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Awakening a Wolverine – Connecticut vs. Michigan Preview

September 20, 2013

          


September 21st, 2013 – 8:00pm

East Hartford, CT

Song of the week:

Be careful making wishes in the dark, dark

Can’t be sure when they’ve hit their mark

And besides in the mean, mean time

I’m just dreaming of tearing you apart.

– Fall Out Boy, song “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark”

Names To Know

1. Chandler Whitmer (QB #10) – The junior returning starter for the Huskies has struggled so far this season, completing 60% of his passes for 3 TDs and 3 INTs in two games. He’s taken 10 sacks in 2 games, so will Michigan be able to pressure him unlike they’ve done the past two games?

2. Shakim Phillips (WR #8) – Michigan has given up soft coverage the last couple weeks, content to try to not give up the big play. Phillips would be the primary target if Michigan plays this style again this week, being the leading receiver for UConn and the only one to catch a TD pass this year (he has three). The problem is that Phillips is questionable for the game with an injury. Will he tough it out in UConn’s biggest home game this year, or be on the sideline limiting UConn’s passing attack?

3. Yawin Smallwood (LB #33) – The UConn defense has not been very good this year, but Smallwood has been a bright spot. Registering a team high 14 tackles in the loss to Maryland, Smallwood is doing his job as a linebacker making tackles in both the running and passing game.

Offensive Strength

A team that’s 0-2 at home, including a loss to FCS Towson, and is 103rd in the country in points scored doesn’t have many strengths. Having to pick something, I’ll go with the passing game since the Huskies are 36th in the country averaging over 275 yards per game in the air. Given Michigan’s soft coverage tendencies and lack of a pass rush on the quick throws, UConn could continue to find success in the air this week. Top WR Shakim Phillips might not play though, which would limit Chandler Whitmer’s options. Geremy Davis is the second leading receiver who would likely get a lot more targets if Phlilips doesn’t play.

Offensive Weakness

Connecticut has struggled to run the football this year. They average only 57 yards per game on the ground, and one of their two opponents was FCS Towson. Adding to the struggles this week, starting RT Kevin Friend is questionable due to injury, and likely won’t play. A team struggling already struggling to run won’t benefit from having to play backup OL on the outside. Michigan is giving up under 100 yards per game, partly because of the soft coverage allowing teams to throw, so I don’t expect UConn to have much success on the ground this week.

Defensive Strength

None? In the two losses this year, UConn has given up 393 yards / 32 points to Towson and 501 yards / 33 points to Maryland. As noted above, Yawin Smallwood has been playing pretty well at linebacker, but other than that I don’t really see a strength. They have had an interception in both games, so given Michigan’s … ability? … to throw to the wrong team this season, maybe that’s what the Huskies are banking on?

Defensive Weakness

Unfortunately for UConn, I pretty much covered this area in the “strength” section. I will point out that both Towson and Maryland had over 200 yards on the ground against UConn, so that is clearly an area of weakness. Michigan has struggled running the ball outside of QB read-options, and had way too many negative plays, so maybe this is the week we see them get consistent push and some positive yards on 1st down.

My Game Expectations

Michigan struggled last week against Akron, but that’s not surprising when you have 4 turnovers (2 in the red zone, 1 for a pick-6), a missed FG, 2 horrendous punts, and are 3/10 on 3rd down conversions. It’s remarkable that Michigan actually outgained Akron in the game considering how sloppy the offense played. The players essentially admitted to being overconfident in the press conference following Akron and not preparing as they should’ve, so now we get to see if that was true or if there really is cause for concern later in the year. Vegas thinks the players were telling the truth, favoring Michigan by 18.5 in their first road game of the season.

On offense, I expect Michigan to see the exact same defensive gameplan we saw from ND and Akron. They rushed the DE’s wide to try to contain Gardner in the pocket, and chose when to bring pressure up the middle and force mistakes. Akron usually guessed run on 1st downs, bringing extra men in the box and watched Michigan run right into them, often for negative yards. I hope to see Al Borges mix up the plays this week, with some 3-step drops on 1st downs that result in quick passes if UConn tries to blitz. We should be able to run on UConn, but to do that we need to make the defense respect the pass. Most of the talk on the internet this week has been around the offensive line play, specifically center Jack Miller. Not all of last week was his fault though, considering he’s a first year starter and had never seen the Bear defense Akron deployed. Will he improve this week, or will we see some movement with backups?

Defensively, I think Michigan is going to play the same gameplan, regardless of the fans not liking it. We beat Notre Dame without giving up the big play and we would’ve beat Akron convincingly if it wasn’t for the offense turning it over. So the scheme Greg Mattison has used has looked ugly to some, but does seem to be doing what he wants outside of the pass rush. The Huskies are not built to have long drives and have execute without making mistakes, which is exactly what Mattison’s defense count on. I think we’ll see more Courtney Avery this week since he’s healthy, limiting snaps of the true freshman DBs and providing more experience and leadership on the field. I also think we see more of Willie Henry and Jibreel Black playing together at DT since they seemed to provide the best pass rush out of all the DTs.

Dave Brandon tried to buy this game out or move it to a neutral site field. UConn didn’t want to do it though, and opted to keep the game at their field and promote it as one of the biggest games of the year. They sold the game out and had to bring in an extra 2200 bleacher seats to accomodate the 42k fans that will be in attendance. The AAC (formerly Big East) and ESPN then opted to make this game a primetime game, rather than the 3:30 kick most expected, because they want it to be a showcase game and have a lot of people watching.

I think UConn should be careful what they wish for when it gets dark in Hartford on Saturday. Michigan’s embarrassed, more talented, and has had a week to think about a near-historic loss. I guarantee they haven’t been sitting back looking forward to the bye week, they’ve been hitting in practice wanting to tear the Huskies apart and reclaim some of the swagger they lost on the field against Akron.

Also, if anyone hasn’t heard the song of the week, here’s a video worth watching. I think it’s time to drink the #DGKA again this Saturday night.

Prediction

Michigan wins 38-17

-Mike Randazzo

 

What Andrew Thinks

I opted for blog form rather than skywriting my prediction for this week – from what I can gather most Michigan fans wouldn’t appreciate it.  I’ll leave my feelings on that marketing ploy for another day.  Instead, its time to talk about the Primetime “Game of the Week” between 3-0 Michigan coming off of a narrow win over MAC “powerhouse” Akron and the 0-2 Connecticut Huskies who are much “better” than their record suggest.  (Note, anything in quotations in the preceding sentence is probably an exaggeration or patently false).

UConn was expected to be a doormat in the AAC conference coming into this season, but nobody expected them to lose to FCS Towson State. By 15 points.  Based on that knowledge, I would’ve predicted that Michigan’s 2nd team could’ve covered a 20 point spread against the Huskies.  But that was before the egg Michigan laid in Ann Arbor last Saturday against Akron.  If you’re only as good as your last game then I hope Michigan likes pizza, because this squad has Little Caesar’s Bowl written all over it.

Here’s the good news – we play 12 games for a reason and this week is a chance to right the ship and re-establish Michigan as a Big Ten contender.  Which by the way, I still think they are.

In terms of talent, UConn is probably on par with Akron, though considering their losses to Maryland and Towson State, that might be a stretch.  And though this is technically a home game for the Huskies, I expect Rentschler Field to be more Maize and Blue than Blue and White.  The only difference that really matters though is that I expect a fully engaged Michigan team to show up.  Last week’s near embarrassment seems to have this team motivated and that’s bad news for the Huskies.  If Michigan had rolled the Zips the way they should have, UConn might’ve been the one looking at an upset opportunity.  Too bad for the Huskies that they played this game one week too late.

The only way UConn wins this game is if Michigan loses it for them.

Three Other Predictions:

  1. Devin Gardner doesn’t throw an interception (at least not one returned for a touchdown by the other team)
  2. Fitzgerald Toussaint goes for over 100 yards
  3. The defense still looks a little shaky, but mostly because of Mattison’s scheme

Game Prediction:

Michigan 41

UConn 12

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 20, 2013 4:27 PM

    “The upset is in the mind of the favorite” I love this quote from Bo via Jamie Morris lately. Ironically, he repeated it while promoting ‘Off the Field’ leading up to Akron!! Arrrgh.

  2. Bill Costello permalink
    September 20, 2013 8:48 PM

    Well “M Men” it will be interesting to see how much improvement we get from a more focused team. I think a lot of emotional energy was spent in the Big House the night of the ND game. Coaches admit it is hard to get up again after a big game. Akron has a great coaching staff and all of the Zips players played a career game. If we don’t see a HUGE improvement against UConn then we will be looking at a difficult season. The team has something to prove. Go Blue.

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