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November 17, 2012Michigan entered November hoping it had a quarterback ready for the stretch run. Now it features two.
Iowa hasn't witnessed a more devastating combination than senior quarterback Denard Robinson and junior QB Devin Gardner since blight and locusts blew into town at the same time.
The scintillating senior duo - highlighted by Robinson's triumphant return from injury at quarterback and running back - simply devastated the Hawkeyes in a 42-17 scorched-Earth finale at Michigan Stadium.
Robinson drew thunderous cheers just for getting on the field, but this wasn't a fleeting appearance. He rushed 13 times for 98 yards, caught two passes for 24 more and immediately gave Ohio State's defensive staff a week-long migraine.
Meanwhile, Gardner experienced his finest day yet behind center. He tore the Hawkeyes up with three touchdown tosses and three more scores on the ground, connecting on 18 of 23 for 314 yards and adding 37 rushing yards on nine carries.
The Wolverines scored touchdowns the first six times they touched the football. Any thoughts Kirk Ferentz's squad harbored about road feistiness washed away in a tsunami of offensive effectiveness by the home team.
"He is elusive back there, tough to bring down and tough to contain first of all," Ferentz said of Gardner. "You think you have got him and he buys time. They have got very good skilled players and they have had that traditionally.
"It looks to me that they have got it again. I think they have three very good receivers, not including if Robinson goes out there. That quarterback has really done a nice job."
Robinson did go out there, and the combination proved devastating, the Wolverines piling up 513 total yards to Iowa's 309.
It wasn't all sunshine on Senior Day. Michigan experienced both ends of the emotional spectrum on the very first drive. Robinson, to turf-rattling cheers, got the ball at tailback on the opening two plays of the game. He later moved to quarterback then back to tailback, taking a Gardner handoff and pitching to redshirt junior tailback Fitzgerald Toussaint.
Toussaint broke off a 10-yard gain, but it proved to be Michigan's loss. He wound up carted off with a serious leg injury and taken away for surgery, casting a huge shadow over the Wolverines' 12-play, 70-yard touchdown drive, capped by Gardner's one-yard TD sneak.
"He's in the hospital now, and had surgery," Hoke said. "We'll leave it at that for now. His mother wasn't here, he had two brothers here, but we'll leave it at that. I want to make sure his mother knows first."
Iowa (4-7) demonstrated it hadn't just showed up for Robinson's going-away party, answering with a 14-play, 75-yard drive of its own. Quarterback James Vandenberg (19-for-26, 181 yards, two TDs) moved the Hawkeyes on a series of Mark Weisman (16 carries, 63 yards) runs and short throws. He then unloaded a 16-yard, play-action toss to wideout Henry Krieger Coble for the game-tying touchdown.
The Hawkeyes felt the sting of both Michigan quarterbacks on the Wolverines' second possession. Robinson broke free on a 40-yard bolt at the end of the first quarter, then Gardner delivered a 37-yard touchdown pass to wide-open fifth-year senior receiver Roy Roundtree (five catches, 83 yards) on a broken coverage. The Wolverines led, 14-7, at the 13:05 mark of the second quarter, and Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz's crew faced a double dilemma.
"We didn't do a great job keeping up with those guys when we were in the right coverage, and then we dropped a couple of coverages too, which made it really easy for them," Ferentz said.
The Hawkeyes clawed within four, 14-10, on a 26-yard Mike Meyer field goal moments later. But the Wolverines' offense continued looking like a T-90 tank through corn stubble against the Iowa defense.
Gardner loaded up for a 51-yard bomb to junior wideout Jeremy Gallon (five catches, 133 yards), then finished off the eight-play, 75-yard drive with a one-yard touchdown sweep on fourth-and-goal. At 21-10 with 5:20 left in the half, the Wolverines found themselves 3-for-3 on touchdown drives, and the Iowa band began warming up on "Home For The Holidays."
When the Wolverines made it 4-for-4 on TD marches, the Hawkeyes could have caught the early hay wagon home.
Gardner gunned a 31-yarder to a wide-open Gallon, then bought time on a 17-yard toss to Roundtree. The junior QB finished off the drive with another sweet senior moment, rolling right and tossing a throwback screen left to senior tailback Vincent Smith, who followed an end zone welcoming committee 18 yards for a touchdown and a 28-10 lead with 18 seconds left in the half.
"It really worked on our defense," Gardner said of Michigan's multi-faceted offensive attack. "They had a rough time, and every time we got into the locker room after practice, they said, 'Man, they're going to have a problem with that.' That's enough for me."
Gardner assured more of the same to open the second half, taking U-M 81 yards in 11 plays for a touchdown to make it 35-10. He floated one to a well-covered Gallon over the middle, the diminutive wideout double-clutching it while fighting off a defender for a 31-yard gain.
"Gallon made a terrific catch with concentration, the ball was where it needed to be and it was defended pretty decently," Hoke said.
On fourth-and-one at the Iowa 3, Gardner faked a handoff and rolled into the end zone once again, leaving the Hawkeyes deader than an Ottumwa opossum beneath the business end of a steamroller.
Gardner added a 29-yard touchdown pass to freshman tight end Devin Funchess, who found himself as uncovered as an old-school streaker.
Iowa tacked on a meaningless touchdown after the game was long-since decided, but the crowd of 113,016 at Michigan Stadium had already begun cheering: "Beat Ohio."
The Wolverines insisted they'd savor this win, before looking ahead. The seniors, especially, soaked up one last ride inside Michigan Stadium.
But they all know the nostalgia has a short shelf life. Robinson and fellow captain Jordan Kovacs, the fifth-year senior safety, reminded each other on the way out.
"We were reflecting on the journey," Kovacs noted. "Denard said, 'This is crazy, man. I can't believe it's already here.' We looked at each other and said we know what next week is. We're excited about it."