Devin Gardner ditched his old No. 12 for Tom Harmon’s No. 98 on Saturday and for most of the night looked like he was the former Wolverine great reincarnated, as he led No. 17 Michigan to a 41-30 win over No. 14 Notre Dame in front of a Michigan Stadium-record-crowd of 115,109.
Gardner completed 21 of 33 passes for 294 yards and four touchdowns (with a pick) and added 68 yards and a score on the ground as Michigan beat the Irish for the fourth time in five years.
How appropriate was it that, on a night when Michigan honored a player (Harmon) known for producing touchdowns in bunches, the player wearing his number ran and passed for five scores?
The Irish played hard on both sides of the ball, but ultimately had no answer for Gardner, who seemed to run at will and find favorite target Jeremy Gallon (eight catches, 184 yards, three scores) whenever he needed a big play. More importantly, Gardner’s performance seemed to signal, once and for all, that this was finally his team. The Wolverines are going to sink or swim by his play.
And with Notre Dame out of the way, Michigan looks like a good bet to enter November at 7-0. That’s when the Wolverines take on rival Michigan State in Lansing before hosting Nebraska and then traveling to play a tough Northwestern team. If Michigan can get by that slate, it could set up a monster match up with Ohio State at season’s end.
Meanwhile, the Irish defense needs to regroup before it hits the meat of its schedule. It can’t depend on Tommy Rees (314 passing yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions) to carry the load week-in and week-out. If Notre Dame can get back to the physical style it exhibited during last season’s BCS run, it might yet find its way back in a major bowl.