Needing a win to stay in the Big Ten title hunt, Michigan was dealt a blow when Denard Robinson was ruled out for the game. But no one told Devin Gardner that was a bad thing. After a slow start, the junior quarterback-turned-receiver-turned-quarterback put on a display that will ease concerns about next season’s quarterback situation.
Gardner completed 12-of-18 passes for 234 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception, leading Michigan to a 35-13 win over Minnesota. It didn’t start out positively, however, as Michigan gained just nine yards on eight plays in the first quarter.
The Gophers got the scoring started with a 10-yard touchdown pass from freshman quarterback Philip Nelson to tight end John Rabe. Michigan responded with a 12-play, 91-yard scoring drive that took seven minutes off the clock. The touchdown was a 45-yard pass from Gardner to Drew Dileo that seemed to be straight out of the playbook from a backyard football game. Gardner dropped back, stepped up, rolled to his right, then back all the way across the field to his left, and heaved it up to a wide open Dileo in the end zone.
After a Minnesota three-and-out, Gardner put together another long drive, marching 90 yards on 13 plays, capping it off with a two-yard Thomas Rawls touchdown run. It was the first time in Michigan history that the team scored touchdowns on consecutive drives of 90 yards or more, and just the third time it has ever been done in the same game.
Minnesota missed a 55-yard field goal as time expired in the first half and Michigan took a 14-7 lead into the locker room.
A Minnesota sack forced Michigan to punt away its first possession of the second half and the Gophers mounted a 10-play drive into the Michigan red zone. On fourth-and-16 from the 19-yard line, head coach Jerry Kill elected to call a fake field goal instead of kicking a 36-yarder. It failed miserably, gaining only five yards, and Michigan capitalized with an 86-yard scoring drive. Jeremy Gallon did the heavy lifting on this drive, catching a 47-yard pass and a 10-yard touchdown grab to give Michigan a 21-7 lead.
Minnesota tried to fight back, driving to the Michigan three-yard line, but settled for a field goal to pull within 11. Michigan scored touchdowns on its next two possessions – a two-yard run by Gardner and a 41-yard run by Fitz Toussaint – to put the game away.
Toussaint led the Wolverines in rushing with 74 yards on 13 carries, but 41 of those came on that one play. Rawls had 43 yards on 16 carries for a meager 2.7 yards per. Without Gardner in the receiving corps, the receiving was well rounded. Gallon led the way with four catches for 72 yards, while Dileo had 69 and Roy Roundtree had 64.
For Minnesota, Nelson took a lot of chances downfield with little success. The best success he had was drawing a few pass interference calls against Michigan’s defensive backs late in the game. He completed 13-of-29 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown. It will likely be good enough to keep Michigan atop the national rankings in pass defense. Donnell Kirkwood rushed 16 times for just 61 yards and Michigan held the Gophers to 3.4 yards per carry.
It was a game that Michigan was supposed to win, even without Denard, and the Wolverines did just that. The talk coming out of the game will likely center around Gardner’s performance and question whether he should start the rest of the season. Any talk of that kind should stop right there. I’ll get to it more later this week and so will Chris in his weekly Monday Morning Quarterback segment, so stay tuned. But for now, enjoy the win and look forward to returning to the Big House against Northwestern next Saturday.