BY NICOLE AUERBACH
Daily Sports Writer
Published December 31, 2010
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — True freshman quarterback Devin Gardner will be the Wolverines’ backup quarterback in Saturday’s Gator Bowl, Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez announced Friday during a press conference.
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Rodriguez said he wouldn’t hesitate to play Gardner, who has been battling back issues and is currently in the process of applying for a medical redshirt. If he plays on Saturday, Gardner will burn his potential redshirt.
This announcement came one day after the news that sophomore quarterback Tate Forcier was sent back to Ann Arbor after being ruled academically ineligible for the bowl game.
Sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson has missed at least one snap in most of the games this season due to various injuries, so Forcier received significant playing time for a backup. Forcier completed 54-of-84 pass attempts this season for 597 yards and four touchdowns.
Rodriguez said he found out Forcier would be ineligible for the bowl game on Thursday, and the team flew him back to Ann Arbor Thursday night. No other Michigan players were ruled ineligible for Saturday’s game.
“I really don't want to get into all the details but the most important part now is the guys at this table and the guys getting ready to play tomorrow," Rodriguez said. "(Forcier’s) status with the school as a student is first and foremost and that is undetermined to this point. Our focus right now is on the guys ready to play tomorrow."
Forcier’s status on the team is unclear, as is Gardner’s potential redshirt status.
"Devin is the backup," Rodriguez said. "He was banged up quite a bit the last half of the year with his back but really has felt better and is feeling as good as he has in a long time. Hopefully Denard will stay healthy, but if not, Devin is ready to go."
RODRIGUEZ DOWNPLAYS SIGNIFICANCE OF BOWL RESULT: On Thursday, some of Michigan’s defensive players talked about the importance of a Gator Bowl — for themselves and their embattled coach.
“No one wants to lose,” redshirt sophomore Kenny Demens said. “And coach Rod’s worked so hard to put a lot into what we’re going to defensive-wise, special teams, offense, so this game will be real big for coach Rod.”
Job security talk, rumors and the name Jim Harbaugh have been swirling around the team for weeks — making it a challenge for the players to focus on Saturday's game.
“You know, that’s always in the back of your head because of so much that’s has been said about it,” junior nose tackle Mike Martin said. “We’re just playing, and Coach Rod, he’s coaching, and we’re ready to show everyone January 1st."
All week, the players have expressed optimism that a bowl win could give them momentum heading into next season. But on Friday, when he was asked what a bowl win could mean for the Michigan football program, Rodriguez downplayed the situation.
“All games are important,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t think (the result of a bowl game) is the only sign of progress or kind of a grade of where the program is at.”
PAHOKEE PALS: At Friday’s press conference, Mississippi State senior defensive lineman Pernell McPhee mentioned he’s friendly with Michigan’s trio of Pahokee, Fla., natives: Martavious Odoms, Vincent Smith and Brandin Hawthorne.
“We’re all good close friends, we all hang out, but game time we’re gonna be enemies on the field,” McPhee said.