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Three key matchups ahead of Michigan’s Week 3 game against UConn

A few matchups to watch before U-M takes the field against the Huskies.

NCAA Football: Hawaii at Michigan David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan Wolverines have easily been able to take care of business in their first two games of the 2022 season. This Saturday against the UConn Huskies (noon EST, ABC) is expected to be no different, as Michigan heads into the weekend’s matchup as 47.5-point favorites.

But there are still some key matchups to watch as the Wolverines attempt to stay sharp heading into Big Ten play.

UConn rushing attack vs. U-M’s run defense

Although the Huskies generated essentially no offense at all against Syracuse this past weekend, head coach Jim Mora Jr.’s offense saw a high level of success on the ground in the team’s first two weeks of action.

In their Aug. 27 31-20 loss at Utah State, the Huskies racked up 245 yards on the ground, with running back Nathan Carter gaining 190 of those. The following week, the Huskies ran for 274 yards in a 28-3 victory over Central Connecticut State.

UConn was held to 97 yards rushing against the Orange in a 48-14 loss last weekend, but Carter still managed to carry the ball 16 times for 71 yards, helping UConn get to 205.3 rushing yards per game through their first three games of the season. Carter is one of the more dangerous players on the Huskies’ offense and should provide somewhat of a test for Michigan’s defense.

The Wolverines, even while playing a number of guys on defense in the first two games and having a chance to rest starters considering the score lines, have been fairly stout against the run, giving up 111 yards per game on the ground (3.13 yards per carry).

If Mazi Smith and the rest of the defensive line can set the tone early and create a push up front, it will be able to force the Huskies into obvious passing situations, which should spell trouble for the UConn offense.

Michigan pass offense vs. UConn secondary

In J.J. McCarthy’s first start of his college career last weekend against Hawaii, the sophomore quarterback pushed the ball down the field several times, with Michigan receivers and running backs coming up with big plays early and often. McCarthy finished his night 11-of-12 passing for 229 yards and three touchdowns as Michigan had its way with the Rainbow Warriors’ defense.

If Michigan continues that momentum into this weekend, the Huskies will be in a world of trouble with their 112th-ranked pass efficiency defense in the nation, as UConn allows 253 yards per game through the air.

Just like on the defensive side of the ball, Michigan has rotated through several quarterbacks and every other position as games have gotten out of hand, but still rank as the 55th-best passing offense in the nation by racking up 263 yards per game through the air.

The Huskies have gotten to the quarterback for seven sacks in their three games so far this season, with linebacker Jackson Mitchell leading the way with 1.5 sacks on the season thus far. But if Michigan’s offensive line can keep McCarthy (and any other quarterback who might play) clean, there will be plenty of opportunities for playmakers like Roman Wilson, Donovan Edwards, Cornelius Johnson and others in Michigan’s offense to take advantage of throughout the contest.

Michigan third down offense vs. UConn defense

One area the Wolverines need to be better at on offense is being able to convert on third down. Granted, Michigan has only had to attempt 16 third downs in two games, which is a testament to the work the offense has been able to do on first and second down. But still, a 5-of-16 conversion rate (31.2 %) isn’t great and ranks 103rd in the country in terms of efficiency.

UConn, on the other hand, hasn’t been great at defending on third downs. It ranks 92nd in the nation while getting off the field 60.5% of the time on third down.

If Michigan makes explosive plays on first and second downs this Saturday, this matchup won’t mean much, but the Wolverines had a spurt of ugly three-and-outs against Hawaii and have a chance to improve in the third down category this weekend if the opportunities present themselves.