Devin Gardner's encore performance as Michigan QB a memorable one
ANN ARBOR -- In receiver Devin Gardner's two-game stint as Michigan's starting quarterback, his throws seem sharper than they ever were when he actually played quarterback.
The junior led Michigan to a rout of Minnesota last week, then delivered a memorable encore in Saturday's 38-31 comeback win Saturday against Northwestern. He set up the game-tying field goal with a 53-yard strike to Roy Roundtree, then won the game in overtime with a 1-yard touchdown run.
He accounted for four of Michigan's five scores.
One possible reason why he looks better than he ever did as a true backup: Preparation.
Starter Denard Robinson was knocked out of the Nebraska game three weeks ago with nerve damage in his throwing elbow and hasn't played since. Backup Russell Bellomy flopped against the Cornhuskers, and Michigan got Gardner a steady diet of first-team reps before the Minnesota game.
Same for Northwestern.
And Northwestern, like Minnesota, paid for it. Gardner completed 16-of-29 passes for 286 yards, two touchdowns and one interception -- the most productive passing day by a Michigan quarterback this year.
Gardner said it's easier to prepare for a game when he knows he's going to play, as opposed to playing the past two years only when Robinson was knocked out of a game.
"I just prepared all week and I had a good idea what they were going to try to do to me," Gardner said. "Of course I didn't know exactly what they were going to try to do because they've never played against me before, but from what I saw on film, they gave us what we saw. I just tried to execute and do my best."
Gardner had one mid-game lull in which he completed 2-of-9 passes, and tossed an ill-advised pick in the fourth quarter. Other than that, he displayed strong throwing all over the field.
And the fruits were spread around.
Junior receiver Jeremy Gallon caught a career-high seven passes, including a 42-yarder on a double-move that Gardner hit in stride. That's the second time the pair has hooked up on that play for big yardage.
Roundtree caught five passes for 139 yards, the most he's racked up since his sophomore season. His 53-yard catch in the final seconds set up Brendan Gibbons' game-tying field goal that forced overtime.
Freshman tight end Devin Funchess, who stands 6-foot-5, caught an 8-yard touchdown pass that Gardner wisely threw over the top of a much shorter defender.
The receivers have posted two of their best games in back to back weeks -- games started by Gardner.
And it's not just his passing. He showed judicious decision making as well, not afraid to tuck and run if plays break down. He racked up 49 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the ground against Northwestern.
He won the game with a 1-yard touchdown run in overtime, crediting offensive coordinator Al Borges for the call.
"When I saw how tight they were, I was like, 'This is the best call possible,'" Gardner said. "I could walk into the end zone. It was the best call possible."
Gardner also threw away the ball, once avoiding a safety by throwing at tailback Fitz Toussaint as he was being dragged to the ground in the end zone. That shows maturity, especially for a guy who has started just twice at quarterback.
"I just saw the back of FItz's numbers, and I was just going to drill his back as hard as I could," Gardner said. "I was just going to avoid the sack and hit him as hard as I could. That was really scary.
"And I actually told the guy, 'You almost got me.'"
Gardner was Michigan's best playmaker playing receiver, but maintains he's a quarterback and is looking every bit the part. He is 28-of-47 passing (59.6 percent) for 520 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions in his two starts.
"I knew my time would come eventually, whether it was this year or next year," Gardner said after Saturday's win. "It just happened to come a little earlier than expected."
Robinson was completing 53.6 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and nine interceptions before injuring his elbow against Nebraska. He hasn't played since.
Coach Brady Hoke says Robinson remains his quarterback and will start as soon as he's healthy.
But Gardner has wowed during his brief turn at the position, offering Michigan hope that it can carry on without Robinson -- this year and beyond.