Devin Gardner has proved a capable replacement for star quarterback Denard Robinson, helping keep Michigan's Big Ten title hopes alive.
With Robinson's status unclear, the 23rd-ranked Wolverines try to stay in the race by avoiding another upset to Iowa on Saturday in Ann Arbor.
Robinson has missed the past two games with nerve damage in his elbow, and coach Brady Hoke would only say he's "day to day" regarding the senior's availability for this week's game. While Michigan has missed Robinson's dynamic running ability, Gardner has been a more prolific passer with 230-plus yards in back-to-back victories.
Robinson hasn't topped 200 yards passing since a win over Massachusetts on Sept. 15 but has compiled 946 on the ground in his eight games.
Gardner rushed for 47 yards and two touchdowns on nine carries last Saturday against Northwestern and threw for 286 and two TDs, but Michigan barely pulled out a 38-31 home victory. His 53-yard pass to Roy Roundtree set up the tying field goal with 2 seconds left in regulation, and Gardner ran for the go-ahead TD in overtime en route to being named co-Big Ten offensive player of the week.
He's a big reason the Wolverines (7-3, 5-1) are tied atop the Big Ten's Legends Division, though co-leader Nebraska owns the tiebreaker due to its 23-9 win over Michigan on Oct. 27. That means the Wolverines can only reach the Big Ten title game if they win their final two contests while the Cornhuskers lose at least one of theirs.
"I think they know we've got to take care of ourselves," Hoke said. "To achieve greatness, you've got to put yourself in position and take care of your business."
The Michigan defense didn't do that last week as it allowed 431 yards, its most since a loss to then-No. 2 Alabama on Sept. 1. The Wolverines had given up an average of 250.0 yards over the previous seven games.
Iowa (4-6, 2-4) has the conference's second-worst offense, averaging 321.6 yards, and has lost four straight.
However, don't expect Michigan to take this game lightly. The Hawkeyes have taken the last three meetings - a first in this series - and won 24-16 at home last season over the then-No. 13 Wolverines.
"I myself have not beaten Iowa yet and I know just for selfish reasons, it would be a huge motivation for me," senior defensive end Craig Roh said. "I never want to go not beating a team in my career, and that's something that we control."
Robinson had a chance to tie last year's meeting but threw four straight incompletions from Iowa's 3-yard line in the final seconds. Hawkeyes senior James Vandenberg accounted for one of Iowa's three TDs, but the player who had the other two, Marcus Coker, is now at Stony Brook.
"As far as year-to-year and week-to-week, we're not the same team we were a year ago and they're not, either," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
Ferentz's team has been competitive lately, losing back-to-back games by three points. The Hawkeyes fell 27-24 to Purdue on a 46-yard field goal as time expired last Saturday, a week after blowing an early 14-point lead in a 24-21 defeat at Indiana.
Vandenberg has three TD passes and four interceptions over his last five games, getting sacked 13 times.
The status of leading rusher Mark Weisman remains unknown because of a leg injury. Weisman, who has 661 yards and eight touchdowns, has missed the past two games.
Michigan leads the series 40-13-4 and holds a 23-6-3 edge at home.
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