- Paul Sherman/Daily
By Alexa Dettelbach, Daily Sports Editor
Published November 4, 2014
Early in the second quarter against Indiana, quarterback Devin Gardner found himself under duress in the pocket. While going through his progressions behind center, the fifth-year senior locked in on receiver Amara Darboh running a route near the right sideline.
Just as Gardner let go of the ball, the Hoosiers’ linebacker in coverage jumped the route and appeared to have the ball in his hands with an easy path to the end zone. Instead, Darboh knocked the ball loose and prevented the pick six.
“I was kind of thinking … hit the arm cause I hear the (defensive backs) coach say that all the time. So I just kind of tried to swipe and hit the arm and I’m thankful he didn’t get the pick,” Darboh said after the game.
Darboh has been arguably the best-kept secret of Michigan’s offense this season. The receiver put that talent on display against Indiana, leading the offense with nine receptions for 107 yards and a 12-yard touchdown. It was the first time the redshirt sophomore passed the century mark in his career.
All season, Darboh has been Gardner’s favorite target behind junior Devin Funchess. But with Funchess usually receiving double, sometimes triple, coverage, Gardner has slowly grown a rapport with Darboh, who has 26 catches for 362 yards and two touchdowns on the season. Two-hundred-fourteen yards of that production have come in the last three games.
“I think, for me, it’s the more I play the more I get used to the game,” Darboh said Saturday. “And feel it out and feel what the defensive backs are doing and feel out where to be, and I think the more I play, the more experience I’ve been getting.”
Darboh got his first chance to start when redshirt sophomore Jehu Chesson was out with an injury against Miami (Ohio) on Sept. 13. In that game Darboh hauled in a then-career best six receptions for 88 yards. And while Chesson got the start with Funchess against Indiana, it was Darboh who got most of the looks.
On Michigan’s fourth offensive play of the day, Gardner found Darboh for a 34-yard completion on a broken play that required improvisation from the receiver. He had to cut his route short as Gardner was pressured in the pocket. Gardner then aired it out to give Darboh time to adjust and get under the ball. The timing worked and Darboh made the play.
After seeing select time during his true freshman season, mostly on special teams, Darboh sat out last season after sustaining a preseason foot injury. His return and subsequent performance this season has been a welcome surprise for the Wolverines. It has been a season of firsts for the Des Moines native, beginning with his first career reception — a 26-yarder against Appalachian State in week one.
“(Darboh) works extremely hard and it’s nice to see those kinds of kids when they are rewarded because of the hard work,” Hoke said Saturday. “Amara, you know we have Devin on one side and Amara on the other, it maybe opens up some things a little better.”
If Funchess decides to forego his last season of eligibility for the NFL Draft, it could be Darboh’s show next year. And after the last few games it appears he is more than up to the challenge.