ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner has shown he can help the team under center, now and later.
The junior flourished in his first start at quarterback in Saturday's 35-13 win at Minnesota in place of injured Denard Robinson.
Gardner threw two touchdowns, had an interception and ran for a score, showing the Wolverines he can fill in as needed for the rest of the year and when Robinson is out of college eligibility next season.
"Devin did a nice job managing the offense," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said Monday. "He made some plays, extended some plays and did a great job in that area. The one pick is one that he'd like back — we'd all like back — but I think he learned from it."
The Wolverines (6-3, 4-1 Big Ten) learned something, too.
Or, maybe just their fans and those who can't watch did.
"Y'all just saw it on Saturday," offensive tackle Taylor Lewan said.
Hoke, though, made it clear that if Robinson is healthy enough to play, he will start Saturday at home against Northwestern (7-2, 3-2) and Gardner will move back to wide receiver, a position he started playing this year just to get on the field more.
A week after Hoke said he expected Robinson to play against the Golden Gophers only to keep him out of the game, he was not making bold predictions about Robinson's status against the Wildcats in a matchup of unranked teams receiving votes in The Associated Press college football poll.
Hoke, though, did sound encouraged about how well Robinson is recovering from a nerve problem in his right elbow that affects how well he can grip and throw the football after seeing what he did in Sunday's practice.
"He was able to do everything," Hoke said.
After a rough start against Minnesota, Gardner did everything the Wolverines needed him to do with his right arm and feet when Robinson's 34-game starting streak was snapped.
Gardner was 12 of 18 for 234 yards, creating some passing plays by moving in the pocket such as on his 47-yard TD pass to Jeremy Gallon. He accounted for his third score with a 2-yard run to help Michigan pull away in the fourth quarter.
He led the Wolverines on 91- and 90-yard scoring drives in consecutive possessions — the first time college football's winningest program had ever done that — and also helped them drive 86 and 79 yards for two other TDs.
Not bad for a player who hadn't played an entire game at QB since he led Inkster High School to the Michigan Division II finals in 2009.
"You just have to be patient and wait your turn," Gardner said.
Gardner insisted he didn't think about transferring earlier in his career, when it was clear he wasn't going to beat out Robinson for playing time, and agreed to move to receiver this season with the understanding he would switch back to QB next year.
He has been one of Michigan's best receivers with 16 receptions for 266 yards and a team-high four receiving TDs. That, according to Hoke, has led to Gardner being a better QB.
"Playing receiver has helped him immensely because of how receivers practice," Hoke said. "They're running 40 yards every snap, and they're running back. They're hitting the sled."
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