If Devin Gardner's first career start at quarterback against Minnesota a little over a week ago was impressive, Saturday afternoon's performance would trump that like a bower would an ace. Gardner looked cool, calm and collected in and outside of the pocket for Michigan, attacking the Northwestern defense vertically with sharp, precise throws, giving receivers like Roy Roundtree and Jeremy Gallon time and space to gain yards after the catch.
And Gardner's most encouraging feats came at the times when negatives crept up and doubt had bled into the minds of viewers in a game Michigan had to have if they hope to still earn one of two spots in Indianapolis.
"I think he managed the game well," said Brady Hoke afterwards. "I thought he had two throws that probably aren't the best throws. Did a nice job getting rid of the ball in the end zone (in a near safety) and made some good decisions."
After Northwestern went right down the field on the Michigan defense to start the game, it appeared as though the offense would need to put a significant amount of points on the board to come away with a win. And on the following drive Gardner engineered a 10 play, 78 yard drive that took up nearly 6 minutes of clock and ultimately resulted in a Vince Young-esque pump fake before diving for the pylon from 8 yards out to tie the game.
From there Gardner handled every pressure situation the way an experienced and seasoned veteran might—by answering the call. Whether it was the early 7-point deficit, the 10-point deficit late in the 3rd quarter, or even Northwestern's 31-28 advantage as Michigan began a drive with 18 seconds left on the clock on their own 38-yard line.
A play was always made, and were none bigger than the 53-yard reception by Roy Roundtree to set up a Brendan Gibbons field goal attempt with 8 seconds left on the clock that would ultimately send the back and forth battle into overtime.
"We had the ball with a chance," said Gardner. "That's all you can ask for. You can't ask for where to catch that ball or for me throw a good pass. You just ask for a chance—and we took full advantage. The line blocked, I threw the ball, and Roy caught the ball; and then everybody sprinted down the field to get a clock play in."
For the senior Roundtree, who finished the day with 5 catches for 139 yards, he, like the rest of the Wolverines in the waning moments, just held on.
"Basically I saw Devin roll out and he chucked it and my mindset—I got to go make this play," said Roundtree. "The ball is in the air and once I jumped for it and tipped it, I felt the defender by me—so once I tipped it I saw it hit my helmet, so I held on to it and then rolled it in."
In overtime, Roundtree came up big once again with a 17 yard grab that led to a well-designed quarterback keeper to the right side of the field from 1 yard out that put the Wolverines on top for good, 38-31.
Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges, Hoke and the rest of the Wolverines put their trust in Gardner Saturday, and he thanked them for that by going 16 for 29 with 333 total yards and 4 total touchdowns. But after two stellar weeks in a row, Gardner isn't pumping his chest or anointing himself the starting quarterback the rest of the way, as everyone waits to see what will happen with the health and status of Denard Robinson over the next few weeks.
"This is Denard's team and its always going to be Denard's team until he's gone," said Gardner. "He's done way too much for two games to change that."
"I knew my time would come eventually whether it was this year or next year. It just happened to come a little earlier than expected. Its not like an ah-ha, in-your-face type thing, it's just that you guys saw what I had done in previous years, and I hadn't proven that I was that quarterback that I felt like I was and that my teammates knew I was."
To watch video from Gardner and Roundtree's press conference, press play below.
Devin perseveres, Roy produces (w/video)
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