In what could be a rivalry-ending game, the Michigan Wolverines defeated the Notre Dame Fighting Irish 41-30 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was a tension-filled affair as both teams looked to its stars to step up and shine.
In the end, it was quarterback Devin Gardner and wide receiver Jeremy Gallon who willed the Wolverines to victory and became a premier duo.
Sans a few mishaps, Gardner was sensational against Notre Dame, completing 21 of 33 passes for 294 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. Gardner also carried the ball 13 times for 82 yards and a touchdown, establishing his duel-threat capability.
After a tight battle, Gardner's strong plays outweighed his mistakes, and Michigan won 41-30.
Devin Gardner goes 21-33, 294 Yds, 4 TD, 1 Rush TD as Michigan beats Notre Dame, 41-30. WR Jeremy Gallon scores 3 TD. #NDvsMICH— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) September 8, 2013
As you can see, Gardner wasn't alone in his contributions.
Gallon, a 5'8" senior, caught eight passes for 184 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran the ball once for 14 yards, displaying the big-play ability that has Ann Arbor buzzing about what he can do for this year's team.
If you don't believe the hype, watch this video:
Tavon Austin may be in the NFL, but that doesn't mean the days of 5'8" receivers dominating college football are behind us. Gallon is the next in line, and Gardner is right there with him.
It all starts with what they have individually meshing perfectly with the chemistry they share.
The craze in college football has become the value of the dual-threat quarterback. Gone are the days where Eric Crouch and Michael Vick are rare breeds, as the likes of Robert Griffin III, Johnny Manziel and Troy Smith have helped to revolutionize what it means to be a collegiate field general.
Is Devin Gardner a Heisman Trophy candidate?
Gardner is a part of the next generation.
Gardner tallied 18 total touchdowns in five games during the 2012 season, throwing for 11 and rushing for seven. In a full 12-game season, that equates to roughly 43 touchdowns, which isn't such an absurd number to imagine.
Through two games in 2013, Gardner has eight total touchdowns, with five through the air and three rushing the football.
Gardner wasn't spectacular during Week 1, but he did manage to throw for one touchdown and run for two. This was enough to establish momentum, which he carried into the game against Notre Dame as he posted five total touchdowns and 376 total yards from scrimmage.
Now, all Gardner needs is to eliminate the boneheaded plays. As is the case with any quarterback in his first full season as a starter, however, Gardner is undergoing a learning process that every player experiences.
The encouraging sign is that Gardner has room for growth.
Room for Growth
There's absolutely no question that Gardner has room for growth as a starting quarterback. That was never more evident than on 3rd-and-11 at the 12-minute, six-second mark of the fourth quarter.
For those who missed it, Gardner was blitzed, proceeded to run roughly 10 yards deeper than necessary and was nearly brought down for a safety. Unfortunately, avoiding the safety led to Gardner irrationally throwing the ball into the air.
Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame's start defensive end, came down with a magnificent grab to turn the play into a pick-six. Skip Bayless of ESPN First Take described it well:
Devin Gardner has made a lot of terrific plays tonight but he just made what-was-he-THINKING? play that got ND back in this game.— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) September 8, 2013
For once, we can't debate Bayless' opinion.
That play embodied what Gardner has left to prove, as he turned what should've been a sack into seven points going the other way. From there, Notre Dame went from trailing 20-34 to down just seven points at 27-34.
Gardner responded by nearly throwing another interception with just under seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Fortunately, the pick was made out of bounds, and with an opportunity to redeem himself, Gardner threw a dime to Drew Dileo to make it 41-30 with the extra point.
It's only fitting that Gardner displayed elite upside and dangerous decision-making in the same quarter.
In the same quarter he defies logic, Devin Gardner defies physics. How did he get that ball out of his hand!?— Andy Hutchins (@AndyHutchins) September 8, 2013
You can teach poise in the pocket, but you can't teach dynamic ability.
Gallon's Big-Play Ability
When big plays transpire through the air, the response is often praise for the quarterback. With that being said, wide receivers don't get enough credit for their ability to create yards after the catch.
That's what makes Gallon so valuable.
The Wolverines have been a run-oriented team in recent seasons, with Denard Robinson opting to scramble more than he did throw. In turn, Michigan's receiving corps was limited in terms of the numbers it posted.
With Gardner under center, expect Gallon to continue picking up monster stat lines.
Gallon posted four receptions for 47 yards and a touchdown during Michigan's season opener against Central Michigan. One week later, he elevated his game to the next level, doubling his reception total and picking up 184 yards with three touchdowns.
The latter number is what's so encouraging.
He may not have size on his side, but Gallon is the type of receiver that can break into the open field and pick up big gains. He can also become a vertical threat, using his speed to get behind the safeties and score touchdowns.
Four scores in two games justifies that hype.
If Gallon is able to live up to the hype, and all signs say he will, the Wolverines have a legitimate tandem to fear. In turn, the Wolverines will elevate their status from a Big Ten force into potential national championship contenders.
It starts on offense for Michigan, and with Gardner and Gallon linking up, there isn't much you can do to stop this team.