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Michigan plays turnover-free game in 42-13 rout of Minnesota

By Liz Vukelich, Daily Sports Editor
Published October 5, 2013

On Saturday, streaks continued and streaks were broken in the Michigan football team’s 42-13 win over Minnesota:

Michigan coach Brady Hoke improved his home record to 18-0.

The Wolverines beat the Golden Gophers for the sixth consecutive year to keep the Little Brown Jug in Ann Arbor.

And redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner played in his first game as starter without throwing an interception.

The Wolverines waited two weeks to prove themselves after their questionable non-conference play ended. Finally, on Saturday, they looked a little more like the Michigan team everyone had expected to see from the beginning.

“We were thinking about Minnesota, and Minnesota was it,” Gardner said. “It was the first Big Ten game. Like we always say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. It's the Jug game, it's our homecoming game. There's a lot going on.”

As a way to try to minimize turnovers, Michigan initially resorted to the only fool-proof method — not allowing Gardner to throw the ball at all.

Gardner didn’t attempt his first pass until a little more than halfway through the second quarter. Michigan couldn’t stay pass-less forever, but the Wolverines eventually found a happy medium between its number of runs and throws in a game that finally played out exactly as Michigan hoped.

“We were going to do what was working, and (running the ball) was what was working at the time,” Gardner said. “So if it's not broke, don't fix it.”

When the coaches did feel comfortable calling passing plays, they spread the ball between multiple receivers, with redshirt freshman Jehu Chesson, fifth-year senior Jeremy Gallon and sophomore Devin Funchess catching passes for an average of 13 yards over the 10-play drive to give Michigan the lead entering the locker room.

With his arm sufficiently warmed up, Gardner capped the Wolverines’ final possession of the half with a 24-yard touchdown pass to Funchess, thanks in part to solid field position, starting the drive at Minnesota’s 38-yard line. Gardner finished 13-of-17 for 235 yards and one touchdown each passing and on the ground.

Michigan — with its recent turnover woes — benefited from one to start the game. During the opening drive, senior defensive end Jibreel Black forced a fumble, recovered by sophomore linebacker James Ross III, on Minnesota’s third play of the game. Starting on the Golden Gophers’ 35-yard line, the Wolverines scored their first touchdown on a series of runs split between tailbacks freshman Derrick Green and fifth-year senior Fitzgerald Toussaint.

Minnesota also ran the ball for the majority of its next drive, rushing for 52 yards on 10 carries. The Golden Gophers converted on all five of their third downs, including a seven-yard pass for a touchdown that Blake Countess narrowly missed tipping away.

The second half finally saw the marriage between the Wolverines’ run and pass game. Consecutive runs from Toussaint started the drive, and a 22 and 21-yard pass to Chesson and Funchess, respectively, set Michigan up on the 2-yard line. From there, Green bulldozed his way into the end zone.

With the Wolverines comfortably in a rhythm, they continued to utilize the ground game, and Toussaint ran for his second touchdown of the game with 11 seconds left in the third quarter, all while the defense held the Golden Gophers to just two field goals in the second half.

Despite the shared workload between the running backs, it still wasn’t enough for Hoke. Minnesota dominated time of possession in the first half — almost 19 minutes, compared to Michigan’s 11 — and Hoke said that impeded Green’s ability to get even more carries.

“We wanted to run the ball, and we wanted to send that message. I thought we did a pretty good job of it,” Hoke said. “We didn't have as much yardage probably as we'd like to have from that aspect, but I really believe the threat was there consistently throughout the game.”

Gardner also continued to rely on Funchess, who had relocated from his normal spot at tight end to wide receiver. Funchess caught seven passes for 151 yards over the course of the afternoon and scored once.

And above all, Gardner’s Superman complex, his try-to-do-it-all attitude, didn’t come crashing down around the Wolverines. This time, Gardner felt comfortable that he never gave up control.