Will this game answer all of the questions facing Michigan after their lackluster performance against Akron last Saturday? Maybe, maybe not.
A big game from Toussaint would go a long ways in a lot of different areas.
There's no reason to expect Michigan to come out flat tomorrow night with all of the incentive and motivation they have to prove last week was a bad, fluky performance. Still, despite the fact that some questions will continue after this game, there are things
What do we know:
All The Eggs: Michigan is actually in a very similar position that they've been in years past with Denard Robinson. This team will live and die by the play of Devin Gardner until somebody besides Jeremy Gallon steps up as a consistent performer. The silver lining? Gardner is a better quarterback than Robinson and can make plays with both his arm and his feet. It will simply come down to limiting the terrible mistakes, of which he's made at least one in every game.
The Notre Dame Devin Gardner could absolutely lead Michigan to an undefeated (or close) season. There's just no way of telling at this point whether that Devin Gardner will show up or not. Given the way he played down the stretch last year, there's reason to believe it can happen, but he has to prove it first. Saturday will be a big test for him in that regard.
Still: One thing that may be limiting Gardner's success and forcing him to feel like he has to make plays is the mediocre performance of the interior of the offensive line so far.
We reported earlier this week that Graham Glasgow may shift to center this weekend, with redshirt sophomore Chris Bryant taking Glasgow's old spot at left tackle. This is still a likelihood as Jack Miller really struggled against Akron last week.
If this unit can get it figured out, and even play slightly above average ball, it could help pay off in many, many ways for the offense as a whole.
Limiting The Kinda Big Plays: Greg Mattison's defense has always been predicated on getting beat for the big play, and Michigan has done a decent job of avoiding that so far this season. However, they haven't been as good at avoiding the "kinda, sorta big plays", i.e. pass plays of 20+ yards. This excellent stat from BTN's Dave Revsine shows where Michigan is struggling so far this season. It looks to be a combination of soft coverage, poor LB dropbacks and a lack of a pass rush, but Akron completely picked them apart on these mid-range passes (still crazy to type that). It has to change for Michigan to have success.
Need To Step Up
DE Frank Clark: I don't recall a single player garnering as much off-season hype in the Hoke era as Frank Clark did this spring/summer by both players and coaches alike. He hasn't been horrible by any means, but he hasn't come close to living up to the expectations that were set by him going into the season. It's still relatively early, but there's legitimate reason to believe he may not be what everyone thought he'd be this year.
WR Drew Dileo: I should make it clear that this isn't really on Dileo; he inexplicably only had one or two targets against Akron last week. The offense seems to thrive a bit more when he's getting the ball on short routes and underneath zone coverages. It opens up Jeremy Gallon (and hopefully Jehu Chesson) down the field and because Dileo seems to catch everything thrown his way, he's a guy Gardner can use to build confidence early.
CB Raymon Taylor: After playing an excellent game against Notre Dame, there may not have been a player who had a bigger letdown against Akron than Taylor. Based on his consistent play coming into the game, we can chalk part of it up to the hangover effect, but he needs to come out and play a good game tomorrow to rebuild his confidence. Blake Countess is back in form on the other side and it's possible Courtney Avery will be breathing down his neck as well, depending on how coaches want to use the captain.
Clint's Five Keys
-Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers...
You hear it every week, but after four turnovers last week, it needs to keep being addressed. The three interceptions by Devin Gardner obviously were unacceptable and cannot be made again for Michigan to come out victorious over Connecticut. If Michigan doesn't turn the ball over, there's no doubt in my mind that they will cruise to a win over Connecticut. Another area to improve in is third down efficiency. Michigan was 3 for 10 on converting third downs against Akron.
-Pressure the Opposing Quarterback
Michigan needs to continue to conjure up ways to get after opposing quarterbacks. Last week against Akron, Michigan did not put pressure on the quarterback, which resulted in 311 passing yards for Akron. Michigan needs to find ways to get Frank Clark loose and more push upfront from the defensive tackles.
-Stop the run
Michigan allowed 107 yards rushing by Akron last week, which isn't bad but the Wolverines could have done a better job clogging up running lanes and tackling better. Michigan has shown they are better upfront in the first two games and holding Notre Dame to 97 yards rushing. If Michigan shuts down the run and makes Connecticut rely on the pass, I don't think they have enough playmakers on the outside and at quarterback to win the game.
Senior tailback Fitzgerald Toussaint is by far the best running back on the roster and has proved it so far this season. Toussaint is strong, faster, and more agile than ever since coming back from his ACL. Toussaint had 71 tough yards on 19 carries last week and has 199 yards on 55 carries and three touchdowns on the season. It would be nice to get a significant lead so that Michigan could develop depth behind Toussaint, especially with freshman Derrick Green.
This is simple. Michigan has far better players, talent, and depth, especially in the trenches than Connecticut. If Michigan plays Michigan football, Connecticut will not have a chance. Just take care of business. Play smart, physical, and fast and theres no question Michigan will come out on top.
It's hard not to envision Michigan coming out and dominating this game. If they don't, there may be real reason to panic in Ann Arbor this year. Expect the gameplan offensively focus on getting Fitz Toussaint involved early and often to try to take some pressure off of Devin Gardner. If they can do that, Gardner should play well and may even play well if he has to carry the entire load again. Regardless of the outcome, one thing that many will watch for is whether or not the star quarterback can avoid the bad mistake. If he does, confidence will build going into the bye week and conference slate.
Michigan 41, UConn 17