Gardner helps UM get past Gophers

MINNEAPOLIS — For all of Michigan’s depth concerns throughout the team, there seems to be no problem at quarterback.

A week of concern surrounded the offense following Denard Robinson’s elbow injury. What would happen? Would he play? Could he be effective? Was there anything behind him?

Devin Gardner never worried about any of that.

The junior moved smoothly from wide receiver back to quarterback and on Saturday acted as if he never left, carrying the Wolverines to a 35-13 pounding of Minnesota at TCF Bank Stadium, retaining the Little Brown Jug, making them bowl eligible and keeping their Big Ten Legends Division title hopes alive.

Coach Brady Hoke said he decided Friday that Robinson wouldn’t play, and Gardner said he was told he’d start just before Saturday’s game.

That’s the curse of getting stuck behind a star. Robinson never missed a full game, so Gardner finally moved to receiver this spring just to get on the field. He was productive, but nothing like the impact he had Saturday.

After a rocky first quarter when he threw an interception and U-M (6-3, 4-1 Big Ten) totaled 9 yards, he led the offense to more than 370 and five touchdowns in the final three quarters.

“I play quarterback, so I feel good,” said Gardner, who had 261 career passing yards entering the game. “All week, I got a lot of reps, so I prepared like I was going to be the starter. They said prepare because we never know what’s going to happen, so you have to prepare like you’re going to start.”

Despite running what he described as a “safe” offense, limiting quarterback runs because Robinson was out and Russell Bellomy also was injured, Gardner was able to take advantage in the passing game. He completed 12 of 18 for 234 yards, the second-highest total for a Michigan quarterback in the past 16 games.

Michigan might not have been as effective rushing — Fitz Toussaint’s 41-yard fourth-down touchdown was the only designed run longer than 12 yards — but Gardner managed the offense with few hitches.

Gardner capitalized on four scoring drives of 76 yards or longer, including a second-quarter pair of 91 and 90 yards — the first time in U-M’s 133-year history with consecutive 90-plus yard scoring drives.

“It doesn’t surprise us,” Hoke said of Gardner’s performance. “His ability, we gave him a lot of snaps obviously. He’s been in the offense enough, he knows most of it, maybe all of it. Being a receiver, that’s a whole different element, but maybe helped his development. He did a nice job of managing the team. … I thought he did a great job.”

With another dominant defensive performance — hitting that magic number of 13 again, the sixth time this season they’ve held an opponent below two touchdowns — the pressure was on the offense to earn back the respect lost the past two touchdown-less weeks.

“We said we’d talk about it at practice this week, just because it’s kind of embarrassing for a Michigan offense to not score a touchdown in two games, so it was certainly on our minds,” said receiver Drew Dileo, who opened the scoring for U-M by catching Gardner’s scrambling, dodging 45-yard end-zone heave.

“It wasn’t as if we weren’t moving the ball,” Gardner said. “We just weren’t punching it in the red zone.”

Minnesota (5-4, 1-4) might be the worst team in the Legends Division, so this was no landmark win.

But with last week’s second-half meltdown and two weeks of struggles, Saturday’s win with a new quarterback was a breakthrough.

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Posted by Tribune News Services

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