With Gardner being tended to by team physicians on the bench, redshirt junior quarterback Russell Bellomy began warming up.
The last time Bellomy appeared in a game for the Wolverines was 2012, coming on in the second quarter to spell Denard Robinson who left with an apparent injury to his throwing arm.
Bellomy threw three interceptions as Michigan lost at Nebraska, 23-9.
With Bellomy hitting the field for an ailing Gardner, the Michigan offense went conservative, choosing to run the football with Justice Hayes and De’Veon Smith despite tying the game at 13 on a 42-yard field goal attempt by Matt Wile.
After two series with little production from the offense and a clearly uncomfortable Bellomy, Gardner couldn’t sit anymore, reentering the game without even taping up his ankle.
“There wasn’t much time for that,” Gardner said. “The defense was getting off the field pretty fast so after I think it was two drives I sat out I told them I’m going in the next drive so they gave me my helmet and I got the chance to go back in.”
Based on the fallout from the injury situation with sophomore quarterback Shane Morris in the loss at home to Minnesota two weeks back, No. 98 didn’t return to the field without passing a test on the sideline, a test that essentially included just “jogging” according to Gardner.
“It’s kind of tight around here with injuries and stuff,” Gardner said laughing. “So, (I was) by them, make sure it was all clear to get a chance to go out there.”
“But it’s a team that needs me and they said that they needed me and it’s much bigger than myself,” Gardner added. “And if I can be out there I’m going to be out there.”
Gardner and the offense needed points with 13:39 left in the fourth quarter, the game knotted at 13.
Gardner would complete 2-of-4 pass attempts on that drive, none bigger than a 24-yard completion to Dennis Norfleet down the Michigan sideline setting up yet another Matt Wile field goal from 37-yards out to give the Wolverines the 16-13 advantage.
That field goal proved to be the game winner, a Penn State safety making the final 18-13 in favor of Michigan.
After three straight home losses, talks of boycotts, student protests on the door step of the President of the University of Michigan, and a whole lot of focus on things other than football, winning a game was much needed in front of 113,085 fans.
“It feels great,” Gardner said. “For us to come back and respond, at home, against a really good team, really good quarterback; that was big for us.”
Michigan coach Brady Hoke believes Gardner continues to make leaps both physically and mentally for this team.
“With Devin, the growth I said earlier and the demeanor and what he has done on and off the field has been really special,” Hoke said.
Michigan now heads into the bye week with a trip to East Lansing to meet Michigan State waiting two weeks from now.
Asked if Gardner’s injury will affect his status against the Spartans, he made that answer crystal clear.
“No,” Gardner said quickly.
Gardner finished his night completing 16-of-24 pass attempts for 192-yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Funchess’ circus catch
Avoiding disaster on the opening drive of the game, junior wide out Devin Funchess saved an interception for Gardner.
On first and 10 at the Penn State 43, Gardner stepped up into the pocket and floated a ball over the middle.
Looking like a sure interception, Funchess stuck with the route snatching the football away before bobbling it and securing it, jogging into the end zone to give Michigan a 7-3 lead.
“It’s a great play by a great athlete,” Gardner said afterward. “You got a big guy down the field and once he eliminates the corner he’s one on one with the safety and I gave him a shot and he took advantage of it.”
- Michigan coach Brady Hoke was asked afterward if Shane Morris and Wilton Speight could have entered the game, seemingly in place of Russell Bellomy and Hoke responded with “yes,” giving no indication Morris is injured, implying Bellomy is currently the Wolverines No. 2 quarterback.