The Gophers prepared all week to face Denard Robinson. Turns out, the Wolverines didn't need him.
Michigan's dynamic quarterback, who suffered nerve damage to his throwing elbow last week in Nebraska, watched from the sidelines Saturday as junior Devin Gardner led the Wolverines to their 29th win in the last 31 meetings with Minnesota. Garner threw for two touchdowns and ran for another as Michigan kept the Little Brown Jug with a 35-13 victory at TCF Bank Stadium.
The Gophers took their first lead against the Wolverines since 2007 when Gophers quarterback Philip Nelson hit tight end John Rabe with a 10-yard pass across the middle on the first play of the second quarter. It was also the Gophers' first offensive touchdown against Michigan since 2006, five meetings ago. But it was the Gophers' lone touchdown of the day.
Gardner responded with four long scoring drives -- each 79 yards or more -- on the Wolverines' next five possessions, and Michigan, which has not lost in Minnesota since 1977, pulled away to retain at least a share of the Legends Division lead at 4-1 in the Big Ten. The Gophers missed several opportunities to make the game close; twice they had first-and-goal on Michigan's 3, and both times, they came away with only a field goal. And trailing by just seven points in the third quarter, the Gophers tried a fake field goal on fourth-and-16 rather than kick a 17-yard field goal; the pass play fell well short of a first down.
Michigan had no such trouble taking advantage of its opportunities, even without Robinson. Gardner tied the score by turning a broken play into a touchdown in the second quarter. The former wide receiver rolled to his right, then scrambled back to his left before spotting junior Drew Dileo alone in the end zone, 45 yards away, Gardner's deep throw got to Dileo just before Minnesota safety Derrick Wells.
And just before halftime, Gardner led a 90-yard scoring drive that had a controversial finish. On third and goal from the Gophers' 4, tight end Devin Funchess and cornerback Martez Shabazz tried to catch a fade pass in the right corner of the end zone. The ball fell incomplete, but Shabazz was called for pass interference, and Gophers coach Jerry Kill complained vociferously to three different officials. Given a first down on the penalty, the Wolverines scored on the next play, with running back Thomas Rawls stretching into the end zone from two yards out, putting Michigan ahead with 55 seconds left in the half.
The Gophers tried to respond, but their drive stalled at the 37, and Jordan Wettstein missed a 55-yard field-goal attempt as the half ended.
The second half featured three straight touchdowns by the Wolverines, on a 10-yard leaping catch by receiver Jeremy Gallon, a 2-yard scramble by Gardner, and Fitzgerald Toussaint's 41-yard romp to close the scoring.
Minnesota, 5-4 on the season and 1-4 in the Big Ten, travel to Illinois next Saturday, probably the Gophers' best shot at earning their sixth victory to become eligible for a bowl game.