ANN ARBOR — Devin Gardner was well aware of the scrutiny that surrounded his football team in the past two weeks.
The critics questioned the legitimacy of Michigan’s undefeated record.
Questions surrounded quarterback Devin Gardner’s play after his 97-yard passing performance two weeks ago in a come-from-behind win at Connecticut.
During Michigan’s bye week, the coaching staff even juggled the offensive line and promoted a redshirt freshman to start at wide receiver in an attempt to invigorate the offense.
Even with a week off, the Wolverines dropped to No. 19 in the Associated Press top 25 poll. With the start of its Big Ten Conference schedule Saturday at Michigan Stadium, would the Wolverines fall any further?
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Not this week. The Wolverines put any questions and perceptions to rest with a 42-13 win over Minnesota to win the Little Brown Jug in the 100th year of the trophy game.
“We put that behind us,” Gardner said of Michigan’s recent struggles. “We were thinking about Minnesota today. It’s a Big Ten game, the first Big Ten game of the season. You’re never going to get a second chance to make another first impression, and this game will be behind us. We now look forward to the opportunity to head to Happy Valley [to face Penn State].”
Michigan’s win, however, was overshadowed by the absence of Minnesota coach Jerry Kill. The Golden Gophers athletic department released a statement on its Web site prior to the game that Kill, who has epilepsy, suffered a seizure Saturday morning in Minnesota and did not travel to Ann Arbor.
Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys served as Minnesota's acting head coach and worked from the press box at Michigan Stadium.
While the win came against a Minnesota squad that struggled in last week’s loss to Iowa, the Wolverines (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) didn’t win solely on style points.
Sophomore tight end Devin Funchess gave Michigan a 14-7 lead on a touchdown catch with 1:25 left in the second quarter and Fitzgerald Toussaint scored two touchdowns and had 78 yards on 17 carries for the Wolverines, who won despite rushing for only 113 yards on 45 carries.
“The coaches just told me what to do and I did it,” said Funchess, who had a career-best 151 yards on seven catches. “Go out and run, block, and try to get the job done.”
Michigan linebacker James Ross III recovered a fumble by Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner (14 for 21 passing for 145 yards, one touchdown, one interception) less than two minutes into the game, which set up Michigan’s first scoring drive.
Toussaint’s 8-yard touchdown run gave the Wolverines a 7-0 lead at 4:24 of the first quarter and capped a six-play series, all running plays split between Toussaint and true freshman Derrick Green.
Leidner’s 7-yard touchdown pass to Maxx Williams tied the game at 7-7 with 52 seconds left in the first quarter. The Golden Gophers (4-2, 0-2) had five third-down conversions in the 16-play scoring drive.
Facing third-and-14 with less than two minutes before halftime, the Wolverines took a 14-7 lead on Gardner’s 24-yard pass to Funchess.
Less than five minutes into the third quarter, Green’s 2-yard touchdown gave the Wolverines a 21-7 lead with the first of Michigan’s four second-half touchdowns.
After Chris Hawthorne’s 44-yard field goal cut Michigan’s lead to 21-10, Toussaint’s 12-yard touchdown run gave the Wolverines a 28-10 lead with 11 seconds left in the third.
Hawthorne kicked a 27-yard field goal at 4:53 of the fourth, but Gardner (13 for 17 passing, 235 yards and a touchdown) stretched Michigan’s lead to 35-13 with 2:36 left on a 2-yard touchdown run. Gardner’s scoring run came on a third-down conversion, one of six in the second half.
“We couldn’t get them stopped on third down to get them off the field,” said Claeys, whose team was 8 for 15 on third-down conversions but 1 for 5 in the second half.
“They were 10 of 13, and when you do that, you put your offense in a tough situation. I thought we executed better on offense. We played better on third down but as far as execution wise, they played better but I’m definitely disappointed with the loss.”
Blake Countess closed the game with a 72-yard interception return for a touchdown with 1:19 left, and ended a game that may minimize questions about Michigan, which plays Saturday at Penn State.
“We were pretty good on offense and we were rolling pretty good,” Gardner said. “We wavered these last two weeks but we got back to the basics and played our offense to where it was rolling.”