Mistake-free Michigan gets back on track

October, 5, 2013
10/05/13
8:42
PM ET
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan was referring to the Wolverines’ recently criticized quarterback, but it might as well have been a statement about the team in its entirety following Saturday’s 42-13 home win against Minnesota.

[+] EnlargeDevin Gardner
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsQuarterback Devin Gardner was 13-of-17 for 235 yards and no turnovers in Michigan's win over Minnesota.
“He wasn’t playing like himself,” Lewan said of Devin Gardner, whose carelessness with the ball played large roles in close victories against supposed also-rans Akron and UConn. “It was a good off week, and things settled down for him.”

Lewan admitted that he was downright irritable after the nerve-fraying win at UConn, saying he would not apologize for a 4-0 team.

“I’m not going to apologize for 5-0 either,” the All-American lineman said.

This time he was smiling.

That grin as an indication, the postgame had a different tone than wins that required late defensive stops to secure victories against one team that lost 43-3 Saturday to Ohio (Akron) and one team that now has an interim coach (UConn).

The Wolverines, who got their first Big Ten win and held on to the Little Brown Jug, outscored Minnesota 35-6 starting with a score late in the second quarter.

“Things we’d been good at in the past we had slipped on,” Gardner said. “It felt good to get rolling again.”

There might have been little drama for the Wolverines, which was welcome, but there was one potential discovery.

Hoke told ESPN.com on Friday that tight end Devin Funchess would see some time on the outside, at receiver, to create mismatches for the 6-foot-4, 235-pound sophomore.

Funchess did play mostly outside, and the mismatches were prevalent all day. Michigan didn’t even try a pass in the first quarter, but Funchess still had four catches for 62 yards -- including a 24-yard touchdown -- in the first half.

“We want to take advantage of his assets,” Hoke said.

Funchess finished the day with seven receptions for 151 yards and that score. His 46-yard catch down the sideline, illustrating his potential as a vertical threat, set up the team’s final offensive touchdown.

Blake Countess’ 72-yard pick-six punctuated the rout, sending 111,079 fans spilling out into Main Street. Most of them were pleased, as opposed to the past two wins that had fans on edge and analysts picking apart the Wolverines and their quarterback.

Gardner had turned the ball over seven times (five interceptions, two fumbles) versus Akron and UConn.

Michigan, and Gardner, had no giveaways Saturday. That ended an unfortunate streak of 25 consecutive games with at least one turnover.

“When you don’t turn the ball over, it’s a good day,” said Gardner, who completed 13 of 17 passes for 235 yards and one score -- all in the final three quarters. “We responded. That’s the best way I can describe it.”

There was a message in Michigan’s approach to the game too. It came out with runs on its first 10 offensive plays, including a six-play touchdown drive on its initial possession.

In addition to the questions about Gardner, the offensive line had likewise been scrutinized. The Wolverines had new starters at center and left guard, trying to shake things up.

Hoke talked Friday about intentionally physical practices during the bye week. The Wolverines even had one 6 a.m. practice.

The team wound up rushing Saturday for just 113 yards on 35 carries (3.2 yards per carry), but it had four rushing scores -- including two by starter Fitzgerald Toussaint. Freshman Derrick Green added a rushing touchdown, the second of his rookie season.

Lewan might have been smiling, but he wasn’t leaving the stadium completely satisfied.

“We should have gotten Fitz 100 yards,” he said early in his visit with reporters. “[Our push] was better than it has been, but not up to our potential.

“That’s a hard word, potential -- because it means you haven’t done it yet.”

Hoke said Friday that the team would approach this stretch, between open dates, as a three-game schedule. A trip to Penn State is next, followed by a visit from Indiana. The Hoosiers upset the Lions on Saturday, winning in that series for the first time ever.

“I think we’re improving,” Hoke said. “I think we’ve got a long way to go.”

• Joined ESPN as Insider's national college football writer in April 2012
• Previously wrote for The Oklahoman and The Post and Courier

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