With new OC, Michigan's Gardner vows to keep Brady Hoke off hot seat
JUL 30, 2014 1:00p ET
Gardner, a fifth-year senior already working on his master's in social work, never steered away from the topic.
"My job's to make sure he's not on the hot seat," he replied. "I'm going to make sure we win enough football games. And I’m going to play as hard as I can with my teammates, and I’m going to encourage my teammates, and my teammates are going to encourage me, and we're gonna make sure that's not a talking point."
A big reason why Gardner is so confident he and the Wolverines will have a bounce-back season after going 7-6 last year, and just 3-5 in Big Ten play, is the arrival of new Michigan offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who comes from Alabama and has a strong track record of improving QBs. "He brings such intensity to the team," Gardner said. "He was such a great player himself. He was a star in college. He played in the NFL. He's coached Pro Bowlers."
Gardner, who has bulked up this offseason to 220 pounds after playing last season at 204, will be an interesting project for Nussmeier. In his first full season as a starter, Gardner had some stellar moments and some shaky ones too. He accounted for 32 TDs (running and passing) while throwing 11 INTs. He also averaged a Big Ten-best 8.6 yards per attempt and completed over 60 percent of his passes. In the Wolverines’ game against arch-rival Ohio State, Gardner was brilliant, throwing for 451 yards and four TDs, going 32-of-45 despite breaking his foot in the game and playing through the pain.
However, Gardner was also sacked a whopping 34 times -- a number he admits was on him just as much as it was on the patchwork O-line -- and he made too many foolish decisions that led to cringe-worthy turnovers.
Gardner said Nussmeier's system is "a lot more simple" than predecessor Al Borges was for his teammates to handle. "It makes it easier for them to understand so that they can play fast," he said, adding that he now has the flexibility to "throw hot when I need to.”
He added, "Last year, 'hots' weren't really a big deal, but now it's a really big deal," explaining that Nussmeier has given him more freedom to get the offense out of bad situations that includes putting more responsibility on the 22-year-old in handling protections and coping with defensive pressures. This is something many college teams prefer to keep on their centers, so their QBs don't get too bogged down mentally, although it can also hamstring the quarterbacks too since it doesn't afford them as much problem-solving capability.
"I'm ID’ing the Mike every single play now, and if I don't, Coach Nuss is gonna let me know about it," he said, talking about something that is commonplace pre-snap for QBs at the line of scrimmage in the NFL but not so in college. "I'd never ID’d the Mike in my life.
"I'm glad that (Nussmeier) came this year. I'm still learning the protections, the basics of it. I know everything that everybody does but it's gonna take through the summer for me to get better at it. I'd even picked Peyton's (Manning) brain about their protections … It's hard to learn. We had the whole spring, and Coach Nuss forces you to learn. He's a very intense guy. He helped me a lot with it."
Even better news for Michigan fans: Gardner said his foot is back to 100 percent. "I knew (I was back to full strength) when I was in summer drills and I was able to beat guys that I had beaten before, and be just as fast as our running backs, like I’ve always been."
Urban Meyer raised a compelling point at Tuesday morning's media session about the College Football Playoff in light of all the talk about the welfare of student-athletes and the pay-for-play discussion.
“We were talking about that at dinner last night,” Meyer said. “If I am (Buckeyes defensive lineman) Michael Bennett’s family, and we go on a (playoff) run, you can plan on spending $20,000 going to the Big Ten Championship Game, going to the semi-final game and going to the championship game.”
Meyer pointed out that the families of coaches and other Ohio State staff get their travel and accommodations taken care of with postseason games, so why shouldn't the players' families?
“I think that needs to be addressed,” Meyer said. “How is that family going to not go watch their kid play? If I was on that committee I would have addressed that first.”
Meyer told me he estimated that less than 20 percent of his players' families could handle that cost for three postseason trips.
"That's three vacation trips in about a month," said Bennett a few moments later when asked about the topic. "A lot of families wouldn't be able to afford it.
"I think that'd be nice and not too much to ask for the school to be able to cover a coach flight and a little hotel. It's not like they need anything extravagant. They just want to see their children play in a big-time game."
Asked if he believed that players would put more of a premium on getting their families' travel taken care of or more of a stipend, Bennett said the former: "I think this would be higher up than that because it's a family issue."
"There is no sense of entitlement on this team," Cook said. "We're hungrier than ever."
* The Big Ten had more than its share of Heisman contenders at media days in Chicago with Melvin Gordon, Ameer Abdullah, Braxton Miller and Cook. A wildcard option from the conference who wasn't in Chicago: Penn State's gifted sophomore QB Christian Hackenberg, whose development has impressed senior teammate Bill Belton.
"He's become more outspoken," said the running back. "He works his butt off. He's gonna be scary good."
"He's one of the funniest people I've ever met," Bell said of Bo Pelini. "What makes him so funny is nobody expects him to be funny."
Bruce Feldman is a senior college football reporter and columnist for FOXSports.com and FOX Sports 1. Follow him on Twitter @BruceFeldmanCFB.