Wolverine Wednesday: Connecticut Huskies Preview

#15 Michigan Wolverines 3-0 (Big Ten: 0-0) v.s. Connecticut Huskies 0-2 (0-0 American Athletic Conference)

 

Michigan Last Week: The Wolverines are coming off a 28-24 scare provided by an Akron Zips team that has not won a road game in almost five years. The Wolverines playing down to an inadequate opponent has become an all too familiar sight for the Michigan faithful. Almost any football fan remembers the 2007 stunning loss to, at the time, Division 1AA opponent Appalachian State. The following year, Michigan fell to Toledo, who went on to finish second to last in the Mid-American Conference. Last week had all the makings of another debacle in the Big House. Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner had a career high three interceptions, the defense gave up 311 passing yards, and the offense was kept in check. No one on the Wolverines’ side of the ball looked ready to play. Miraculously, Michigan made a last minute goal line stand that sealed a four point victory.

Connecticut Last Week: The Huskies lost to the Maryland Terrapins 32-21, giving the team back-to-back home losses. The Huskies’ defense had trouble stopping Maryland, as the Terrapins rumbled for 501 yards of total offense. The Huskies showed clear intent on airing out the ball. Quarterback Chandler Whitmer had 46 passing attempts, but only completed 29. Player of the game for Connecticut had to be junior wide receiver Shakim Phillips, who had ten receptions for 178 yards, including a 75 yard touchdown. When it was all said and done, Connecticut’s inability to get the running game going and the lack of defensive stops proved to be their downfall.

 

Michigan National Ranks:

Passing Yards-50th

Rushing-52nd

Points For-23rd

Points Against- 48th

 

Connecticut National Ranks:

Passing- 37th

Rushing- 122nd

Points For-103rd

Points Against- 95th

 

 

The Matchup:

Michigan has some serious explaining to do following their unconvincing win against Akron. No one has more to prove than quarterback Devin Gardner. Following an impressive performance against Notre Dame, Gardner had what he called “the worst game he has ever played”. The key for him will be holding on to the ball. Against Akron, Garnder threw three interceptions and had one fumble. It is hard for any team to win, no matter the opponent, when the starting quarterback turns the ball over four times. Two of Gardner’s interceptions were extremely unflattering. The first came on a skinny post that Zips conrner DeAndre Scott had tight man-to-man coverage on the whole way. Scott easily stepped in front of the pass and made the pick. The second came on a delayed screen that Akron linebacker Justin March sniffed out the whole way. When Gardner released the pass, March was standing right beside Michigan running back Fitzgerald Toussaint. Once again, all the linebacker had to do was step in front of the pass and catch the ball. So, the question is: can Gardner hold on to the ball? If Gardner has another bad performance against Connecticut after sub-par games against Akron and Central Michigan, it does not instill much confidence that he can get it done against rigorous Big Ten opponents.

The powerful pro-style offense that was promised to Michigan fans is still not there. The glory days of Jake Long blocking for Mike Hart in a ‘power I’ have not returned to the Wolverines. Gardner had a career high 103 rushing yards against Akron. Aside from the Akron game, Gardner has attributed to 40 percent of the Wolverines’ rushing yards for the season and has the most rushing touchdowns on the team. However, this isn’t the style of offensive that Offensive Coordinator Al Borges is trying to implement. The Wolverines need to get running back Fitzgerald Toussaint going and that starts up front with the offensive lineman. Holes need to get bigger, blocks need to be maintained, and the offensive line as a whole need to get more physical. Senior captain Taylor Lewan promised that Michigan would not come out flat like they did against Akron. Let’s see if Lewan and the rest of the offensive line hold true to his guarantee.

Akron was successful through the air, so obviously the Huskies are going to try to duplicate the Zip’s success. The Huskies have actually been pretty decent in their passing attack, averaging 277.5 passing yards per game. Michigan’s pass rush has to get better; Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison pointed this out during Michigan’s Tuesday press conference. Defensive ends Frank Clark and Keith Heitzman need to get more of a push up front. The one shinning player, in terms of the pass defense for Michigan, has been sophomore corner Blake Countess, who had three interceptions in past two games. Look for the Huskies to try to throw to the opposite side of Countess. Connecticut’s leading receiver, Shakim Philips, against Countess should be an entertaining matchup.

 

 

Matt Moore contributes writings for the NFL Draft and Michigan Football for ProFootballCentral. Follow Matt on Twitter @Matt23Moore.

 

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