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MINNEAPOLIS — There’s no certainty that Michigan watched the fourth quarter of Nebraska’s last-minute win at Michigan State.
By the time Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez connected with Jamal Turner for the game-winning touchdown in the final seconds in East Lansing, Mich., the Wolverines were already on a plane back to Ann Arbor after Saturday’s 35-13 win at Minnesota.
Both wins didn’t do much to help Michigan’s Big Ten championship hopes. The Huskers and the Wolverines remain knotted atop the Legends Division — with Nebraska holding the tie-breaker by virtue of its 26-9 win over Michigan on Oct. 27 in Lincoln, Neb.
Unranked in this week’s Associated Press top 25 poll and the USA Today coaches poll, the Wolverines (6-3, 4-1 Big Ten) have three games left in the regular season, beginning with Saturday’s home game against Northwestern (7-2, 3-2). If the Wolverines want to be in the chase for the Big Ten championship, they’ll need a win this week, and they’ll need help.
The Wolverines will have to focus on their own cause, which could come with or without quarterback Denard Robinson. The senior sat out Saturday’s win at Minnesota, a week after sustaining an injury to the ulnar nerve in his right arm.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke said after Saturday’s game that he anticipated Robinson to return this weekend — though he said the same in the days leading up to the game at Minnesota. Michigan announced that Robinson would not play in the final minutes before kickoff.
Devin Gardner, however, was a formidable replacement. In his first appearance at quarterback this season after playing in Michigan’s first eight games at wide receiver, the junior threw for 234 yards on 12 of 18 completions for two touchdowns and ran for 21 yards and a touchdown. It was Michigan’s first game with a touchdown since Oct. 13.
“It didn’t surprise us,” Hoke said of Gardner’s transition. “We gave him a lot of snaps. He’s been in the offense enough, knows most of it, I would say, or all of it. Being a receiver, that’s a whole different animal. I think that helped with some development. I think he did a nice job with the team.”
Gardner said after the game that he spent the week preparing as if he was going to start at quarterback and drew from his experience of playing at wide receiver.
“At receiver, you know what kind of balls you don’t like,” Gardner said. “It really helps in practice because you throw a bad ball and you have to re-do it, and you get really tired re-running routes. A quarterback doesn't really get tired because he's only dropping back. It just helps me appreciate what they do.
“I’ve played quarterback, so I felt good.”
Gardner also leaned on Robinson, who was dressed and on the sidelines at Minnesota.
“He talked to me all week, and he’s a great teammate,” Gardner said. “He felt like he was down, and someone was going have to step up, and I just thank him for that. He was in my head the whole game, telling me what he saw and everything, congratulating me, and after I threw an interception, he made sure he kept me up.”
As the season gets shorter, the question becomes, will Robinson be in the huddle this weekend?
“I’m very optimistic,” Hoke said.
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