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Wolverines turn to Gardner and he delivers in opener

The SportsXchange

ANN ARBOR -- Devin Gardner waited three years for his opportunity to lead the Michigan offense. In a backup or supplemental role to the dynamic Denard Robinson, Gardner had been a very loyal second fiddle.

But in the 2013 opener against Central Michigan, with Robinson now in the NFL, it was Gardner's show.

The gifted dual-threat quarterback led the Wolverines to a 59-6 rout, running for two touchdowns and throwing for another touchdown in a little more than a half.

"It was amazing," Gardner said about his debut as the Wolverines' offensive leader. "My heart was racing. I can't really describe it, but it felt great."

A possibly over-energized Gardner threw an interception on his second play of the game, but settled down quickly and orchestrated the win, helping his team build a 36-point lead early in the second half.

"He's athletic, and sometimes I'm crossing my fingers when I see him out there being athletic," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. "But he has a lot of confidence in his abilities, and I like that in a quarterback."

Michigan's defense more than filled its role, manhandling the Chippewas, holding them to 66 rushing yards and keeping them out of the end zone.

Three field goals by Ron Coluzzi accounted for all of the Central Michigan points.

"We wanted to stop their running game, and then get to the quarterback more," linebacker Cam Gordon said. "This is a big win for us, but we've got to get better. We're not playing at a championship level."

Central Michigan coach Dan Enos saw his team forced to throw the ball early because of the quick deficit, a scenario he had feared.

"We had to be able to run the football on offense and stay two-dimensional, and not allow them to force into third-and-longs, but we found ourselves in that situation way too often," Enos said.

Injuries complicated the difficult afternoon for the Chippewas, as starting quarterback Cody Kater and all-conference running back Zurlon Tipton left the game early in the first half because of injuries and did not return.

The first series of the game started the disaster for Central Michigan as the Wolverines' Dymonte Thomas swarmed in and blocked a punt by Richie Hogan.

Michigan's Joe Reynolds scooped up the ball in stride and went 30 yards for a touchdown. Brendan Gibbons added the first of his eight extra points for a 7-0 Michigan lead only two minutes into the game.

After defensive back Jarret Chapman intercepted Gardner's pass at the Michigan six-yard line, Central Michigan settled for a 23-yard field goal by Coluzzi after three running plans and a penalty, and trailed, 7-3.

Michigan got a 22-yard touchdown run by Gardner on its next series to make it 14-3, and then pushed the lead to 21-3 when Fitzgerald Toussaint punched in from a yard out on the first play of the second quarter.

"That was really important that we get off to a fast start," Gardner said. "You don't want to get behind and give the other team confidence. We kept pounding away, so they didn't have an opportunity to get confident."

Central Michigan's Jason Wilson intercepted another pas by Gardner with about 10 minutes left in the half and returned the ball inside the Michigan 30. A 27-yard field goal from Coluzzi followed to make it 21-6.

Gardner answered with a long drive and a 16-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Gallon, and then following an interception by Raymon Taylor and a 54-yard return to the Chippewas' 12, Gardner ran in from four yards for a 35-6 halftime advantage.

After Toussaint scored to complete a quick 75-yard drive to open the second half, Michigan turned the game over to its backups. Freshman running back Derrick Green punched in late in the third quarter to stretch the lead to 49-6.

Michigan continued to pound away on the ground, on its way to six rushing touchdowns, and added a 30-yard field goal by Gibbons, while all the Chippewas could muster was a third field goal by Coluzzi.

NOTES: Michigan starting S Thomas Gordon was suspended for the game because of an undisclosed violation of team rules. ... Chippewas QB Cody Kater made his first start at the FBS level against Michigan, but left the game in the first half because of a shoulder injury. ... Michigan K Brendan Gibbons nailed all eight of his extra point attempts, giving him 105 in a row, second all-time at Michigan. ... Central Michigan lost All-MAC RB Tipton in the first half because of a leg injury, and he did not return.
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