By Tony Gerdeman
When news broke prior to kickoff that quarterback Denard Robinson wouldn't be able to play against the Gophers due to his injury from the previous week, there was a glimmer of hope for Minnesota.
Three hours later, however, that glimmer had faded to black as Michigan went on to a defensively-dominated 35-13 victory.
But for Michigan, perhaps even more importantly than the win, it certainly seems like they found their 2013 quarterback in Devin Gardner.
Starting for Robinson, Gardner played his best game as a Wolverine, going 12-18 through the air for 234 yards and two touchdowns. He threw one bad interception early in the game, but he cleaned his game up pretty nicely after that.
Yes, this was done against a feeble defense like Minnesota, but it showed that in just one week Gardner could get enough reps in practice to lead his team to a Big Ten road win. Imagine where he will be next season after bowl practices and an entire Spring taking the first-team reps.
This was the first time seeing Gardner at quarterback where I thought he could be a legitimate starter. I think playing receiver this year has made him more athletic and perhaps even faster.
He's obviously not a finished product, but nothing about playing quarterback looked difficult for Gardner on Saturday. Though admittedly the Gopher defense has that effect on people.
I have to assume that the Michigan offense went into this game with the directive to not put their own defense in difficult spots, and they did much better than that.
But even when the Wolverine defense found themselves in those difficult spots, they did just fine. Three times in the second half the Gophers had the ball inside the Michigan 15-yard line, and they came away with just six points.
All in all, it was an impressive performance by both the offense and defense, but let's not forget that it came against a team that is now 1-4 in conference play.
When Michigan Was On Offense
The good news for the Wolverines is that they rushed for 155 yards without any aid from Denard Robinson. That doesn't sound like a lot, but at least it's something.
Fitzgerald Toussaint rushed for 70 yards on 13 carries, including a 41-yard touchdown run. The bad news is that the 41-yarder came at the end of the game and was his final carry. His first twelve carries netted him 29 yards (2.4 ypc).
It continues to be a very dull double-edged sword for Toussaint. Half of the time there is no where for him to run, the other half of the time when there is somewhere to run, he can't make anybody miss.
He has had a 38-yard carry and now a 41-yard carry over the last three games, so that is a positive, but it might be the only one where he is concerned.
Thomas Rawls actually led the team with 16 carries, but he only picked up 43 yards (2.7 ypc). He didn't lose any yards, however, which is something, I guess.
Rawls is a guy who needs to get up to speed in order to be effective, but the offensive line rarely allows that to happen. He is also lacking in the necessary vision at times, and I'm not sure his understanding of where the ball needs to go is where it should be. After seeing him struggle in this game, I began to get a better understanding of why he isn't always in the offensive plans.
Gardner ran the ball seven times for 44 yards, and was pretty effective, and also showed strength fighting for a touchdown run. However, he also lost 23 yards on three sacks.
The interior offensive line had a rough day for the Wolverines. On the first drive of the game Elliott Mealer pulled on a running play, but couldn't get to the play in time and Toussaint was tackled for a one-yard gain. Mealer hasn't been able to get to the play a lot this year, yet Al Borges continues to think he can.
Then two plays later Mealer got dominated on third and three and gave up a sack to Ra'Shede Hageman, who simply swatted Mealer away.
Guards Ricky Barnum and Patrick Omameh had similar games. When they pull, they may or may not get to their man. Both lack the necessary mobility to make this running attack work as well as it could.
Denard Robinson does a fantastic job minimizing the offensive line's weaknesses, but nobody else does.
Gardner did a nice job in the passing game, completing three passes of 45 yards or longer. Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo both had four catches. It was the first time Gallon had four receptions in a game since Alabama, which is sad because it should be the norm for him in my opinion.
Gallon had a nice touchdown catch on a ten-yard jump ball. The play had to be reviewed, but there was no questioning the fact that he went up and got it, and at 5'8", he won a battle that most guys his size wouldn't.
The play of the game, however, came midway through the second quarter and turned Michigan's fortunes completely around. On third and 17, Gardner dropped back, avoided a rush, reversed field and heaved a pass nearly 60 yards in the air to a wide open Drew Dileo in the back of the endzone for a 45-yard touchdown.
It was everything that Michigan fans had always wanted to see from Gardner. It changed the momentum of the game and showed the Gophers that Gardner was a far cry from Russell Bellomy and they were going to have to actually win a game, and not simply wait for Michigan to lose it.
In other words, the game was over at that point.
When Michigan Was On Defense
The Wolverines held their fifth opponent under 300 yards this season, limiting the Gophers to just 275 yards of total offense.
Minnesota rushed for 128 yards on 38 carries (3.4 ypc), and the Michigan defense held the Gophers to a long carry of just twelve yards.
Freshman quarterback Philip Nelson is a mobile guy, but the Wolverines did a good job of containing him as he rushed for just 37 yards. He left some yards out there, however, giving the ball up on reads that he could have kept and gotten to the edge.
Looking at the way Michigan defended Minnesota's read option, Nelson could have attacked the edges more. He's not overly fast, but he should be able to outrun a defensive end who is leaning inside.
When they finally get to the Buckeyes this year, it is going to be extremely interesting to see how Michigan defends the read option. Will they force the ball out of Braxton Miller's hands and send the ball up the middle? How many linebackers will they play?
Will they combat Ohio State's spread with five defensive backs? If they do, will they be able to stop the Buckeyes' power running game? If they don't, will they be able to contain Miller's running and passing? It's going to be fun to watch.
The Gophers made the linebackers defend the pass quite a bit in this game, and it was an effective tool. Granted, Nelson wasn't very accurate, but he had some receivers who were open because of who was defending them.
Bringing this back to Ohio State, we saw tight end Nick Vannett continue to emerge this past week against Illinois. You can expect him to be a target downfield against the Wolverines.
I also think a slot receiver can have success against this defense, but that receiver will get hit hard after the catch.
Still, Michigan held Minnesota to just 142 yards passing with a long reception of only 32 yards. The downside is that the Wolverines only had one sack, and it came on a Jordan Kovacs blitz.
I'm not even sure the defensive line is told to attack on every snap, because there are certainly snaps when all the defensive line does is hold its ground. Whatever they're told to do, however, is working.
The Michigan cornerbacks were whistled for three pass interference calls. Two on J.T. Floyd and one on Raymon Taylor. Receiver MarQueis Gray proved a difficult matchup at times for them both.
Middle linebacker Kenny Demens led the team with ten tackles, Jake Ryan finished with nine and three tackles for loss.
The Special Teams
It was not a great day for the Michigan special teams. Punter Will Hagerup averaged just 29.3 yards on his three punts, and none of them were of the pooch variety.
Jeremy Gallon again muffed a punt, though he recovered it. He finished with two returns for three yards with a long of ten yards. Dennis Norfleet returned two kickoffs for just 39 yards.
K.J. Maye did have a 45-yard kickoff return against the Wolverines, and they gave up five returns for 127 yards total.
What Does It All Mean
It means that 2013 is not lost like you thought it was last week. I believe that Devin Gardner showed that with an entire offseason to be a quarterback, he will be okay. Provided an excess of coaching from Al Borges is actually a good thing.
Without knowing how much longer Denard Robinson is out, it's difficult to know what Gardner's future for the rest of the season holds, but you can bet that the Michigan coaches are feeling much better about their quarterback situation right now than they were at this time last week.
It also means that for Michigan to have a shot at the Rose Bowl, they are going to need Nebraska to lose somewhere along the way in a schedule that they will be heavily favored in the rest of the way out.
It also means that for Michigan to have a shot at the Rose Bowl, they would have to win in Columbus on November 24th.
It makes you wonder if Buckeye fans won't be cheering for the Huskers to trip up along the way so that they can see the Wolverines' Rose Bowl hopes come to an end in Ohio Stadium.
But I doubt they'd be willing to wait that long to see Michigan's hopes dashed.
The Road to the Big One
Sept 1 Alabama 41 - Michigan 14 (0-1)
Sept 8 Michigan 31 - Air Force 26 (1-1)
Sept 15 Michigan 63 - Massachusetts 13 (2-1)
Sept 22 Notre Dame 13 - Michigan 6 (2-2)
Sept 29 Bye
Oct 6 Michigan 44 - Purdue 13 (3-2, 1-0)
Oct 13 Michigan 45 - Illinois 0 (4-2, 2-0)
Oct 20 Michigan 12 - Michigan State 10 (5-2, 3-0)
Oct 27 Nebraska 23 - Michigan 9 (5-3, 3-1)
Nov 3 Michigan 35 - Minnesota 13 (6-3, 4-1)
Nov 10 Northwestern
Nov 17 Iowa
Nov 24 at Ohio State
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