ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Devin Gardner came crashing down against Akron after riding a high with five touchdowns against Notre Dame.
He had a career-high three interceptions and fumbled, giving the Zips a chance to pull off an upset for the ages against the Wolverines.
After throwing two touchdown passes and running for a score in a 28-24 win, Gardner was one of his harshest critics.
"I made a lot of bad decisions," he said. "Probably played my worst game ever, and won't happen again."
Gardner was coming off his best performance.
He threw a career-high four touchdowns and ran for a score the previous week, leading Michigan to a 41-30 win over the rival Fighting Irish.
In that game, risk-reward plays went Gardner's way other than an interception from his end zone.
Against Akron, he made a lot of poor choices with the ball as a runner and a passer.
He fumbled on an option play, keeping the ball instead of pitching it to Fitzgerald Toussaint, who didn't have a defender in front of him in the second quarter. Gardner ended Michigan's next two drives with interceptions. He was picked off a third time early in the fourth quarter and the interception was returned for a TD, turning an 11-point cushion into a 21-17 lead.
After Akron went ahead 24-21, Gardner ran for 35 yards and threw a 20-yard pass on consecutive plays to help set up Toussaint's touchdown with 2:49 left to play.
"We almost lost after coming out and having a great win last week in front of the whole world, and we come out and almost blow it.," Gardner said. "I definitely would have been sick if we didn't get a chance to pursue our goals of a national championship and Big Ten championship because of the way I played."
Michigan (3-0) moved down to No. 15 in this week's Associated Press college football poll from 11th, going into its first game road this season on Saturday at Connecticut (0-2).
"We are going to respond," Gardner said.
Gardner wasn't the only reason college football's winningest team almost added Akron to its dubious list of losses along with Appalachian State and Toledo.
The Wolverines failed to generate a pass rush with their defensive linemen against the Zips. Michigan didn't give Toussaint much room to run and when it did create space for him, holding penalties negated two long runs. And on special teams, Brendan Gibbons ended his school-record field goal streak at 16 and Matt Wile averaged just 33 yards on four punts.
Akron had the ball for 33 minutes, 16 seconds to Michigan's 26:44 and the Zips had 418 yards of offense to the Wolverines' 425.
"It wasn't Devin's fault," Wolverines offensive tackle Taylor Lewan said. "It was the leadership of this team. Devin is a leader on this team, but it was not on him."
Gardner, though, was taking the blame after speaking recently with former Michigan quarterback and current New England Patriots star Tom Brady.
"He talked about being the best quarterback for the team every time out in practice, and in the game, and I was not the best quarterback for this team," Gardner said. "And like (Lewan) said, it's embarrassing, and we are going to respond.
"We won the football game, but we are going to respond. I can guarantee you that."
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