Preview: Michigan at UConn

Preview: Michigan at UConn

September 21, 2013

Rush Offense vs. UConn Rush Defense
The Wolverines have better rushing statistics than it might seem; they’re averaging 4.96 yards/carry, but that’s propped up by quarterback Devin Gardner’s 30 carries for 237 yards (7.9 yards/carry) and 4 touchdowns. Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint (55 carries, 199 yards, 3.6 yards/carry, 3 touchdowns) looks recovered from his broken leg, but the offensive line is struggling to open holes. Primary backup Derrick Green has just 2 carries for 2 yards in the last couple games, so he’s not really a factor in tight games. UConn’s opponents are averaging 4.57 yards/carry; that list of opponents includes Maryland and FCS team Towson. Redshirt junior linebacker Yawin Smallwood (6’4″, 236 lbs.) leads the team in tackles with 30, and the next guy on the list is redshirt freshman safety Obi Melifonwu (6’4″, 208 lbs.) with 15. Melifonwu and and fifth year senior strongside end Tim Willman (6’4″, 267 lbs.) lead the team with 1.5 tackles for loss each. The Huskies have decent size up front with redshirt senior weakside end Jesse Joseph (6’3″, 262 lbs.), redshirt senior defensive tackle Shamar Stephen (6’5′, 313 lbs.), and redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Julian Campenni (6’0″, 298 lbs.). If UConn uses their vanilla 4-3 Over front, Michigan should be able to handle the front four pretty well, but Smallwood can fly all over the field. My guess is that Michigan’s offensive linemen come out angry and create some of the holes that were lacking against Akron last week.
Advantage: Michigan

Pass Offense vs. UConn Pass Defense
Gardner has been up and down this year, completing 47/78 passes (60.3%) for 704 yards, 7 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions. He has made some poor decisions in the passing game, and he has a tendency to lock onto his favorite receiver, Jeremy Gallon (18 catches, 297 yards, 4 touchdowns). Sophomore tight end Devin Funchess is the next most targeted receiver (7 catches, 131 yards, 1 touchdown), but the other guys have been somewhat pedestrian. One potential breakout player is 6’3″, 196 lb. redshirt freshman Jehu Chesson, who caught a 33-yard touchdown pass last week and could develop into a deep threat. Melifonwu and senior cornerback Taylor Mack (5’9″, 175 lbs.) have the team’s only two picks thus far, but Melifonwu in particular is speed-deficient and could be taken advantage of in the passing game. As for the pass rush, well . . . Connecticut has zero sacks in two games. Smallwood had 3.5 last year, but 22.5 of their 33 sacks graduated after last season. They would be smart to run some twist stunts to confuse the young offensive guards, but as for pure athleticism and skill, it’s not really there.
Advantage: Michigan

Rush Defense vs. UConn Rush Offense
Redshirt junior running back Lyle McCombs (5’8″, 175 lbs.) averaged 3.54 yards/carry in 2012, and this year he’s all the way up to 3.58. He’s the only significant ball carrier for the Huskies. Sixth year senior left tackle Jimmy Bennett (6’9″, 307 lbs.), redshirt senior Steven Greene (6’5″, 308 lbs.), redshirt junior Alex Mateas (6’4″, 315 lbs.), redshirt junior Gus Cruz (6’4″, 309 lbs.), and redshirt sophomore Xavier Hemingway (6’5″, 273 lbs.) make up the line from left to right. Michigan holds opponents to 3.45 yards/carry, and the front seven is considered to be a strength, especially against pro-style running teams. Connecticut can’t outmuscle the Wolverines if fifth year senior nose tackle Quinton Washington and/or sophomore nose tackle Ondre Pipkins is on the field. Junior middle linebacker Desmond Morgan and sophomore weakside linebacker James Ross are both very good against the run, so McCombs should find it to be tough sledding. I doubt the Huskies will be able to do much in the running game.
Advantage: Michigan

Pass Defense vs. UConn Pass Offense
Redshirt junior Chandler Whitmer (6’1″, 193 lbs.) is the Huskies’ quarterback. He completed 57.6% of his passes for 2,664 yards, 9 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions as a starter last year, and this year he’s upped that percentage to 60.8% while throwing for 3 scores and 3 picks. Redshirt junior Shakim Phillips (6’2″, 209 lbs.) is his favorite target with 15 catches for 255 yards and 3 touchdowns; classmate Geremy Davis (6’3″, 215 lbs.) led the team in receiving in 2012 and has 10 catches for 154 yards this season; and junior slot receiver Deshon Foxx (5’10”, 172 lbs.) has 4 catches for 54 yards. Meanwhile, Michigan has 5 sacks thus far, 4 of which have come from SAM linebackers Brennen Beyer and Cam Gordon. The Wolverines also have 5 picks, 3 of them dropping into the hands of redshirt sophomore corner Blake Countess. Michigan’s defensive backs seem to be playing too far off their receivers this year, causing too few breakups and some easy completions. Unless that philosophy changes, I expect a lot of short completions and then some shots down the field.
Advantage: UConn

Roster Notes

  • Zero Huskies players hail from the Great Lakes State.
  • Offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach T.J. Weist was a grad assistant at Michigan from 1990-93.
  • Quarterbacks coach Shane Day was a quality control assistant at Michigan in 2006.
  • Director of Football Alumni/Community Affairs Andy Blaylock got a graduate degree from Michigan in 1962.
  • On a personal note, I saw presentations by Connecticut head coach Paul Pasqualoni and running backs coach Kermit Buggs (at Penn State) at coaching clinics in recent years.

  • Michigan turns on the jets in the running game, going for 250 yards total.
  • Greg Mattison keeps the corners in soft coverage because he thinks his guys can beat the other guys, anyway.
  • Michigan comes out pissed off and embarrassed by last week’s performance, taking out their frustrations on the Huskies and knocking Whitmer out of the game.
  • Michigan 38, UConn 14
Last Time They Played . . . 

  • Denard Robinson’s first career start at quarterback netted 197 rushing yards, 186 passing yards, and a 30-10 victory.
  • True freshman Devin Gardner entered the game when Robinson got nicked up, running for -4 yards and attempting 0 passes.
  • Terrence Robinson had 1 catch for 43 yards, the longest play of the day.
  • Obi Ezeh led the team in tackles with 9, adding a fumble recovery


  1. Comments: 21381
    Sep 20, 2013 at 2:06 PM

    I would still peg running game vs UConn as advantage: UConn, until I see some sort of demonstration that our tailback running game isn't God awful. I wouldn't trust our interior line and Toussaint to move the ball against a series of pylons right now.

    • Comments: 21381
      Sep 20, 2013 at 6:30 PM

      Regardless of the tailback, Devin Gardner has been running well. It's a different kind of a running game – and not one I totally want to rely on – but a running game nonetheless.

    • Comments: 21381
      Sep 21, 2013 at 1:30 AM

      I agree with anon here. While Gardner IS an excellent runner and SHOULD be counted as part of the run game (Denard should have tought us that), the reality is that most of his runs are scrambles, coming from passing plays, and should be counted as such.

      He has done well on called runs too, last week especially, but that's not what our coaches want. They go to that only when they have to, other than maybe a few times a game to keep defenses on their toes.

    • Comments: 21381
      Sep 21, 2013 at 5:20 PM

      At this point read options are probably the best designed run plays. Sadly that puts Gardner at risk injury wise quite a bit, but until the stretch plays and powers get going, it can be an effective run game. I rather Gardner only have to run on scrambles were it is easy to slide, run out of bounce, etc, but that just isn't an option at this point. As seen by the Denard years, a running qb can make up for a lot of the issues in a traditional run game, so Gardner is going to have to do the same.

    • Comments: 21381
      Sep 21, 2013 at 7:02 PM

      I disagree that most of Gardner's runs are scrambles. In fact, I don't think he scrambles very much, at least not to run the ball. He scrambles looking to pass.

      Gardner had three 35+ yard runs last week, and I believe all three were read options.

  2. Comments: 21381
    Sep 20, 2013 at 2:28 PM

    Let me make a few predictions as well:

    1. Gardner throws a pick
    2. Linebackers make a sack or two
    3. Green gets at least 10 carries and a touchdown
    4. D-linemen make no sack.

  3. Comments: 21381
    Sep 20, 2013 at 6:15 PM

    Predictions/Chances to make me look stupid:

    D linemen light the game up – Pipkins, Black, and Clark record 3 sacks between them
    I'm hoping we don't play as much nickel…
    Gardner throws 1 pick
    Running backs get less than 150 yards
    UConn puts up 350 yards of offense

    Michigan – 38, UConn – 17


  4. Comments: 21381
    Sep 20, 2013 at 6:27 PM

    What's with the soft coverage, anyways? Are the coaches just terrified about giving up the deep ball?

    • Comments: 21381
      Sep 20, 2013 at 6:29 PM

      Yes, I think that's the case. And therefore the players are terrified of giving up the deep ball, because then they'll disappoint the coaches and/or get benched.

  5. Comments: 21381
    Sep 20, 2013 at 9:43 PM

    Everyone talking about the tailback its hard to run with no holes opening up and your getting tackled in backfield its not like his missing holes and last week he had 50 taken back because our line held fitz is a good back

    • Comments: 21381
      Sep 21, 2013 at 1:23 AM

      Personally, I like punctuation.

  6. Comments: 21381
    Sep 20, 2013 at 11:03 PM

    Everyone knew that the lines were going to struggle but what surprises me is the aggressive def coordinator who blitz for no apparent reason isn't blitzing the one thing he talked about on what he learned while coaching in the NFL was how to get to the qb in various formations well its not hard to fig how we aren't getting there in a basic four man rush….please from here on out blitz blitz blitz send the house

    • Comments: 21381
      Sep 21, 2013 at 12:46 AM

      His first two years here Mattison blitzed because he felt he had no other options. This year he thinks his defense may be capable of developing an effective 4 man rush, and is willing to take chances to allow that to happen. Also I think he is worried about the back 7's ability to hold up if he runs heavy blitzes. Thunder would know far better than I, but from what's been said and what I've seen that's my naive opinion.

    • Comments: 21381
      Sep 21, 2013 at 7:07 PM

      @ UncleFred

      I think that's Mattison's concern, but I don't see why it would be a bigger concern this year than in past years. If we're talking about the back seven, the only changes are Countess instead of Floyd (a good thing) and Wilson instead of Kovacs (a step down, but Wilson's being used differently than Kovacs). Maybe Mattison doesn't trust Wilson back there, but that day's hopefully going to come. As for the linebackers, I don't see any huge differences between Morgan/Ross, Demens/Morgan, and Beyer-Gordon/Ryan in pass coverage.

      The real reservation might be with the nickel corner (not the slot corner, which is Countess), which is Lewis, Stribling, or Hollowell. Perhaps when Michigan is in nickel, Mattison doesn't want to leave that guy on an island.

  7. Comments: 21381
    Sep 21, 2013 at 1:23 AM


    Toussaint runs for under 4.5 ypc as the OL struggles continue. [Should be more a lot more against these guys.]

    0 interceptions from Devin.

    Devin dominates through the air.

    0 points for UConn

    Morris is in by the early 4th Quarter.

    Green or Smith has a great run in garbage time and people call for Fitz to loose his job.

    37-0 Michigan

    • Comments: 21381
      Sep 21, 2013 at 3:45 AM

      After last week…what the hell. I'll just go ahead and agree with all of these.

  8. Comments: 21381
    Sep 21, 2013 at 9:38 PM

    Thunder where is Maurice Hurst at thought we might of seen him this year

    • Comments: 21381
      Sep 21, 2013 at 9:53 PM

      He's only 270 lbs. I didn't expect him to play this year. He needs bulk and some technique work.

  9. Comments: 21381
    Sep 22, 2013 at 2:16 AM

    Well I'm glad to say I'm a Michigan fan lmao this team is a complete joke

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