Sunday, November 11, 2012
3 Up, 3 Down: U-M 38, Northwestern 31
By Michael Rothstein
Roy Roundtree has become more productive in recent weeks, and his acrobatic catch set up the game-tying field goal against Northwestern.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Devin Gardner played well at quarterback for a second consecutive week, the Wolverines had a 100-yard receiver emerge for the first time since September, and they came from behind to win yet another game this season in heart-palpatating fashion, this time a 38-31 win over Northwestern.
There were things for Michigan to be concerned with though, especially defensively. Michigan struggled to tackle and a defense that looked stout all season was porous against the Wildcats.
These things and more are hit on in this week’s 3 Up, 3 Down.
1. Devin Gardner as a quarterback
The junior put in another strong performance Saturday, leading three touchdown drives of 75 yards or more and a fourth that went 53 yards, leading to a field goal and tying the game with two seconds left. Gardner completed 16 of 29 passes for 286 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He made smart decisions of when to stay in the pocket and when to run and made very few questionable moves. Even potential mistakes turned positive, as he threw the ball far enough as he was being dragged down for a safety that it was not called intentional grounding.
2.Michigan’s running game
Redshirt junior Fitzgerald Toussaint had his best game of the season Saturday, gaining a season-high 92 yards rushing and also turning a dump-off pass into a 28-yard touchdown, breaking two tackles in the process. It was the best Toussaint has looked all year long and the second straight week he has averaged more than five yards a carry. Of course, a lot of his yards came on a 50-yard run where he also lost his first fumble of the season, but it was progress in comparison to earlier this season.
The fifth-year senior had spent his junior season and most of his senior year in a slump, never catching more than four passes in a game and looking for the numbers he had his sophomore season, when he caught 72 passes for 935 yards and seven touchdowns. He found his sophomore form Saturday, catching five passes -- the most he has had since the 2011 Gator Bowl, when he had nine receptions -- for 139 yards. The 139 yards were his first 100-yard receiving game since he had 114 yards against Wisconsin in 2010 and the most yards he’s had since he set the Michigan single-game receiving yards records with 246 against Illinois in 2010.
It will be a question Michigan will have to ask at some point, and this is not saying Michigan will replace Robinson or definitively should replace him. It’s a statement that the Wolverines at least have to think about it. After seeing how well Gardner has played -- and more importantly, how well the offense has moved -- the past two weeks with Robinson on the sidelines, does he automatically get his job back when he returns from his ulnar nerve injury? Or does Michigan have to give a look to Gardner, who has been consistent and made constant good decisions? The upside here is it gives Michigan some options for creativity, but it will be an interesting decision whenever Robinson becomes healthy again.
2.Defending the edge
It was not a strength for Michigan on Saturday. The Wolverines struggled to contain both Northwestern running back Venric Mark (104 yards and a touchdown) and quarterback Kain Colter (82 yards). The Michigan defense, which had been good so often this season, was shredded by runs to the outside. It handled the middle well, but much like against Air Force in September, when the Wolverines were asked to tackle in space on the outside, things were not smooth at all.
3.Michigan’s Rose Bowl chances
The Wolverines held up what they had to do the past two weeks -- win. They did not receive much help though. Last week, Michigan State couldn’t put away Nebraska in the closing seconds and on Saturday, Penn State led a 20-6 lead slip away, giving the Cornhuskers the win and a much clearer path to the Big Ten championship game (and a potential Rose Bowl appearance). Michigan has to win out and hope Nebraska loses to either Minnesota or Iowa, teams with a combined record of 10-10.