It sharply deviated from Gardner’s usual effervescence. But now that he’s a focal point of Michigan’s offense, Gardner could be adopting a certain persona.
Yet at one point in Saturday’s win, Taylor Lewan saw another dimension of Gardner, who started at quarterback in place of the injured Denard Robinson.
“The things he did in the huddle was take control of the huddle and the game,” the offensive lineman said. “He’s a leader. And that’s something you need at the quarterback position, regardless of who’s playing at the quarterback position. He was expected to play that way. I knew he was going to play that way.”
For Gardner, being a leader on the field and replacing one of UM’s more charismatic players meant staying true to himself.
“The last thing coach [Brady] Hoke told me before the game was, be myself,” Gardner said. “So I was just being myself and trying to be the best leader I possibly could.”
In Gardner’s first appearance at quarterback since last season — he was 11-of-23 passing for 176 yards and one touchdown in nine games in 2011 — he didn’t see much of a difference, save for more continuity.
“I feel like the only difference is I was able to play in the entire game,” said Gardner, who was 12-of-18 passing for 234 yards and two touchdowns Saturday at Minnesota. “It wasn’t in spurts.”
If Saturday’s win at Minnesota was a trial run, then consider Gardner’s season debut at quarterback a preview of what Michigan’s offense will look like next season.
During his weekly media availability Monday, Hoke was asked about the long-term future for Gardner. Both he and Gardner said the plan for 2013 is to return Gardner to quarterback.
“That’s a goal of mine, and [the coaches] would cater to that," Gardner said. “I was just helping the team this year and I’m still helping the team this year. If they need me at quarterback right now or if they need me at receiver, I’ll be able to do it.”
But short-term, there’s still the matter of Robinson’s health. The senior sustained an injury to the ulnar nerve in his right arm Oct. 27 at Nebraska, and while Robinson practiced last week, he didn’t play at Minnesota.
Hoke also said that Robinson took snaps during Sunday’s practice, yet shed little light on who would start Saturday against Northwestern. Hypothetically, Hoke said, the starter is “whoever comes out there Saturday at 12:01.”
“If Denard’s healthy,” Hoke said, “he starts.”
On the weekly depth chart, Gardner is listed as Michigan’s No. 2 quarterback behind Robinson — and is also listed as the No. 2 wide receiver. But if the depth chart means anything, then on paper, Gardner has supplanted Russell Bellomy as Robinson’s backup.
Hoke wouldn’t initially discuss Bellomy’s status or situation, and when asked later if it could be long-term, Hoke gave a clipped answer.
“I don’t know,” Hoke said.
Hoke said he and his staff did not consider playing Gardner at quarterback in Lincoln, Neb., after Robinson left the game. In that loss, Bellomy was 3-for-16 passing for 38 yards and three interceptions.
Still, Gardner got thrown into a fire at Minnesota. The outcome, needless to say, was a little more favorable.
“There’s always doubts and questions, and it’s easy to do things in practice,” Gardner said. “But live action, when bullets are truly flying, is when you can prove that you can do things.”
IOWA TIME SET: Michigan will have a noon kickoff when it hosts Iowa on Nov. 17 at Michigan Stadium.
The game will be broadcast either on ESPN or ESPN2.
GROZA AWARD: Michigan kicker Brendan Gibbons has been named a semifinalist for the Lou Groza National Collegiate Place-Kicker Award.
Gibbons, a redshirt junior, is one of 20 semifinalists for the award. Gibbons is 13 of 15 on field goals — including a 52-yard kick at Nebraska — and 30 for 30 on extra points.
Contact Rachel Lenzi at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.