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October 19, 2013

Records fall as Wolverines hang on

Michigan Athletics Director David Brandon probably doesn't want to invest in new stadium scoreboards this quickly, following a mega-million remake of Michigan Stadium. He'll have technicians checking the meltdown, though, after the Wolverines and Hoosiers left them smoking.

U-M surged to a school-record 751 total yards in stiff-arming the high-scoring Hoosiers, 63-47. Devin Gardner fired away through the air (21-for-29, 503 yards, two touchdowns) and scrambled past the defensively hapless Hoosiers on the ground (15 carries, 81 yards, three TDs) for another school record of 584 individual total yards.

Wideout Jeremy Gallon snagged 14 catches for a Big Ten-record 369 yards and three TDs, and the Wolverines played just enough defense in the end to win. Safety Thomas Gordon's two fourth-quarter interceptions set up Gardner's game-clinching plunge into the end zone, then put away what seemed like Indiana's 100th-charge downfield.

"Coach Hoke always reminds me we need more," Gardner acknowledged. Coach [Fred] Jackson came up to me and said it's going to be like a basketball game. You have to keep scoring."

It felt like an NBA All-Star game for a while, Indiana ringing up 572 yards of offense on its own, including 288 yards passing and three touchdowns by quarterback Tre Roberson.

In the end, Michigan Stadium breathed one major sigh of relief in a game that left its denizens breathless.

"A lot of frustration," noted U-M head coach Brady Hoke, as defensive minded as they come. "Sickening, sick feeling, that kind of thing. You don't win championships without playing defense, and we didn't play good defense today."

But they did enough, on this day, to move on at 6-1, 2-1 in the Big Ten.

Indiana delivered an early airmail reminder of its quick strike ability. Starting QB Nate Sudfeld (8-for-19, 122 yards) gunned a 59-yard touchdown strike to wideout Cody Latimer in the opening five minutes, putting the Wolverines in rally mode. Little did anyone know, that marked the tiniest snowflake on the iceberg, for both teams.

The Wolverines wasted no time, either. Set up by a 44-yard kickoff return by Dennis Norfleet, the Wolverines covered the other 56 in five plays, Gardner bolting in on a keeper to square the scoreboard at 7-7.

U-M then demonstrated big-play ability of its own, Gardner tossing a quick pass to Gallon, who bolted away for 70 yards. With the skies opening into a downpour at Michigan Stadium, Gallon then made a juggling grab of a 14-yard toss down to the Indiana 1.

Facing fourth down at the 1, the Wolverines opted to crash the gates, Fitzgerald Toussaint (32 carries, 151 yards, four touchdowns) bolting left behind Michigan's reconfigured line for the touchdown, making it 14-7.

"I knew we'd need some points," Hoke noted ruefully, of the decision to go on fourth down.

Another long drive ended with a jarring flashback, placekicker Brendan Gibbons getting a 41-yard field goal attempt blocked. But the Wolverines acted quickly to issue unspoken assurances than this week was not last week.

U-M made it 21-7 with 7:02 left in the first half on Toussaint's seven-yard scamper. He'd gotten the seven-play, 59-yard drive rolling on a nice throwback screen from Gardner for 27 yards. Gallon added a 17-yard catch to set up Toussaint, who bounced outside to give the Wolverines a two-TD cushion.

Indiana doesn't stay in neutral long, though. The Hoosiers responded with a 57-yard, three-play touchdown drive, scoring on Roberson's 33-yard strike to Shane Wynn. It took all of 63 seconds to remind the Wolverines that coach Kevin Wilson's fast break on FieldTurf wasn't going away.

"As a defensive player, you have to be frustrated by giving up that many points, but it's all about the team and the offense held us up and we held them up when we needed to," Gordon said. "We're brothers."

Knowing U-M couldn't stop scoring, Gardner drove the Wolverines back downfield 91 yards in a dozen plays for a touchdown with 40 seconds left in the half. Gardner went 4-for-5 throwing for 56 yards on the drive, with one dropped pass, and connected with Gallon on a 21-yard TD toss.

The Hoosiers left a little reminder just before intermission, scrambling downfield to set up Mitch Ewald's 50-yard field goal bomb, making it 28-17 at the half.

Michigan got the ball back to start the second half … but not for long. Toussaint fumbled Gardner's pitch, IU's Flo Hardin scooping up the ball and rumbling 13 yards to the Michigan 5. Tevin Coleman plunged in from two yards out, and less than two minutes into the second half, the Wolverines clung to a 28-24 edge.

The Wolverines just kept scoring by the Gallon, though, Gardner lofting a 50-yard ICBM that the fifth-year senior caught in stride to quickly reestablish the 11-point edge, 35-24.

The Hoosiers answered in all of 1:50, covering 71 yards in eight plays, scoring on a five-yard toss by Roberson to an uncovered Wynn. At 35-31 with 9:27 left in the third quarter, it began looking like a last-possession game.

Ewald pulled the Hoosiers within a point, 35-34, on a 23-yard field goal with 6:17 left in the third quarter.

Gardner went right back to the well, unloading a 70-yard bomb to Gallon, giving him a Michigan-record 290 yards receiving and setting up Toussaint's one-yard TD plunge. A 42-34 lead with more than 19 minutes to play felt safe as a live chicken in a crocodile enclosure … and it was.

Roberson unloaded a 67-yard rocket to Kofi Hughes (six catches, 138 yards, one TD), who ripped the ball away from freshman defensive back Channing Stribling. Hughes went over Stribling's back to snatch it and race away for the TD.

The Hoosiers' defense stood as small as it's offense did tall, though, and the Wolverines kept on rolling. Gardner led a 75-yard TD drive, 53 of it on throws to Gallon, who blew by the Hoosiers and the Big Ten receiving record. Gardner's six-yard TD keeper made it 49-40 with 13:40 left in the game.

But five plays later, Roberson capped a 75-yard drive by dashing 15 yards into the end zone, making it 49-47.

Gardner drove the Wolverines from their own 20 to the IU 2, but fumbled a snap on first-and-goal, IU's David Cooper pouncing on the recovery that looked like it could provided the killer swing in the score-fest.

But three plays later, Gordon turned that around, leaping to pick off a Sudfeld throw over the middle and charging back 30 yards to the Indiana 5.

On third-and-goal at the 6, Gardner barely avoided a Hardin sack, scrambling up the middle and getting hammered at the goal line. He hung onto the football, flipping into the end zone for the score to make it 55-47 with 6:01 left.

"It kind of hurt," Gardner said, when asked about looking relieved. "That was a pretty hard tackle. I was relieved that I didn't die out there. I was just relieved to get out of there. That guy came unblocked. It was pretty scary for me, heart racing a little bit. I saw a lane and I took it."

Gordon then struck again, gathering in a tipped pass for his second interception, giving 109,503 their first deep breath of the entire second half.

The Wolverines took no chances, Gardner gunning a 38-yard third-down pass to Funchess and Toussaint popping free on a 27-yard touchdown run. On a record-setting day, the Wolverines forced the final sparks from a short-circuiting scoreboard.

"We won the football game, that's the ONLY thing I care about," Hoke insisted.

He'll deal with the defensive details later. On a scoreboard-scorching day, Indiana came away the deepest shade of roasted crimson.


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