By Ashley Dunkak
ANN ARBOR (CBS DETROIT) – Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner needed to play one of the best games of his career for the Wolverines to have a chance against undefeated No. 3 Ohio State, the team’s most despised rival.
Essentially, he did.
Gardner connected on 32 of 45 passes – a 71.1 percent completion rate – and tossed four touchdowns. He also scored a touchdown on the ground and made plays with his legs, eluding defenders long enough to find open teammates. Throughout the game, Gardner hit nine different receivers, including five of them at least four times each.
With Gardner at the helm, the Wolverines converted eight of 14 third-down opportunities. They scored on six of seven chances in the red zone. On the field, Gardner looked confident, poised. He looked 180 degrees different from the player who tossed interceptions early in the season and got sacked seven times in back-to-back games later in the year.
For at least part of the game, Gardner played hurt, though head coach Brady Hoke sounded a bit dismissive as he and other players pointed out that everyone is injured at this point of the season.
“He’s beat up like everybody is, and that’s when he was limping a little bit,” Hoke said. “I said, ‘I don’t want to see you limp.’ I said, ‘Every guy out here could limp. We’ve got to go play.’ And he did that. I’m proud of him.”
Gardner, even as he sat with the boot on his foot, refused to acknowledge the physical toll of the season as any hindrance.
“It didn’t restrict me at all,” he said.
Throughout the post-game, Gardner did not look happy with himself in the least. He sat at the podium with his arms crossed in front of him, his eyes down and narrowed. He gave short answers to every query. He seemed despondent, even angry about the outcome of the game, a game the Wolverines were not even supposed to be competitive in, much less win.
Clearly, Gardner did not care about his 32 complete passes. Gardner wanted that 33rd one that instead ended up in the arms of an Ohio State defender as the Wolverines went for the two-point conversion at the end of regulation.
In evaluating his season, Gardner fixated on that one moment.
“Threw an interception to lose the game,” Gardner said. “There’s not really much else I can say about that.”
That final play aside, Gardner’s remarkable resurgence gave Michigan the chance nobody believed it had. The Wolverines had lost three out of their last four games, and Gardner had passed for 98 yards, 226 yards, 196 yards and 210 yards in those contests. He had passed for more than 300 yards just once this season before Saturday.
Against one of the toughest opponents Michigan faced all season, Gardner had his best game since he hung 503 yards and two touchdowns on Indiana back in mid-October.
Gardner may not have been able to give his team the victory Saturday, but if he had struggled as he had recently instead of performing the way he did, the game never would have been in reach anyway.
A loss is a loss, but the improvement shown by Michigan and Gardner in particular is a side note that should not be overlooked.