games, like throwing for 294 yards and four touchdowns in a win over Notre Dame and passing for 503 yards and two TDs and rushing for three more against Indiana.
But in November in losses to Michigan State, Nebraska and Iowa and a win over Northwestern, he is averaging 182.5 yards a game passing and has a total of -47 yards rushing. Michigan has scored 6, 9, 13 and 21 points in those four games.
Ohio State knows Gardner can still be a threat, though.
“You just have to get to him,” Ohio State defensive lineman Michael Bennett said. “He seems like he gets flustered but he has a lot of talent. When you let him sit in the pocket he can make some plays. He can scramble and he can run. You just have to bring pressure to him and let him know you’re there.”