Minnesota isn’t a good football team. So, the only way Michigan was going to lose its first home game of the Brady Hoke era would have been If the Wolverines beat themselves Sarturday, like they had been doing the last few weeks. Instead, Michigan played their most conservative and cleanest offensive game of the season and got a 42-13 win.
It was no coincidence that this was Devin Gardner’s first career start without throwing an interception. Michigan’s offense came out running the ball and really only threw the ball as a compliment to the run game. They actually didn’t complete a pass until the second quarter. Michigan found success on the ground early and there was really no reason to get away from that too much.
As a result, Gardner threw just 17 passes. He was very efficient with his small volume of opportunities though, completing 13-17 for 235 yards, a TD and for the first time, no picks. Not only was Michigan’s passing game limited in attempts, but when Gardner did throw the ball, they were low risk throws. A huge majority of Gardner’s passes either came off the play action after consecutive runs, were at massive target Devin Funchess, or were back shoulder throws, where only his target could get to them. Most passes met multiple of those criteria.
There weren’t many throws to wideouts crossing over the middle either, where Gardner has been prone to throwing picks. Heck, Michigan rarely had more than one wide receiver on the field, instead utilizing a two tight end, one full back, one half back and one wideout formation. This led to Funchess having a career day, catching 7 balls for 151 yards and a TD. The other 6 completions, split among Jeremy Gallon, Drew Dileo and Jehu Chesson were spread out, while Funchess was the clear top target.
Looking forward, this has to build confidence for Michigan’s offense. They were able to run the ball decently well (though they averaged just 3.2 ypa, they did run for 4 TDs and control the pace) and the passing game was efficient and effective when needed. Gardner looked less shaky than he had against Akron and UConn and hopefully Al Borges will be able to give him more leash now, as Big Ten play progresses.
Saturday’s win might not have been pretty, but it was very solid for the offense. Now they will have to transfer this play to a hostile environment, when they play at Penn State next week.
You can follow Alex Dale on Twitter @alexdaleCFB