UConn has only played two games so far this season, but I can't imagine two more disheartening losses between losing to an FCS team, then losing to your last coach's new team. What were the expectations for year three under Paul Pasqualoni? After two games, have those changed dramatically?
So the calling card for UConn Football the past 3-5 years has been solid to very good defense and running game. Because of a weak offensive line, the run game has not been as strong recently and Dive, Dive, Off-tackle, Punt was how a lot of offensive series' went down. We weren't sure if our OC knew that the forward pass was legal.
Expectations going into year 3 were that our shiny new offensive coordinator TJ Weist would drive improvement with his no huddle, spread approach. Even though the defense lost a lot of starters, some of which are playing on Sundays, we thought they would still be solid. Most of us were thinking that we could finish in the top half of the American and snag a bowl bid. After two straight 5-7 seasons under Pasqualoni, that was probably the minimum he needed to keep his job.
The Towson loss was, obviously, much worse than losing to Maryland. If we beat Towson and lose like that to Maryland, then we probably still think we have a shot at bowl contention because that's actually a pretty talented Terrapin team. Being manhandled by Towson at home is easily the worst loss in program history and when we needed to come back strong against Maryland after two weeks to put Towson behind us we put up another stinker. Maybe we're just slow-playing and keeping our cards close to the chest so we can open it up against you guys, but I doubt it. Now we are looking up and down the schedule to see where we have a chance at winning. My guess is that we're looking at a 4 win season, the silver lining being that this is almost definitely Pasuqloni's last season as head coach.
What should Michigan fans expect from this UConn offense? Is there a reason the running game has been so ineffective this year? Do you expect a heavier reliance on passing like the Maryland game, or things to be 50/50 like the Towson game?
If all goes planned (which they won't), UConn will be closer to a 50/50 split. However, they're likely to fall behind so the pass/run ratio should be skewed more towards throwing. The UConn offense is a mix of spread and pro style concepts that runs at varying speeds, but never huddles. The running game has been ineffective due to a variety of things, including a heavy dose of inside blitzes from Maryland a week ago. The greatest reason I can offer you is inconsistent blocking from the line, which has yet to get a full game from arguably its best lineman, right tackle Kevin Friend. In addition, while Lyle McCombs is the team's best, most consistent offensive weapon, he has struggled at times with poor vision.
Defensively, UConn is coming off two straight games having given up over 200 yards rushing. Michigan hasn't looked great running the ball because of inexperience on the offensive line. Where is UConn the weakest against the run?
Fortunately for the Wolverines, the Huskies are weakest on the outside where they can run behind Mr. Lewan and Schofield.. But, unfortunately for your young interior line, they're strong up the middle. Overall, the run defense against Towson was actually very stout, with the exception of poor contain on a few plays that generated a ton of yards. UConn was also mostly assignment-sound against a Maryland team with good speed, but bad angles and technique cost them on another handful of runs that resulted in big plays.
Michigan's quarterback, Devin Gardner, has been both electric and frustrating over Michigan's first three games, and his issues with decision-making were on full display last week as Akron did a good job getting pressure. Will UConn have the tools to force Gardner into bad decisions and possibly turnovers?
It's not likely. Any bad decisions will be mostly on Gardner. The majority of the Huskies' pressure this season is going to have to be scheme-generated, which means Wolverine receivers should be able to find soft spots in downfield zones, something they couldn't do against sticky Akron coverage. UConn got more pressure on Maryland than their zero sack total would indicate, but going against a stronger line like Michigan's, I doubt they'll have too much success.
A lot has been made in Michigan circles of UConn's insistence on keeping this game at home in Rentschler Field. What kind of game environment will this stadium provide, especially given that it is a night game? Also, do you think it was the right call to keep this one at the home field?
The stadium has its moments. RG3 called it one of the loudest places he played in college, and we've been hanging our hats on that for a while. I remember one of the loudest football games I remember was a night game when Louisville visited my Freshman year, so the potential is there. There's no doubt that the fans have a tinge of fairweatherdom -- there's no chance UConn students stick around past the 3rd if we're down 14+ -- but we are still good fans for the most part. There are relatively high asking prices going around in the Student Buy/Sell Facebook page, and everyone is exalting this matchup as the biggest in Rentschler's history.
I think the administration's emphasis on playing in East Hartford comes along the lines of proving our program can hang with the big dogs. After winning at Notre Dame and beating South Carolina, followed by beating Louisville at their home, despite recent success, we were feeling pretty good about the program in general. Who knows if it was a good idea, I can't honestly answer that until I see the crowd -- but I think it was a ballsy move in the wake of a bunch of very unballsy moves (keeping Paul being one of them).
Michigan fans walked into last week's game against Akron as overconfident as humanly possible, and paid the price when the game went down to the wire. While Michigan looks to be the better team, UConn isn't a pushover. What are three things that need to happen for UConn to get the win?
Turnovers, UConn redzone trips that end in touchdowns and well-said prayers on Friday night.
How do you see this game unfolding, and what is your final prediction?
I think UConn will hang around for a little while, perhaps even a half. But, an angry, focused Michigan team will be too much to contain. The Huskies have to play keep away and force turnovers, but if the turnovers don't come, they're toast. Michigan, 43-13.