The Michigan Wolverines went into a tailspin at the end of the 2013 season, losing four of their last five to finish 7-5 on the year. They were still an attractive option for the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, however, where they will take on the Kansas State Wildcats. A major key for Michigan finding success this bowl season rests on the play of quarterback Devin Gardner. But the junior signal caller has been hobbled since the regular season finale with a turf-toe injury making him a limited option for Michigan in the bowl game.
Gardner was expected to have a breakout season in 2013 leading the Michigan offense back to the top of the Big Ten. He turned in an up-and-down performance, however, as the Wolverines struggled to find much of a rhythm on offense thanks in part to their dreadful rushing attack. He is coming off his best game of the season, though, when he threw for 451 yards and four touchdowns while rushing for a fifth in a 42-41 loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes. That game was where Gardner injured the foot and has been seen on crutches since then.
Against Kansas State, Michigan needs Gardner at his best. They have not had any semblance of a running game this season to drive the offense, ranking No. 102 in the country in rushing offense averaging just 130.8 yards per game. That puts the pressure on the passing attack to pick up the slack. A hobbled Gardner behind a line that has struggled at times to stand up against defensive lines is not a recipe for success for Michigan in this matchup.
His status for the game is still officially up in the air, though Brady Hoke called his quarterback “pretty tough” when asked whether he would play (whatever that means). If he can’t go, freshman Shane Morris would be pushed into the starting lineup after attempting just nine passes all season long. It would be a lot to ask of him to carry the load of the offense in a bowl game for his first start of his career, making the health of Gardner even more important during bowl prep.
Gardner is undoubtedly the key to Michigan’s chances in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl this postseason. Will the Wolverines be able to manage to produce enough on offense if Gardner is limited or even out?