By Ashley Dunkak
As Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner scrambled frantically around his own end zone Saturday, two thoughts went through head coach Brady Hoke’s mind before Gardner threw an interception that turned into a Notre Dame touchdown.
“Take the safety or make sure you make a great throw away, those two things,” Hoke said. “You’ve got to give Notre Dame a little credit. The one thing I thought they did a nice job was they were matching their good athletes on the outside when they get push in the middle. I think he tried to find a place to go, really couldn’t, so I think that was a big part of it.”
The Wolverines still ended up with the win, and as the last game between them and the Irish in the Big House for the foreseeable future, Hoke said the atmosphere was amazing.
“It was a great environment,” Hoke said. “The electricity in the stadium, I think we had a lot going on with Mark Harmon and honoring his father Tom, and two really good football teams getting after each other. Just proud of how our kids played for 60 minutes. It was a great one to win, and now we’re on to Akron.”
To recognize Harmon, a Michigan great who also fought in World War II, Gardner wore Harmon’s number 98. Obviously that is a number fans rarely see on a passer, but Hoke did not consider it odd.
“I guess I never really think about it, to be honest with you,” Hoke said. “I’ve known for awhile that we were going to have Devin in that jersey. I never really thought about it, to be honest, never really noticed it during the game. I just saw our quarterback make a lot of good football plays.”
One of Gardner’s favorite targets was Jeremy Gallon, who had a great game but was bothered by a hamstring.
“He’s fine,” Hoke said. “He’s a very, very tough young man. We rested him a little bit during the game but at the same time he kept wanting to get back in there. He had a very good football game. He ran good routes. He ran well with the ball after the catch.”
Gallon was the main receiver targeted Saturday, but Hoke is confident that other guys will be more involved in the future.
“There’s a lot of young depth,” Hoke said. “Jeremy Jackson contributed, [Drew] Dileo contributed, Joe Reynolds had the first catch of the game for a first down, [Devin] Funchess, getting him in the mix. There’s no question that down the road we’re going to make sure that we’re spreading the ball around a little bit because people are going to bracket coverage you or roll up on a guy like Jeremy.”
Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint had a decent performance, but Hoke said the Wolverines are constantly concerned with improving the run game.
“Always,” Hoke said. “You want to run the ball a little more productive. I thought Fitz had some really good runs. Playing the running back in our offense, he really did a lot of the things that you need him to do. He caught a nice ball, gave us some momentum out of the backfield, protected well when they brought some pressure, which they did quite a bit. We need to run the ball better. I think that young line will run the ball better. I think that big stage the other night, they didn’t play as well as we’d like, but I think they’ll learn from that.”
Michigan will have a chance to put all lessons learned from Notre Dame into practice in just a few days when they play Akron.
“The one thing about Akron, they want to run 80 to 90 plays a game, so their tempo will be very high,” Hoke said. “They’re going to throw it around a lot out of the spread, and we’ve got to get our defense off the field so our offense can get on the field.”
Akron is not quite the story line that Notre Dame was, with Hoke’s comments about the Irish chickening out of the series receiving renewed attention in the week leading up to the game. After Michigan’s victory, the chicken dance song was played in the stadium.
“I heard [about] that,” Hoke said. “I didn’t hear it. I think I was all the way up the tunnel. I was doing something for radio or TV but you know, that just happens.”
Upon the comment that he was seen running up the tunnel on TV and he looked like he was pretty quick, Hoke chuckled and came back with a typically funny and self-deprecating response.
“For a fat guy I can still move okay,” Hoke said. “Let’s put it that way.”
To top it all off, Hoke used his joke as a transition to remind listeners of 97.1 The Ticket that Saturday is glazed donut day at the Big House for the first 5,000 students.