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Notebook: Defense stumbles, Gardner all smiles

Erin Kirkland/Daily
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By Luke Pasch, Daily Sports Editor
Published November 10, 2012

Midway through the third quarter on Saturday, there was an uneasy feeling in the Big House that the game was slowly slipping away from Michigan

Northwestern had the ball up a touchdown, and the Wildcat offensive attack was relentless. Quarterback Kain Colter was rolling, running back Venric Mark was spinning out of tackles and Northwestern was suddenly in the Michigan red zone again.

Then, on third-and-goal from the Michigan eight-yard line, senior defensive end Craig Roh swam through the offensive line and smothered Colter in the backfield for a nine-yard loss, keeping Northwestern out of the end zone.

“It was big for us,” said fifth-year senior linebacker Kenny Demens. “Had that not happened, and they went in to score seven, they would’ve been up and the outcome probably would have been different. That was a huge play for us, Craig Roh stepped up for the defense.”

That was the story of the Wolverine defense on Saturday. It wasn’t pretty — Michigan surrendered 248 yards on the ground and an additional 183 through the air, the most yards of total offense since the season opener against Alabama — but the unit made stops when it was backed up against the wall.

In overtime, Demens himself made the game’s final tackle, halting Northwestern on fourth-and-one when the Wildcats needed to get into the end zone to send the game to a double overtime. Colter kept the ball up the middle, thinking the hole was big enough, but Demens stepped up in the nick of time to send the crowd into an uproar.

“The last tackle there — number one, I like the call that (defensive coordinator Greg Mattison) made because it was one where it may have talked (Northwestern) into running the football because of some of the space inside,” said Michigan coach Brady Hoke. “And then Kenny just did a nice job of just working inside out to the ball, where maybe a little bit earlier he was maybe getting too far ahead of it.”

Still, there’s no question Michigan will go back to the drawing board this week. Throughout the game, the Wolverine perimeter defense was atrocious, as both Colter and Mark were able to get to the sideline to pick up significant yardage. And the defensive backs did not get off their blocks well enough to help the front seven in rush defense.

GARDNER HAVING FUN: Junior quarterback Devin Gardner, who filled in for an injured Denard Robinson for the second straight game, was all smiles for his post game press conference. He finished the game with 286 passing yards and two touchdowns, with 47 more yards on the ground and two rushing touchdowns.

“I knew my time would come eventually,” Gardner said. “Whether this year or next year, it just happened to come a little earlier than expected. So it’s not like a, ‘Haha, in your face,’ type thing. You guys saw what I’ve done in previous years, and I hadn’t proved that I was the quarterback that I felt that I was and that my teammates knew I was, so I can’t blame you guys for not knowing.”

Indeed, Gardner has impressed in his first two starts this season, and he has put fans’ minds at ease in Robinson’s absence, especially after redshirt freshman Russell Bellomy’s miserable performance when he initially replaced Robinson in the Nebraska game a couple weeks ago.

Gardner said that he had full confidence in the offense at the end of the game when it got the ball back with 18 seconds left in regulation and needed three points to tie.

“There’s no option but to go score,” Gardner said. “We’ve worked way to hard to this point to not get the score. We have time on the clock, and the defense gave us a place to stand. (Fifth-year senior cornerback J.T. Floyd) told me, he said, ‘We gave you a chance, so let’s go. Let’s get the touchdown.’ ”

Michigan wound up settling for a field goal, but he was enough to extend the contest and eventually win in overtime, 38-31.

In a good mood from the win, Gardner fooled around with the media. When one reporter asked fifth-year senior Roy Roundtree whether the Wildcat defensive back tipped the pass that he caught to set up the game-tying field goal, Gardner chimed in, “Hey, that’s neither here nor there.”

KOVACS HONORED WITH LEGEND PATCH: Prior to kickoff, Kovacs was announced as the newest recipient of a Michigan Football Legend patch, and he will wear No. 11 for the remainder of his career.

“I’ve worn No. 32 for quite some time, I think I’ll always be No. 32,” Kovacs said. “But I think it’s a great opportunity to recognize our legends.”

The No. 11 jersey was worn by the Wistert brothers — Francis, Albert and Alvin — for different Michigan teams beginning in 1931. The eldest, Francis, played on back-to-back national championship squads, and he was also a Big Ten MVP for the Michigan baseball team. Francis later played for the Cincinnati Reds before coming back to Ann Arbor to be an assistant football coach.

The middle brother, Albert, played from 1940-42 for head coach Fritz Crisler, and he went on to be a decorated offensive tackle for the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL.

“I actually had the opportunity to meet Albert yesterday, and he said that when he was first given 11, he was so humbled, and he was so excited and it was a huge honor for him,” Kovacs said. “He prayed before every game that he put it on that he’d be worthy enough to wear it. So that’s kind of my approach.”

The youngest brother was Alvin, who played defensive tackle for the Wolverines at age 30 after serving in the U.S. Marine Corps in World War II. He was an All-American in 1948 and 1949.