By Matt Slovin, Managing Editor
Published September 7, 2013
The airshow began about a half hour before kickoff and lasted well into Michigan and Notre Dame’s last scheduled meeting at Michigan Stadium.
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It didn’t take long for the high-flying, Devin Gardner-led Wolverine offense to reclaim the Ann Arbor air space from the jets that circled the Big House during a lengthy pregame flyover. Wearing the No. 98 jersey of Michigan legend Tom Harmon, Gardner looked like a legend himself for the majority of the Wolverines’ 41-30 win — as did his favorite target, fifth-year senior Jeremy Gallon.
Gallon continued his emergence as the leader of a wide-receiving corps that had been one of Michigan’s biggest question marks entering the season. He posted career highs of 184 receiving yards and three touchdowns.
“He’s like a little bulldog, man,” Gardner said of his 5-foot-8 receiver who plays far beyond that height. “Behind the doors, we work so hard. Now we finally got an opportunity to display it in front of the biggest crowd in college football.”
That crowd of 115,109 set a new NCAA attendance record at the second night game in Michigan Stadium history.
One year after then-Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson’s five-turnover performance against the Fighting Irish, it looked as if Gardner might avoid making any errors. And it wasn’t until the fourth quarter, with the Wolverines already leading by two touchdowns, that a mistake, like the pair of interceptions Gardner threw in the opener against Central Michigan, popped up.
Gardner scrambled into his own end zone early in the fourth quarter and attempted to get rid of the ball to avoid being brought down for a safety. Notre Dame’s Stephon Tuitt made one of the most athletic plays possible for a 322-pound defensive lineman, diving to come up with the interception and bring the Fighting Irish (1-1) to within a touchdown.
“It was a horrible decision,” Gardner said.
Overall, Gardner looked even more versatile than in Week 1. And it was how he responded to his one miscue that showed the kind of quarterback he has become.
After a Michigan (2-0) punt on the ensuing possession, Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees led the Fighting Irish down the field, though they settled for a 40-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 34-30.
It could’ve unraveled there. This was Michigan-Notre Dame, and no amount of late-game dramatics could be too much for this chapter.
But the defense held the Fighting Irish to a field goal on the next drive. Then Gardner, rather than succumbing to what he called “adversity,” found fifth-year running back Fitzgerald Toussaint for a 31-yard completion.
Two crucial pass interference penalties against Notre Dame and a four-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Drew Dileo stopped the rally in its tracks. Redshirt sophomore Blake Countess’ second career interception — both of which came on Saturday night — sealed the Wolverines’ fourth straight win over the Fighting Irish in Ann Arbor. Michigan coach Brady Hoke improved to 16-0 at Michigan Stadium.
Despite Gardner’s massive mistake that gave Notre Dame a second life, he finished 21 for 33, racking up 294 yards and four touchdowns in addition to one on the ground. He also rushed for 82 yards.
Gardner completed his first four passes of the game to four different receivers — none of them Gallon. The opening possession ended in a field goal from fifth-year senior kicker Brendan Gibbons, who broke the program record with his 15th consecutive made kick.
On the next Michigan drive, Gardner and Gallon began to steal the night. With plenty of time to throw despite facing an experienced Notre Dame front seven, Gardner found another Michigan jersey honoree, Gallon, wide open for a 60-yard touchdown pass. Gallon, wearing Desmond Howard’s No. 21, spun off of two would-be tacklers on his first of three trips to the end zone Saturday.
Notre Dame began to show signs of life on its next drive. Rees capped it off with a fortunate four-yard touchdown pass that deflected off running back George Atkinson III’s hands into those of wide receiver TJ Jones. On their next drive, the Fighting Irish tied the game at 10 with a 44-yard field goal of their own.
But Gardner and Gallon regained control quickly.