It looked like a certain loss for Michigan this week. It looked like Devin Gardner, for all his efforts to lead Michigan to victory, was going to take the loss after he threw a terrible interception to Demetrius Dugar on the first play from scrimmage after Northwestern retook the lead at 31-28 with 3:59 left.
It especially looked like a loss after Northwestern converted a first down on 4th-and-1 on the ensuing drive, as a Kain Colter dive got the ball about an inch past the final link in the chains. That meant Northwestern, nursing that three-point lead, could push the clock past 30 seconds left before giving the ball back to Michigan—and that's exactly what the Wildcats did.
And then with the last few seconds of the game looking like little more than a formality, Gardner threw deep and found Roy Roundtree for a miraculous juggling catch and a 53-yard gain to the Northwestern 9-yard line. One spike and an easy Brendan Gibbons field goal later, the game was tied and it was time for overtime.
Gardner excelled there too, finding Roundtree again for a crucial 17-yard completion on 2nd-and-10 on Michigan's opening possession, and when two shots up the middle left Michigan a yard shy of the end zone, Gardner took off on a play-action bootleg and easily outran Northwestern's defense to the corner and the touchdown.
That would be all Michigan needed for the win, as Northwestern was unable to convert so much as a first down on its possession, much less get into the end zone. Your final score is 38-31, and your hero of the day is Devin Gardner.
Gardner's final stats are pretty stellar, if not perfect—16-for-29, 289 yards, two touchdowns and a pick through the air, and nine rushes for 47 yards and two more scores on the ground. That pick was a problem, especially given the situation and what a hopeless throw it was. Beyond that, though, Gardner showed an uncanny ability to make plays when they mattered, accounting for 13 of Michigan's 21 first downs and four of the Wolverines' five touchdowns.
And, you know, that play to Roundtree.
There's no shortage of consequence in that play and subsequent comeback for Michigan. Without it, the Wolverines aren't officially out the Legends Division race, but they're in need of a lot of help. Now, Michigan's still behind (pending the Penn State-Nebraska result), but it's one Husker loss away from being in position to book its tickets to Indianapolis and the Big Ten Championship.
More importantly, with Denard Robinson still sidelined indefinitely with that lingering ulnar nerve injury, Michigan needed a quarterback—and Russell Bellomy clearly wasn't that. Gardner has stepped up in an enormous way and established himself as the signal-caller for Michigan, now and possibly in 2013.
If Gardner keeps making big plays like he did Saturday against Northwestern, that "possibly" turns into "definitely."