- Adam Glanzman/Daily
By Everett Cook, Daily Sports Editor
Published September 8, 2013
Michigan’s offense was creative right off the bat, but maybe not by choice.
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Faced with monsters in the middle of Notre Dame’s defensive line, the Wolverines exploited the talents of their own personnel en route to 460 yards of total offense and a 41-30 victory.
On Michigan’s first play of the night, fifth-year senior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint was stuffed at the line of scrimmage for no gain. He would have trouble breaking out all night — he finished with 71 yards on 22 carries, good for 3.2 yards per carry.
But then the Wolverines got creative. In their first drive, they ran a reverse and a double reverse, as well as several pitches and outside runs. Gardner ran plays from under center, from the shotgun, and from the pistol—the defense could never get comfortable.
If the inside was full of big bodies, then Michigan was going to try to get outside to the corner.
“I feel like (offensive coordinator Al Borges) is in the groove with his play calling, and we were in a groove as an offense,” said redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner. “We drove the ball down and took a lot of time off the clock, things like that.”
Two physical specimens, senior Louis Nix III and junior Stephon Tuitt, anchor Notre Dame’s defensive line. Nix is more than 340 pounds and almost single-handedly made it difficult for Michigan to rush inside, while Tuitt is more than 6-foot-6 but is surprisingly quick.
So, running behind an interior offensive line that has a combined six starts under their belts, Toussaint could never break free. That’s not a knock on Toussaint or Michigan’s young interior line — Notre Dame has one of the best defensive lines in the country, and it showed on Saturday.
“I thought Fitz made some really good runs tonight and made some really good cuts,” said Michigan coach Brady Hoke after the game. “He may have still been running on some, but I think his facemask got yanked, that’s just the way it is.”
Instead of bringing in a more bruising back, someone like freshman Derrick Green, the Wolverines went for speed. Many of the passing routes on Saturday were quick patterns or slants intended to spread the field out.
Gardner passed for 294 yards and four touchdowns and added another 82 yards and a score on the ground. His favorite target, fifth-year senior Jeremy Gallon, caught eight passes for a career-high 184 yards and three touchdowns. Gallon had an unbelievable day, but it wasn’t just him — 12 Wolverines caught passes on Saturday.
In the end, the offense lies with Gardner. He’s the lynchpin.
His day was going almost perfectly until the beginning of the fourth quarter, when he was chased out of the pocket toward Michigan’s own end zone. Wary of a safety, Gardner tried to throw the ball away as he was hit in the end zone. The ball landed into the hands of a diving Tuitt, which got the Fighting Irish to within a touchdown.
After the game, Hoke repeated the same sentiment he did last week—having as much talent as Gardner does is both a blessing and a curse. The quarterback feels like he can get out of any situation, and most of the time, he can. But that also means that when mistakes are made, often times they are disastrous.
“I feel like if I limit my mistakes, we can go as far as we want,” Gardner said. “The offensive is going to block, Fitzgerald Toussaint is going to run, and all the receivers are going to catch. If I do my job, in particular, we’ll do fine.”
In the Wolverines’ first game of the season, they ran for 242 yards and six touchdowns. On Saturday, they passed for 294. The offense might not look the same game to game, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing when playing defenses with monsters in the middle.
“Overall, I feel like we fought,” Gardner said. “That’s what we talked about all summer and winter—fighting and finishing, because that’s something we didn’t do last year. Tonight, we fought and we finished.”