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November 6, 2013

Gardner beat up after facing tough Spartan defense

During Monday's weekly press conference, Michigan coach Brady Hoke said redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner was sore, "Just like Andrew Luck is sore today."

Every time a quarterback takes a snap, he tacitly agrees to the punishment an oncoming defender could potential bring, if he breaks through the line fast enough to get there before the pass is in the air.

But few expect - or could even imagine - the time of beating Gardner took in Saturday's 29-6 defeat at Michigan State. On 38 combined rushing and passing attempts, the quarterback was smacked 27 times by the unrelenting Spartan defense, sacked seven times and was hurried on another seven attempts.

"He was a warrior," offensive coordinator Al Borges said. "He stood in there and threw that sucker. … He stood in there and threw that ball. Defied the pass rush and was unperturbed a lot of times. He got rocked. But as a quarterback, you're going to have a game like this. You're going to take hits and it's going to test your mettle.

"You're going to find out if this is really the position you want to play. He came through. I was so proud of him when it was over. You'd love it to have gone differently, but in terms of courage under fire, you couldn't ask for more."

By the end, Gardner was limping off the field, gasping for breath and fighting through the pain of an afternoon's worth of torment from a defense that held the Wolverines to a program record-low negative-48 yards of rushing offense.

"You're always pretty sore after a game," Gardner said. "If you're not sore, then you didn't go as hard as you could. That's always there. It's hard to ever get sacked. That's a lot of yards you're losing, so it's more of a team thing. You're hurting the team.

"You don't want to get sacked, ever. I don't ever like getting tackled."

The final offensive drive of the game was manned by freshman quarterback Shane Morris, as Gardner watched from the bench with a parka thrown over his pads.

"I would have liked to stay in, but they said it was out of reach, and they wanted Shane the opportunity to get in something like that," Gardner said.

Gardner said he was back at practice Sunday following the game, and he was in the full swing of things Tuesday, preparing for Nebraska and the final four-gam stretch that includes games at Northwestern, at Iowa and a potentially season-defining matchup with Ohio State that has won its last 21 games and is in the running for a spot in the BCS National Championship Game.

The Wolverines have tremendous respect for their quarterback, a sentiment that was only bolstered by his staying tough in the face of such pressure.

"It broke my little heart," fifth-year senior wide receiver Jeremy Gallon said about watching Gardner get hit time and time again. "It was tough, but he's a tough guy. I know he'll pull through. Later, I called him to ask how he was doing, and he said he was fine. He's ready to go."

Most of the pressure was coming straight up the middle of the field. The Wolverines were playing redshirt freshman Erik Magnuson - a tackle by trade making his second-career start at right guard - and true freshman Kyle Bosch - who stepped in for his first-ever start - and fifth-year senior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint struggled to pick up fierce blitzers from the backfield.

"That's on us," fifth-year senior left tackle Taylor Lewan said. "The whole game, all those hits weren't on the offensive line, but most of them were, and we have to take responsibility for us. If you have to take personal pride, then who can beat you, if you're that much of a competitor? You can get beat once or twice in a game, but if you take personal pride in what you're doing, you'll make sure to watch that extra film, do that little extra."

"I feel like [the linemen] were pretty upset with themselves, and me being mad with them isn't going to do anything," added Gardner. "I'm very positive with them. They're fighting for me as best they can, and we're going to continue to get better as a group.

"I'm not playing perfect either. I have a lot of things to worry about. I don't have time to be angry at anyone. We're just trying to win football games."


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