SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame faces a new challenge from a Michigan quarterback when the No. 14 Irish play the No. 17 Wolverines at Michigan Stadium tonight.
Junior Devin Gardner has taken over at quarterback for Michigan, which has transitioned to a pro-style West Coast offense from the spread it operated with former quarterback Denard Robinson.
We are structured physically to play that style of football, Irish coach Brian Kelly said. We’re 250 at middle linebacker, we’re not 225. We’re 250 at the drop, 250 at the cat. We’re 320. We’re a bigger, physical football team. We prefer that kind of matchup. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easier.
Notre Dame’s task of defeating Michigan (1-0) for just the third time in the last eight meetings won’t be easier because Gardner has replaced Robinson.
The Irish (1-0) struggled to contain Robinson until last year’s game when Notre Dame intercepted four of the former Michigan quarterback’s passes and held him to 90 rushing yards in a 13-6 victory.
In Robinson’s two previous starts against Notre Dame, he threw for 582 yards with five touchdowns and ran for 366 yards with three touchdowns, and he broke the Irish’s hearts in the 2011 game at Michigan Stadium when he connected with Roy Roundtree on a 16-yard, game-winning touchdown pass with 2 seconds to play in a 35-31 victory.
But Robinson is gone, and Gardner presents a new challenge.
Denard, he was an awesome quarterback, but him and Gardner are a little bit different, linebacker Jarrett Grace said. Both have awesome strengths. Both are great quarterbacks.
It is definitely a different game. Denard was a little more sporadic back there, but Gardner at the same time has that same running ability, so we have to account for that also.
Gardner took over as Michigan’s starting quarterback in the final five games last season.
The 6-foot-4, 210-pounder completed 75 of 126 passes for 1,219 yards with 11 touchdowns, and he ran for 101 yards with seven touchdowns as the Wolverines finished the season 3-2.
He reminds me of Randall Cunningham back there, Kelly said of Gardner. He can throw it, he’s tall, he’s athletic, runs the ball very well.
Gardner completed 10 of 15 passes for 162 yards with a touchdown and ran for 52 yards and two scores in last week’s 59-9 season-opening win over Central Michigan. But he threw two interceptions.
He’s a pretty good passer and very mobile, defensive end Stephon Tuitt said. We know his history and what positions he’s played. He’s a pretty good quarterback for them. He can get out of the pocket and throw the ball very far. We have to make sure we keep everything right.