By Ashley Dunkak
ANN ARBOR (CBS DETROIT) – In the press conference following Michigan’s 17-13 loss to Nebraska, answers eluded everyone.
Head coach Brady Hoke replied to nearly all queries after the game with a single sentence. Linebacker Cam Gordon and cornerback Courtney Avery, looking shocked and dismayed, did likewise. A stone-faced Devin Gardner, who was sacked seven times again this week, answered with a single word almost as much as he answered with one sentence.
The next-to-last question of the evening, though, elicited some emotion from the quarterback. A reporter asked Gardner what was missing from the team and mentioned ESPN columnist Jason Whitlock’s well publicized article that called the team soft.
For that topic, Gardner found more than one word.
“Whoever questions our toughness, they can shove it,” Gardner said. “I look in those guys’ eyes in the huddle, and they’re tough guys, and they’re going out and fighting for me. I don’t care what anyone of you or whoever said that says.”
Whether or not toughness was the issue, Saturday’s game was the second straight in which an opponent has imposed its will on Michigan. The Wolverines finished with -21 yards rushing. They recorded -48 yards rushing the previous week. The loss, their second straight, ended the nation’s longest active home winning streak at 19.
For two straight games, Gardner has struggled mightily. That could be the result of Gardner holding the ball too long. Linemen, running backs and others not blocking well enough certainly contributes to the problem. More than likely, receivers not getting open quickly enough. Whatever the reasons, the results are the same, and they are not pretty.
Being sacked 14 times over the span of two games is bad enough, but the situation is worse than that stat shows. Going through the play-by-play of the last two weeks reveals 10 negative plays for Gardner this week following 11 negative plays last week. Even with his positive plays added in, the quarterback’s net rushing is -78 in the last two games.
In an interview on 97.1 The Ticket earlier in the week, Whitlock said a team with more “football character” and toughness would not have made some of the plays Michigan made against the Spartans. Whitlock specifically mentioned Gardner sliding a yard shy of a first down on third down to avoid getting hit.
“When your quarterback on third and one, lays down a yard away from the first down out of fear of being hit – I’ve watched a lot of football … I’ve never seen that ever,” Whitlock said. “That’s not calling Devin Gardner a horrible human being … but it speaks to how thoroughly Michigan State took the fight out of Michigan.”
Nebraska seemed to take the fight out of the Wolverines, too, but Gardner clearly had some left after the game.
Whether that will be enough to help Michigan end its losing skid – three of the last four games – remains to be seen.