What Went Wrong: UConn

Jim Rogash

Apparently this is becoming an ongoing series. I am Jack's complete lack of surprise.

Week two of That Was The Worst Thing Ever (Almost) theater as Michigan goes into Connecticut to play a team it should easily beat on paper, only to fall behind and have to claw out a late win that is ripe with drama.

UConn, as you probably already know, was fresh off losses to Towson (an FCS team) and Maryland (a Randy Edsall team). While Maryland might prove to be something better than what most of us figured it would be, thanks to a drubbing of West Virginia, Towson is not a team that an FBS program should lose to.

But those are UConns problems, and we've already got a full plate just tackling Michigan's issues.

Long Thirds

Last week in this space we talked about Michigan's struggle on third down. The Wolverines completed just three third-down conversions all game with two coming on the first drive. All seven unconverted third-downs were nine yards or longer. Michigan let itself get behind the chains on early downs and that forced a lot of longer conversion attempts.

Against UConn, Michigan did a better job converting third downs. Michigan converted 7 of 16 on the day (the 17th was a kneel down at the end of the game). However, Michigan once again failed to put itself in a position to succeed the majority of the time. Eight of MIchigan's third down attempts were from short or intermediate distances. Five of the six attempts of four yards or less were converted and Michigan failed to convert attempts at 5 and 6 yards (the 6 yard conversion attempt ended in the tipped interception to Gallon).

The other half of Michigan's third down attempts were very long

Distance Play Conversion/result
13 pass inc. yes (PI on def)
12 17 yard rush yes (touchdown)
26 4 yard sack no
16 pass inc. no
20 10 yard rush no
25 8 yard rush no
15 17 yard pass yes
17 15 yard rush no

While Michigan had good success on its shorter downs for the most part, the Wolverines continually got into long situations. Three conversion attempts over 15 yards and three more over 20. Michigan would have been 2 of 8 on these had it not been for a pass interference call.

With Devin Gardner struggling to throw the ball well, Michigan needs to keep its third down situations manageable so that the running game (specifically Gardner as a runner) can be involved. While third-and-10s aren't out of hte question, getting into third-down conversions over 15 yards greatly increases the odds that the drive will end with a punt.

Going Nowhere (Run Game Edition)

After four games, Michigan currently sits 118th of 123 teams in the nation in TFLs allowed. Time and time again, Michigan's run plays are blown up before the line of scrimmage. This game was no different. Michigan ended the game with seven rushing plays that went for no gain or a loss, and that doesn't include the three sacks that Michigan gave up or Devin Gardner's wild attempts to escape pressure.

This has been an ongoing problem for Michigan's offense (as evidenced by those not so glowing TFL allowed numbers). The UM offensive line has struggled to properly block some of these plays. Part of this is a product of the fact that the three interior line starters are all new to playing time as of this year and its hard to expect them to just get it right out of the gate. Another part is that, as Brian explained in a Picture Pages post last week post-Akron, some of these blocks are just hard to execute. In the example Brian provided, Jack Miller was tasked with getting playside of a DT lined up in the A-gap. This is a Molk-ian task that forces even the best lineman to give ground to get position, which means penetration, which in the case of run plays almost always means a higher level of difficulty/chance of failure.

The missed assignments on the inside also set MIchigan up for failure on the zone stretch — something Michigan went to early and often against UConn. The Huskies were doing a lot to try and hold the edge, which meant that Fitz Toussaint needed to be patient to let the blocking open things up (rather than him trying to get to the edge immediately). If the blocking is there on the inside/backside, the running back will have time. In a few cases against UConn, it wasn't there and the pressure from the inside blew up things before Toussaint could turn into the hole.

Michigan looks right now to not be able to get any push up front. Even on the well-blocked plays, the offensive line is unable to get the kind of push to reestablish the point of attack down the field. While Michigan has had great success booting Gardner out for short pickups and in the red zone, that play's prevalence points to a real problem that even the coaches see, and is a big deal in football. A truly good offensive line can get you two yards when you need it. This line doesn't look to be able to do that yet.

Turnovers and the other mistakes that make you want to pull your hair out

Again, we talked about this last week, but it remains as true as ever: turnovers are a heavy favorites biggest weakness in upset bids.

Against Akron, Michigan saw a huge point swing because of turnovers in the second quarter, and the pick-six in the fourth quarter turned a manageable two score lead into a panick-inducing nail-biting win. Against UConn Michigan ceded early momentum in the game by driving into UConn territory only to then turn the ball over on a high pass from Gardner to Gallon that was tipped and intercepted.

Later, in the second quarter, Michigan followed up UConn's first score (and only substantial drive) of the game with an immediate interception on a long pass down the sideline to Jehu Chesson. UConn's next drive stalled, but the punt bounced off Da'Mario Jones and was recovered for a first down inside the ten yard line.

Finally, on Michigan's first drive of the second half, a fumble on an attempted QB sneak ended up an easy return touchdown for UConn.

Two Michigan mistakes led directly to 14 UConn points. Two other Michigan mistakes killed Michigan's offensive momentum at key times.

On the day Michigan's defense gave up just over 200 yards and allowed one drive into the red zone (which was UConn's only scoring drive of the game). The rest of the game was Michigan's defense coming up with stop after stop.

Once again, Michigan's struggles to survive against a bad team were based almost completely on a handful of horrible offensive mistakes that gifted points to the opposition and set Michigan's defense up in bad positions. Take away the muffed punt and the fumble return TD and Michigan wins 21-7 in a boring game featuring no offense.

What I'm trying to say is that despite the problems of the last two weeks, the sky isn't falling (yet). However, if turnovers continue to crop up at this rate, the ceiling won't be able to hold much longer.

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