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Gardner continues making strides

EVANSTON, Ill. -- Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges doesn't believe in putting in backup quarterbacks just so they can get some game experience. Especially not when his starting quarterback, Denard Robinson, is one of the most explosive signal-callers in the country.

And through the first four games of the season, with the schedule getting tougher by the game, it appeared as though backup quarterback Devin Gardner would never see the field.

"Devin is a great quarterback," senior running back Mike Shaw said. "And it's tough being behind Denard, but when your number is called you have to be ready to perform."

Gardner appeared on the second play of the Big Ten opener against Minnesota. He went on to rush for 47 yards and completed 2 of 5 passes for 31 yards as Michigan won 58-0.

So after Robinson threw three interceptions in the first half against Northwestern on Saturday night, and with No. 12 Michigan trailing by 10 points, people began to wonder whether Borges would pull Robinson -- not to give Gardner experience, but to close out the game for the Wolverines.

Gardner had come in during the first quarter and run for 3 yards, but he wasn't seen again until midway through the third quarter. He completed his first pass, a 6-yard throw to junior running back Vincent Smith at the Northwestern 19. Robinson followed that up with a 12-yard rush and left the field with what appeared to be a hand injury.

For the first time this season, Gardner was left alone with the very real possibility that he could be playing the rest of the game. He responded by running for a touchdown that gave Michigan its first lead since early in the first quarter.

"I expect that from everyone who goes on the field, so I expect that from him," senior wide receiver Junior Hemingway said of Gardner's early production. "Devin came in the game, knowing his call -- we knew he was going to make the play. He does the same thing in practice."

Robinson did return, but Gardner still saw some more time on the field. He threw his second and final pass during the next drive -- a 19-yarder to sophomore wide receiver Jeremy Jackson, who collected a first down for Michigan at the Northwestern 3.

Gardner attempted only two passes in the game, but the sophomore looked comfortable controlling the Michigan offense in the Wolverines' first away game.

"I was glad to see Devin be very quarterback-like," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said.

Borges said last week that the Wolverines have only skimmed the surface in his offensive package -- especially those plays that might feature both Robinson and Gardner. The backup quarterback should be getting more comfortable, and that could be pivotal for the Wolverines this season.

"Everyone on our roster can play," Shaw said. "And coach says all the time, 'It's not who is at the position, it is the expectations for the position.' If your number is called, you have to go in there and ball. That's why you're here."

Chantel Jennings covers University of Michigan sports for WolverineNation. She can be reached at or or on Twitter @chanteljennings.