- Adam Glanzman/Daily
By Everett Cook, Daily Sports Editor
Published September 21, 2013
EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — The breakout performance of the man once sidelined by a broken leg came in a game where everything on offense seemed to be broken except the way he carried the ball.
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For the second week in a row, redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner had his worst game as a college quarterback, and for the second week in a row, the Michigan football team needed fifth-year senior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint more than ever.
Against Akron last week, more than 50 rushing yards were called back due to penalties. The game ended on an incomplete pass in the end zone that was about 6 inches away from being caught.
On Saturday, the game ended with a victory formation. This time, there was nothing to bring Toussaint back. He scampered for 120 yards and two touchdowns, leading the Wolverines to a 24-21 win over Connecticut in his best game of the season. It was the first time a Michigan running back had 100 yards in a game since he had 120 against Ohio State in 2011.
Toussaint hasn’t necessarily struggled this season, but until Saturday, he hadn’t exactly carried the offense, either.
Part of that was due to a young, inexperienced offensive line. It’s hard to run through holes that aren’t there. And those problems didn’t go away on Saturday — the line continued to struggle, especially at the point of attack in the interior.
Still, Toussaint made it work, particularly toward the end of the game. With Michigan down two touchdowns, he got a pitch on UConn’s 40-yard line from Gardner, who was pummeled as he released the ball. It was an option pitch, the same one that Gardner fumbled last week.
Gashing through the line of scrimmage, Toussaint cut toward the Husky sideline and ran laterally for seven yards before juking his way to the end zone for a 35-yard touchdown run. That got Michigan back in the game.
“Before the play started, I know it would have to be a quick pitch just like last week,” Gardner said. “This week I responded early and pitched it and the result was a touchdown. It was a great run from Fitz.”
Then, in the fourth quarter, junior linebacker Desmond Morgan made the play of the game on a one-handed interception. His long return set up Toussaint, who took a handoff on the next play and slashed diagonally toward the end zone to tie the game.
The offensive play-calling had to get conservative after another onslaught of turnovers from Gardner, which meant that Toussaint had a bigger role than in past weeks. Through the first three weeks of the season, he was averaging 3.4 yards a carry and hadn’t crossed the 200-yard threshold yet.
Now, he’s leading the team in rushing for the first time this season. Gardner is undoubtedly the team leader on offense, but if his awful turnover pace continues, Toussaint is going to have to be the one to pick up the slack.
The Wolverines go into the bye week with more questions than answers on offense. Michigan coach Brady Hoke said his offense had a “major league problem” with turnovers.
And yet, in a broken offense, the guy who recovered from a broken leg might be the key.