Another week, another demoralizing, come-from-ahead defeat for Michigan. This time, the Wolverines' last best chance ended with a fourth quarter Devin Gardner fumble. Sure, Gardner probably should have protected the ball more securely and gotten out of bounds, robbing Iowa's Anthony Hitchens of the opportunity for the strip, but to blame Gardner for Saturday's loss - or for this season's downward spiral - is just plain wrong. Yet, inexplicably, many are doing more than just blaming Gardner for this season's tailspin, they're questioning his leadership, his toughness and even his desire to win. And with all signs pointing to a rough day against the Buckeyes this weekend, the criticism will likely only grow stronger.
To criticize Gardner's play is one thing, as Gardner has not had the season he or the Wolverines had expected. While Gardner has played brilliantly at times, he has also played carelessly, committing 21 turnovers through 11 games. Gardner's biggest crime, perhaps, is that he has yet to overcome his desire to do too much, and still tries to make the spectacular play when the safe play would be more prudent. But to question his desire to win? Or his toughness? Have these people watched Michigan play this year?
Gardner is saddled with an offensive line that can neither generate a running game nor protect the quarterback. Without even the slightest threat of a running game, defenses have been teeing off on Gardner most of the season, and as a result, Gardner has spent the majority of the season running for his life or being sacked.
Not tough? Did any of these people see Gardner's uniform at the conclusion of the Michigan State game? After an afternoon in which he was sacked seven times, tackled another 18 times and hit what seemed like another 50 times, Gardner's jersey was more dirty than white. And the Michigan State game was not the only one in which Gardner seemed to spend more time on the ground than on his feet.
Not a leader? Walking off the field after last week's game against Iowa, Gardner could barely move his right arm, yet he didn't miss a play, and the only thing he complained about in the post-game press conference was that he had let his team down with his fourth quarter fumble (never mind that the defense allowed Iowa to convert three first downs after Gardner's fumble).
A lot of factors have contributed to Michigan's disappointing season, and Gardner's play at times has been one of them. Gardner has clearly struggled, but if forced to play behind Michigan's offensive line, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning would be hard pressed to perform well. And despite his uneven play, Gardner has also virtually been Michigan's entire offense for much of the season. So instead of blaming Gardner for the Wolverines' slide, Michigan fans should be happy they have him, as he still represents the Michigan's best chance at victory any given Saturday.