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ANN ARBOR — Devin Gardner remembers his first snap with the Michigan football team. He remembers it well.
“I forgot the play,” Michigan’s starting quarterback recalled. “I was pretty excited. I had a four-yard loss, and I could have scored a touchdown if I would have run where I was supposed to run. But I forgot the play. I called ‘hike’ and nobody heard me.”
That was nearly three years ago, when Gardner played as a freshman in a 65-21 rout of Bowling Green and threw for his first career touchdown — an 11-yard pass to Jeremy Gallon.
Today, Gardner says, will be much different from that afternoon in September of 2010.
Michigan hosts Central Michigan at 3:30 p.m. at Michigan Stadium. It’s another Mid-American Conference opponent and another afternoon game in the Big House.
Yet this time, Gardner will be at the helm from the start of the season. He says he’s prepared. He says he’ll continue to prepare for kickoff.
While Michigan enters the season ranked No. 17 in the Associated Press top 25 poll, with a high-profile starting quarterback, a surgically repaired running back, and an NFL prospect who returned for a fifth year on the offensive line in Ann Arbor, the question remains: Are the Wolverines prepared?
Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison says the first game brings about moments that can’t be simulated in practice or scrimmage situations.
“When you have a young team, you know there’s going to be times where this is going to be first time this young defense has had to step up,” Mattison said. “This is the time when this young defense has to say, ‘Hey, there’s something bad that might have happened.
“How are we going to respond? We need to get a turnover. How are we going to respond? Go get a turnover. We need to get four-man pressure. We’re not going to blitz this play. You’ve got to get there. Those are the tests.”
While Michigan’s defense will be without linebacker Jake Ryan (ACL) and defensive back Courtney Avery (arthroscopic surgery on knee), it will face a Central Michigan offense with a first-time starting quarterback in redshirt junior Cody Kater and running back Zurlon Tipton, who rushed for nearly 1,500 yards in 2012.
Central Michigan coach Dan Enos has one expectation for Kater.
“The big thing with Cody [is] don’t try to win the game by yourself. Let the game come to you,” Enos said. “Read your keys, find your movement keys, and get us in the right run plays. Don’t try to be a hero and win the game. Take what they give you. Let your instincts and athletic abilities take over.”
Enos also has an expectation for his offense.
“Any time a team can make you one-dimensional, they have the advantage. We want to remain two-dimensional,” Enos said. “Defensively, they play very hard and schematically, they do different things. Coach Mattison gets them in and out of a lot of different fronts and looks and zone pressures.”
For offensive coordinator Al Borges, he’ll also see how players react under pressure.
“I tell the players, sometimes the issues that come up on Main Street don’t come up on State Street,” Borges said, referring the locations of Michigan Stadium and Michigan’s practice facility. “That, simply, is because there is more to it. People are watching. Everybody’s watching on television. There’s pressure. There’s officials there now. There’s so many other things.”
Because during the course of the preseason, which brings about everything from physicality of practices to the monotony of repetition, there’s only so much that can simulate the game experience.
Still, Gardner quantified one factor going into today’s season opener.
“It feels like it’s been an eternity since the last time we played against another team,” Gardner said. “I just can’t wait for it.”