In a position once again to be the leader of the offense and put the team on his back a little bit, Gardner did just that Saturday night.
Taking Michigan right down the field on their first offensive possession, ending up with three points on a Matt Wile 39-yard field goal, Gardner looked spry and sharp early.
“I feel fresh,” Gardner said. “I feel good. I feel like I was being a little passive and I feel like I needed to make plays with my legs more and be the playmaker that I am.
“And today that’s what I did but today that wasn’t enough.”
Nope, not enough as Rutgers withstood a late charge from Michigan to win the game, their first in the Big Ten conference, 26-24 the final.
Gardner finished his night completing 13-of-22 passes for 178-yards through the air, but it was his legs that proved difficult for Rutgers to stop, rushing for 40 more yards including two scores.
His second touchdown was the biggest of them all with Michigan trailing 26-17, midway through the fourth quarter, escaping for a 19-yard scamper down the right sideline.
“Before the play started I saw they were going to bring pressure and I knew it was a naked and usually you have to throw hot in that situation,” Gardner said.
“But I got around in enough time to see him and I put a pump fake on him and he jumped or stopped or whatever. I ran around him and I saw the end zone.”
Gardner was intercepted once again, a third quarter interception by Davon Jacobs, actually the first pick of his career.
For the most part Gardner did his job and gave Michigan a chance were it not for a very poor performance from the defense.
His coach, Brady Hoke, wasn’t surprised by the showing out of Gardner.
“Again, I’ll go back to how he responded when he sat,” Hoke said. “And how he supported Shane when he was in there, all during the week, all during the game.
“So it didn’t surprise me at all that he went out there and I thought played a pretty good football game.
“The interception I think that’s something between him and Devin we got to look at a little bit route wise, and also maybe some fundamental stuff.”
Michigan had quite a few chunk plays especially in the passing game as Gardner hooked up with Jake Butt and Dennis Norfleet for 20-yards a piece, Jehu Chesson on a 28-yard completion, and a 23-yard catch out of Devin Funchess.
According to Funchess, the offense just settled in with Gardner under center and the results prove it.
“Getting comfortable,” Funchess said. “The line got comfortable and he got comfortable. The backs were running good and it just opened up the pass game.”
With one final chance at a game winning drive with 6:34 remaining at their own 14, Gardner started strong completing a 12-yard pass to Khalid Hill in the flat, followed by a 17-yard target to Funchess in between defenders.
On third and eight at the Rutgers 38, Gardner completed his biggest pass of the day to keep the drive away -- at least he thought so.
Gardner rolled to his right and found Amara Darboh on an out route right at the first down markers, reeling the ball in and turning up field before hitting the ground, the ball coming loose at the last second.
The play was ruled an incompletion on the field and backed up via replay and a challenge by Michigan.
Instead of going for it on fourth and eight, Michigan decided to attempt a 56-yard field goal to take the lead, and possibly, the game. Gardner says he had the utmost confidence Wile could make the kick.
“Without a doubt,” Gardner said. “We’re a team. Matt Wile, he believed he could make it and we believed he could make it.
“And it looked like it was going to be good, they made a play, you know, they have division one athletes as well. They jumped; he got really high and blocked the kick. It happens.”