ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan figured out a way to help Devin Gardner cut down on mistakes.
Gardner didn’t throw the ball until midway through the second quarter, and played his first turnover-free game since becoming a starting quarterback last year and it helped the 19th-ranked Wolverines pull away to rout Minnesota 42-13 on Saturday.
“We’re going to do what’s working and that’s what was working at the time,” he said.
Gardner had seven turnovers in his previous two games, allowing both Connecticut and Akron to have chances to upset Michigan.
Against Minnesota, he threw a 24-yard, go-ahead touchdown pass to Devin Funchess late in the first half and ran for a 2-yard score late in the game as the Wolverines turned a game that was close for a half into a lopsided victory.
Michigan (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) clearly planned to rely on its running game — without Gardner as a primary ball carrier — to take pressure off their turnover-prone QB.
“We wanted to run the ball and we wanted to send that message,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. “I thought we did a pretty good job of it.”
The Golden Gophers (4-2, 0-2) were without coach Jerry Kill for an entire game for the first time because of his epilepsy. He had a seizure Saturday morning, when he planned to travel to Michigan to coach in the game, and remained home to rest in Minnesota.
Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys served as the acting head coach at Michigan, leading the team from the press box.
“We have been through a lot of battles together,” Claeys said. “We are all very well trained on our jobs and our responsibilities. We miss him here as a friend. We are all pretty much used to this, and so are the kids.”
The Wolverines have won 18 straight games at home, the longest active streak among BCS conference schools and their longest since winning 28 in a row in Ann Arbor from 1969-73. They play at Penn State next week before coming back to host Indiana, which beat the Nittany Lions 44-24 on Saturday.
Gardner, who entered the game with 10 turnovers this year, had thrown at least one interception in nine straight games since replacing an injured Denard Robinson last year at Minnesota. He was 13 of 17 for 235 yards and ran seven times for 17 yards. Gardner recovered his own fumble late in the game and bounced back on the next snap by converting third-and-11 with a 22-yard pass to Funchess to set up his second score.
“I was able to manage the game,” Gardner said.
Funchess had career highs with seven receptions for 151 yards and a score. Fitzgerald Toussaint ran for 78 yards and two touchdowns from 8 and 12 yards to give Michigan a 7-0 lead on its first drive and a 28-10 advantage late in the third quarter.
The running game put Michigan in third-and-short situations, helping it convert 10 of 13 third downs.
“We couldn’t stop them and get off the field,” Claeys said.
Minnesota’s Mitch Leidner completed 14 of 21 passes for 145 with a TD and had 66 yards rushing on 18 carries. Leidner’s second turnover, an interception, was returned 72 yards for a TD with 1:19 left.
As promised, the Wolverines were determined to get their ground game going with running backs. Toussaint’s 8-yard TD run ended a six-play drive which consisted of six handoffs.
The Gophers, likewise, wanted to keep the ball on the ground and they had some success early. They ran the ball 12 times on a 16-play, 9:44 drive that was capped by Leidner’s 7-yard pass to Maxx Williams to tie the game late in the first quarter.
Kill had his fifth game-day seizure in three seasons at Minnesota, and the second this year. He did not coach the second half against Western Illinois, the third game he wasn’t able to finish because of a seizure. He returned for the next two games.
Williams insisted the players’ mood did not change when they were informed Saturday morning at the team hotel that Kill wouldn’t be on the sideline at Michigan Stadium.
“We know coach’s situation,” he said. “We have to be prepared. We have to be ready for anything. It didn’t really affect us.”