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ANN ARBOR — The early-game struggles may have given the Michigan football team some pause. There were a few moments during the course of the game that may have caused the Wolverines to second-guess themselves.
Only a few.
Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner didn’t immediately panic after he threw an interception less than five minutes into the game. Instead, the redshirt junior found his groove and his team quickly followed suit. No. 17 Michigan rolled to a 59-9 win over Central Michigan in its season opener Saturday at Michigan Stadium.
“I managed the game pretty well,” Gardner said. “There were two things I didn’t do well. I threw two interceptions, but besides that, I felt I was pretty efficient in getting us in the right plays and making the throws, and making plays that worked, and making opportunities for myself.”
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Then, Gardner considered context. His team will go from facing a Mid-American Confernce team in its season opener to facing a national power.
“This first game was a good opportunity for us to knock the rust off, because I’m sure everybody knows the test we have next weekend,” Gardner said, referring to Saturday’s game against Notre Dame.
With Gardner at the helm against the Chippewas, Michigan’s offense struck a balance. The redshirt junior finished with 162 yards and a touchdown on 10 completions and in relief, true freshman Shane Morris had 59 yards on four completions.
In addition, Gardner and Fitzgerald Toussaint drove the running game. In his first game since breaking his left leg in November, Toussaint had 14 carries for 57 yards and two touchdowns. When the reserves stepped in, freshman Derrick Green finished with a game-best 58 yards on 11 carries.
Still, Michigan coach Brady Hoke said that in the wake of the trouncing, room for improvement remained in preparation for Notre Dame.
He noted sloppiness in his team, and pointed out the number of penalties Michigan took: seven, including five in the first half — as three came on Michigan’s second drive of the game.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt we wanted to go out and, with the first impression of this football team, make a good impression,” Hoke said. “At the same time, there’s so much to teach from the film. So many mistakes.
“It’s a game that we were fortunate to grow enough and get enough guys in, so that they’re a real team in game situations, and we can correct from it.”
The most notable gaffe came early when Central Michigan defensive back Jarret Chapman intercepted Gardner on Michigan’s first drive, which put the Chippewas on Michigan’s 6 and in a prime spot to tie the game.
“You don’t want to get behind and give a team like Central confidence, where they would give you a really good game,” said Gardner, whose team held Central Michigan to a field goal on the drive. “We kept on pounding away, so they didn’t even have an opportunity.“
Leading 7-3 after Joe Reynolds recovered Dymonte Thomas’ blocked punt and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown two minutes into the game, Michigan faced third and 4 on its 42-yard line. Gardner found Drew Dileo, who cut across the field to complete the 36-yard play. Gardner’s 22-yard touchdown scramble on the ensuing helped Michigan to a 14-3 lead and broke open the game.
Toussaint’s 1-yard touchdown run gave the Wolverines a 21-3 lead four seconds into the second quarter, then the Wolverines held off a pair of substantial drives by the Chippewas — an 11-play drive steered by Central Michigan quarterback Alex Niznak (11 for 22 passing for 131 yards, with one interception) that ended at Michigan’s 33, and a seven-play drive set up at Michigan’s 29 after Jason Wilson intercepted Gardner — a drive that ended in seven plays with Ron Coluzzi’s second field goal to cut Michigan’s lead to 21-6.
“We practice that,” defensive back Raymon Taylor said of both situations. “When things like that happen in a game, you do what you do in practice. There’s no rush, no panic. We just play what the coach calls.”
Jeremy Gallon (four catches for 47 yards) and Gardner scored in the final 2:04 of the first half to give Michigan a 35-6 lead at the half, and Toussaint, Green and Thomas Rawls scored third-quarter touchdowns to give Michigan a 56-6 lead going into the fourth.
“We’re fortunate enough that it worked out our way,” Hoke said, noting that CMU was bowl-eligible in 2012. “But we were very impressed.”