Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner was one of the country's most sought-after recruits in 2010. His career since then has been rocky and his passing inefficient. But the same athleticism that made Gardner such an attractive talent entering college makes him a potential threat for the Maryland defense when the Terps visit Ann Arbor on Saturday.
"We really want to keep him in the pocket and not let him get on the perimeter," Matt Robinson said. He added, "We'd rather force him to beat us through the air, just because he hasn't made the smartest decisions."
Gardner's profile this season is not dissimilar to that of Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown, like Gardner a redshirt senior. Gardner has thrown 8 touchdowns against 13 interceptions for just a 156-yard per-game average. He is supremely athletic, although he has had little success carrying the ball this year, racking up just a 2.2-yard average over 70 attempts.
"The quarterback is a very talented quarterback. He's a dual-threat guy," Maryland defensive coordinator Brian Stewart said. "He can run, especially if you let him off to his right, he can run and throw."
Gardner's top target is receiver Devin Funchess. He leads Michigan with four touchdowns and a 66-yard per-game receiving average. Maryland's secondary will have a challenge against him.
"He's a big target," said safety Sean Davis, who expects to play cornerback for a third-straight game.
Stewart said Funchess, at 6 feet 5 inches, is a similar coverage challenge to Michigan State's Tony Lippett, whom the Terps limited to four catches for fewer than 50 yards last week. Maryland, by the sound of things, will use multiple defenders against Funchess.
"If there's a policeman at the mall, people don't steal. If you see the policeman in front of the store, you're not going to steal from that store," Stewart said. "When the quarterback looks over there and there's two guys covering him, that's probably where I'm not going to go."
Michigan teams of the recent past have had physically dominant offensive linemen, like current NFL talents Taylor Lewan and Jake Long. These Wolverine linemen haven't generated so much push, as the team ranks ninth in the Big Ten in rushing. They are a middling seventh in the league in sacks allowed, at about two per game.
"They have a nice little aggression streak that we've got to deal with, and I think that we have to be fundamentally sound," Monroe said. "It's been the story of the whole season. We make any kind of error, they're going to take advantage of it."
For three quarters, Maryland's defense played one of its best games in recent memory against Michigan State last weekend. Things fell apart late, but the Terps were able to make quarterback Connor Cook uncomfortable and, save for a few big plays, keep the Spartans' offense under wraps. Michigan's offense isn't nearly as prolific – second from last in the Big Ten at 20.7 points per game – but Gardner, Funchess and running back De'Veon Smith have the upside to hurt.
Against Cook, a more prolific quarterback than Gardner, Maryland limited Michigan State's passing game a week ago. For the first time in months, they'll have Robinson's services for a second-consecutive game as they try to keep Gardner and company off the board. Robinson, a former safety, brings a unique mix of pass and rush defense to the Terps' linebacking group.
"I guess I'm pissed if anybody ever catches the ball," Robinson said. "I really do feel some type of way if somebody catches the ball, just because I feel like that's what I'm out there for, especially."