September 7, 2013 at 1:00 am

John Niyo

Michigan receiver Jeremy Gallon proves he's a more than able sidekick

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Ann Arbor— Numbers don’t make the legends. The players do.

And they do it in games like these, on nights like this, as Devin Gardner and his pal Jeremy Gallon may some day reminisce, though to hear the latter talk, he’ll never manage to be a legend in his own mind.

“For me, I could never imagine doing something like this,” said Gallon, shortly after he’d done it in the nationally televised game of his life.

The fifth-year senior receiver had his hands all over Michigan’s 41-30 victory against Notre Dame on Saturday, finishing with eight catches for 184 yards and three touchdowns — career bests, those last two totals — as the Wolverines lit up the Irish and the scoreboard at Michigan Stadium.

“Not bad,” Taylor Lewan, the Wolverines’ All-America left tackle, said when asked about Gallon’s unfathomable night. “Not bad at all.”

Still, the 5-foot-8, 184-pound wideout took a pass when it came to receiving praise after the game, shrugging off the credit the way he did a hamstring injury that had him limping on and off the field in the fourth quarter.

“A game this big,” Gallon insisted, “it’s not me.”

Strong connection

It’s not, of course. If anything, it’s Gardner, whose burgeoning talent at quarterback truly is something to behold. The Wolverines might not have Denard Robinson around anymore to torment the Irish — last year’s interceptions notwithstanding — but it appears they’ve found something bigger and better.

Gardner produced nearly 400 yards of total offense Saturday night — 294 passing, and another 96 on the ground — as well as five touchdowns. (Six, if you include the one he tossed to Notre Dame’s defense early in the fourth quarter.)

But it’s no coincidence that Gallon, the guy wearing Desmond Howard’s No. 21 legacy jersey, was responsible for the majority of that success through the air. Ever since Gardner assumed the starter’s role for Michigan, replacing an injured Robinson last November, Gallon has been his No. 1 target. In those seven games, Gardner has racked up 43 receptions for 742 yards and seven touchdowns.

And this connection they have — “We’ve been closer than Phineas and Ferb,” Gallon told me a month ago — actually began on the sidelines. Gallon caught all of four passes as a redshirt freshman in 2010; Gardner played in just three games that year as a true freshman before sitting out with a back injury.

“We were both on the bench together,” Gallon said with a laugh. “We had a lot of time to talk to each other.”

Now, there are no words necessary. As Gardner says, “No matter what he’s doing on the field, I know where he’s gonna be.”

Saturday, Gallon was everywhere Gardner needed him to be in the first half, catching five balls for 123 yards and two scores, including a highlight-reel 61-yard touchdown that, according to Gardner, was vintage Gallon. He’s as strong as they come — “His arms look like some people’s legs,” receivers coach Jeff Hecklinski says — and blessed with a low center of gravity, but also a sky-high determination level.

As Gardner puts it, “He’s like a little bulldog.”

Highlight play

On Michigan’s second possession Saturday, a nice run from Fitz Toussaint set up a hard run fake on the next play, giving Gardner time to find Gallon open on a dig route across the middle on second-and-8 from his 39. And Gallon, who has crafted his own little legacy in this fleeting rivalry series, turned a nice gain into a memorable one, pinballing off a trio of defenders at the Irish 30 and then inexplicably sprinting away.

“They went to strip the ball and they spun me around,” said Gallon, who didn’t let go and refused to go down on the play. “So I just started running.”

Round and round he went, and where he stopped everybody knew: Gallon was in the end zone, as the record-setting crowd of 115,109 roared in delight.

Two years ago, it was Gallon’s 64-yard reception against the Irish that elicited a similar response, setting up Robinson’s winning throw to Roy Roundtree in the final seconds of the first prime-time game at Michigan Stadium.

This time, he’d play a starring role from start to finish, though. Six of his eight catches resulted in first downs Saturday, as did his 14-yard gain on a reverse on the game’s opening drive. Gallon’s touchdown grab just before halftime gave Michigan a 14-point cushion. His late third-quarter score proved to be the winner. Even on the night’s final touchdown drive, with Gallon clearly limited by the hamstring injury, he managed to draw a pass-interference penalty on a third-down sideline throw from Gardner.

When it was over, someone asked the two close friends, together at the postgame news conference, what they’d tell their kids about this night in 25 years or so.

Gardner was at a loss to answer that one — “I guess I’ll have to cross that bridge when I get to it,” he said with a smile — though he made sure to remind everyone this game isn’t the one that’ll define this season for the Wolverines. Gallon agreed, as brothers tend to do when pushed, before adding one final thought.

“I’m pretty sure I’ll have a film of this,” he said. “I’ll just put it on and have them be the judge of it.”

john.niyo@detroitnews.com
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David Guralnick