ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The last time Devin Gardner spoke publicly, he looked and sounded every bit like a wounded man.
After a 24-21 loss at Iowa on Saturday, during which he committed two crucial fourth-quarter turnovers, the Michigan quarterback’s responses inside the interview room were described as nearly inaudible.
In an exchange with the media that lasted 11 questions and generated 117 words in response, Gardner mostly placed the blame for the Wolverines’ latest loss on his shoulders. And although Gardner’s scheduled media session on Wednesday was canceled at the 11th hour because of what a team spokesman said was a meeting with a professor, coach Brady Hoke said he has liked what he has seen from his embattled quarterback this week.
In his first play during Tuesday’s practice, Hoke said Gardner’s arm looked fine on a well-executed pass.
“The timing of the route, his footwork, a little bit of pressure in his face — he did a great job of stepping through it,” Hoke said. “But here, on State Street, it was really good.”
The question implied by Hoke is whether it will translate to Saturday’s home game against third-ranked Ohio State. As the key component of an offense that has sputtered in recent weeks, Gardner is not alone in struggling to translate practice gains to game-day success.
But as the Wolverines (7-4) try not to play “10-man football,” as the coaches put it this week, they will take their cues from their quarterback.
“The biggest thing I’ve seen is he’s a tough kid,” senior offensive lineman Michael Schofield said. “Obviously he’s been hit a lot, and that’s our fault as an offensive line. He’s kept bouncing back and kept going. He’s been a leader.”
Since setting a school record with 584 yards of total offense in an Oct. 19 win over Indiana, Gardner has topped out at 245 yards in the past four games, three of which Michigan has lost. Since Gardner averaged 323.6 yards of total offense in the first seven games, that figure has been nearly halved, to 170.8, in the past four. Against the Hawkeyes, it was a season-low 110 yards.
Gardner’s roommate, fifth-year senior linebacker Cameron Gordon, said he did not see any of Gardner’s downcast demeanor after the most recent loss.
“He really doesn’t have a pity party for himself,” Gordon said. “He’s a silly guy, so when things like that happen, he’s always looking to get better.”
Hoke said Gardner will be full-go on Saturday, but what that will produce is anyone’s guess. Offensive coordinator Al Borges said the team’s playbook has been scaled back in recent weeks
In a 29-6 loss to Michigan State on Nov. 2, “He got sacked (seven) times and he’s on the sideline telling us, ‘Come on guys, we’ve got this,’ ” Schofield said. “The whole time he’s cheering us on. That’s huge from a kid. If I got sacked (seven) times like that, I don’t know if I could do that.”
But that game was the beginning of Gardner’s downward spiral.
“Do you like a guy who feels personal about it and takes it hard?” Hoke said. “Yeah. But at the same time, we’ve got to show him all the good things that he’s done in that game and throughout the season and emphasize those things.”