Michigan Football: Hoke a Winner with Gardner, Rawls in Lineup

Joel GreerCorrespondent INovember 3, 2012

Thomas Rawls (38) follows Patrick Omameh (65)
Thomas Rawls (38) follows Patrick Omameh (65)Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE

The pundits were restless.

After the Michigan Wolverines' disgusting 23-9 loss to the Nebraska Cornhuskers, the armchair quarterbacks demanded change.

They wanted Devin Gardner to be Michigan's new backup quarterback, especially since Russell Bellomy was totally ineffective against the Cornhuskers.

They also expected to see more of powerback Thomas Rawls, who hadn't played since the victory over Illinois, October 13.

The critics certainly got their wish Saturday in Michigan's 35-13 win at Minnesota.

Gardner, who moved  to wide receiver this spring, was actually forced to start at quarterback since Robinson's injured elbow kept him on the sidelines.

After a slow start, Gardner showed off his athletic ability by scrambling, running and throwing his way for a pair of touchdown passes and another on the ground.

His scrambling brought back memories of legendary Minnesota Viking quarterback Fran Tarkenton. On more than one occasion, Gardner reversed his field only to throw the ball to an open receiver.

Gardner arrived in 2010 as a 5-star dual-threat quarterback destined for stardom. Unfortunately, he wound up behind Robinson on the Michigan depth chart.

A year ago, Gardner got his best chance to shine when he replaced an injured Robinson against Illinois. Gardner tossed a 27-yard touchdown strike to Martavious Odoms to cement a 31-14 victory.

With Michigan lacking depth at wide receiver this spring. the coaching staff figured Gardner could use his 6'4", 203-pound frame at wide receiver. Heading into the Minnesota game, Gardner had 16 receptions and four touchdowns.

But when Bellomy made a mess of his backup QB role last week, Hoke moved Gardner back to quarterback, just in case Robinson would have to miss the Minnesota game.

Hoke expected an easy transition from Gardner.

"It didn't surprise us. His ability, we gave him a lot of snaps obviously, been in the offense enough, knows most of it, I would say, or all of it," Hoke told Minnesota media relations. "Being a receiver, being over there, that's a whole different animal. I think that helped with some development. I think he did a nice job of managing the team. I think we had four drives over 79 yards."

Hoke was also criticized for keeping Rawls on the bench. Michigan had lacked any type of power running attack with Toussaint in the lineup. It was as if Hoke was waiting for Toussaint to return to the form of 2011, when he rushed for more than 1,000 yards.

Rawls made his presence felt early in the second quarter when he had six carries in a drive which culminated in a 45-yard touchdown pass from Gardner to Drew Dileo.

The 5'10", 210-pound sophomore was back on the following possession, scoring Michigan's second touchdown on a bruising two-yard run.

Since Michigan ran more I-formation with Gardner at quarterback, Hoke saw more of an opportunity to get Rawls some playing time.

"Well, to be honest with you, we planned on doing a little more a week ago and we didn't, for one reason or another," Hoke commented. "But we wanted to get him involved in the I-back stuff and behind, under center. It kind of suits him."

Rawls finished the afternoon with 16 carries for 43 yards, while Toussaint's late 41-yard touchdown run gave him a total of 70 yards on 13 attempts. 

Gardner was 12-of-18 for 234 yards and two touchdowns along with one interception.