2013 Opponent Preview: UConn Comment Count

Heiko June 14th, 2013 at 6:44 PM

The narrative so far:

  • Week 1 - Michigan plays an easy breezy beautiful home opener against Central Michigan. We find out whether Shane Morris will lose his redshirt. Prediction: he does.
  • Week 2 - Notre Dame comes to town, chaos ensues under the lights, we awake Sunday morning in a stranger's backyard and discover that we are missing a shoe.
  • Week 3 - Fitz Toussaint and Derrick Green each rush for 100+ yards.



Last year

Since this is part 2 of a home-and-home, I think we should go back a few years to get the proper context.

Michigan and UConn agreed to play a short series with each other in 2009. At the time the matchup was intriguing because of three things: Rich Rod’s ties to the Big East (and undefeated record against Randy Edsall), UConn’s apparent emergence in being okay at football (8-5 in 2008), and the basketball team’s own series with the Huskies. In addition to the fact that the 2010 game would be a home opener in a freshly renovated Big House, the anticipation for part 1 of the home-and-home was significant because none of us really thought the Wolverines, still smarting from a 5-7 season, would do all that well.

That was until Brock Mealer, Denard, and 60 minutes of domination happened.  You can relive the best moments here:

The pure awesomeness on display (and the awesomeness the following week) is the sort of thing that makes you think Michigan would play in the Rose Bowl, Denard would win the Heisman, and Rich Rod would be our coach forever and ever.

By the time we realized none of those things would come true, UConn and 2013 seemed a million years away. When your fandom devolves into stalking Dave Brandon while listening to songs by the Smiths on repeat, you’re not in a place to properly consider other people, or the future.

Did you know that the Huskies actually went on to win the Big East that year?

They did (or at least a share of it) and had a better resume than anyone else in that conference, so they got the auto-bid to the Fiesta Bowl, where they were summarily executed by No. 9 Oklahoma. Edsall bolted for Maryland pretty much the next day, and he has since been spending a lot of time there designing uniformz and losing. See you next year I guess.

So UConn hired Paul Pasqualoni, a former Syracuse head coach who lost his edge in the early ‘00s, left Syracuse, and floated around the NFL for a couple years. After taking over the Huskies, he's led them to back-to-back 5-7 seasons. Rebuilding, yes, but the outlook does not appear to be bright.

Had Edsall stayed in Storrs, the rematch with Michigan would have been a lot more intriguing, and the game would probably be a lot more competitive. Now it's just kind of sad. 

Last year

Okay, the real recap part. Let’s keep this brief: last season the Huskies were an unpredictable outfit that beat Maryland, Louisville, and Pittsburg, but lost to nearly everyone else, including Western Michigan. Defensively they were okay, limiting opponents to under 20 ppg. Offensively they were horrible, scoring 17.8 ppg. If the Big East were the Big Ten, UConn would be Michigan State.


Being horrible on offense is what usually happens when you break in a new quarterback. Whether he’s sufficiently broken in or just broken, he’s likely to be the guy Michigan will see on Sept. 21.

A/S/L: Chandler Whitmer, junior QB. Not much of a runner, not much of a passer. Last season he completed 57.6% of his passes for 2664 yards, 9 TDs, and 16 INTs. This year he’ll have back his leading receiver, junior Geremy Davis (44 rec, 613 yards, 1 TD). Junior Deshon Foxx is another name to be on the lookout for. Reports from their spring game say that he caught a bunch of 70-yard bombs and was the only player to score in a 6-0 affair.

The run game was also pretty disappointing last season. Lyle McCombs, the team’s top running back, will return as a junior and try to make things better. McCombs is a durable but limited guy. He’s small -- listed at 5-8, 169 lbs -- and not all that quick or speedy, which kind of defeats the point of being small. Regardless, he's got good enough vision and takes the bulk of the handoffs, which has earned him the "workhorse" monikor. In fact, he's one of a small collection of FBS players to combine for more than 500 carries over the last two years. Last season he got 243 carries for 860 yards, which comes out to about 3.5 yards a carry. Not bad but not great, considering he broke the 1,000-yard mark as a freshman.

The offense will probably improve. Most of the line is returning, and UConn picked up a new offensive coordinator in T.J. Weist from Cincinnati. Weist had been with the Bearcats since 2010, and his pass-happy offense there led the conference in a bunch of categories. I doubt they’ll find their rhythm by the time Michigan rolls into town, however. Either way it'll be interesting to see what Mattison thinks of Weist's offense. 


Free hugs.

The narrative here is kind of opposite that of the offense: really good last season but not returning a whole lot of guys. Of UConn’s top 10 tacklers in 2012, more than half of them were seniors.

At least the top tackler is coming back. The name to know here is Yawin Smallwood, a 6-3, 244-lb middle linebacker who was named the Defensive Scout Player of the Week as a redshirting freshman right before the 2010 Michigan game. Smallwood had 120 tackles, 15 TFLs, and 3.5 sacks last year. He’s pretty high up on draft boards, so his production is likely not just a byproduct of “plays in the Big East.”

The Huskies’ defensive line is fairly experienced in the interior, less so on the outside. DT Shamar Stephen was a solid contributor last year with 26 tackles, 2 for loss, and Angelo Pruitt looks like he’ll probably slide inside (he played end last year). For what it’s worth, these guys aren’t small. Stephen is 6-5, 320 lbs, and Pruitt is 6-3, 300. That could be a problem for Jack Miller and whoever the two new guards are. At end, UConn is getting a sixth-year rush end back from injury, and they have another guy on the strongside who is 6-5, 301. Again, not small. At least their athleticism won’t be nearly as terrifying like Notre Dame’s line is, so Lewan and Schofield should be able to handle them without too much trouble.

Things are a little fuzzier in the secondary. From what I can tell it looks like UConn is set at safety, at least. They bring back three guys with varying degrees of experience and a hefty collection of career tackles. The cornerback situation is not good though (when is it ever? I mean, seriously). I think at this point they still have no idea who's going to start, so they're move their most experienced safety, junior Byron Jones (87 tackles, 1 INT), to corner while the other guys figure themselves out. Best 11, I say.

The Huskies’ defense will probably be pretty competent even with six new starters, but they'll be imminently beatable. In 2012 they put five of their guys on the all-conference roster, and when a defense produces multiple honorees that usually means the coaching staff is doing something right. Will they simply reload in 2013, or must they rebuild? I guess we’ll find out!

This team is kind of like: A rock.

Is it too early to bring out the rock? Maybe, but I glanced at Michigan’s B1G schedule and no one else fits the bill.

Vs. Michigan: Michigan’s non-conference slate is awfully reminiscent of the one they played in 2011. If so, UConn is this year’s version of San Diego State, with major differences being only that the game is away and Hoke didn’t coach any of these guys.

The Wolverines shouldn’t have much trouble stopping the Huskies offense. Whitmer, if coached properly, will probably top out around where Ryan Lindley ended up. That kind of development takes a while though. When Michigan visits he’ll probably struggle with Mattison’s nefarious schemes, and once the Wolverines pass rushers break through it’ll be game over. The Heininger Certainty Principle says that Frank Clark and/or Taco Charlton will have a good game.

Offensively Michigan will probably struggle with Smallwood. Hoke and Borges seem to prefer a safe, run-heavy approach on the road, and against that defensive line I can’t see any of the Wolverines interior offensive linemen getting to the second level on a consistent basis. If Michigan’s defense plays well, it won’t matter. Borges can keep running his new toys up the middle until the game ends at 14-6.



June 14th, 2013 at 7:03 PM ^

how our Tackles won't dominate their exterior D-linemen for a big game offensively. Further, I think Funchess will be a nightmare for their D to match up with. I'd give us at least another touchdown in this contest.


June 14th, 2013 at 7:08 PM ^

2008 Wisconsin
2009 Western & Notre Dame
2010 UConn & Notre Dame

Especially in the UConn game, I remember the 1st three-and-out for UConn had me hoping the defense had finally turned the corner and the "oh wide open" to T. Robinson had me believing we were finally going to see Richrod's offense start to befuddle people

Sadly neither happened.


June 14th, 2013 at 8:09 PM ^

The first half was one of the worst games of football I had ever seen a Michigan team play (at least up until then). I looked at the box score--Threet ended 12 of 31 for 96 yards and about half of our rushing yards came on two plays (Brandon Minor's touchdown and Threet's long run). Despite the win it was pretty clear it was going to be a long season.

I agree completely about those 2009 and 2010 games, though. I thought we'd turned the corner both years (sigh).


June 15th, 2013 at 3:08 PM ^

Sadly. However, my first game was the win against Wisconsin, which was an amazing experience to be at despite the team and yada yada. Then Toledo....Toledo..... Then Michigan State where we made Blair White look like Steve Largent. However, I got to see PSU the following year and Denards first play the year after that. Oddly enough, haven't made it to a game other than the down years


June 14th, 2013 at 7:14 PM ^

...and was the only player to score in a 6-0 affair

I would say the does not bode well for their offense this year. They're like a poor man's Michigan State...yeesh. What monstrosity will we find in Storrs?


June 14th, 2013 at 7:20 PM ^

I forgot how incredible Denard looked early in the season in RR's offense.  I'm also surprised to see how effective Michael Shaw was in some clips.  It may not seem like much to some of you, but living on the East Coast I rarely have the chance to see UM play outside of a once in a while visit to PSU.  This game I will be at and am quite excited to see our guys first hand for the first time since we lost at PSU in 2010.  Since I will be attending with my friends that are unfortunately UCONN fans, albeit not the sort of fans we are all on this board, I am really hoping to rub it in their faces how vastly superior we are in college football.  I hoping for at least one insane Funchess catch, Fitz & Countess looking ready, Green steamrolling some 170lbs DB, Frank Clark decleating Whitmer, a glimpse of the freak that Charlton will become, a strong push from the likes of Kalis/Miller/Braden, Cam Gordon being servicable, Darboh contributing, Gallon being Gallon, Q-Wash & PeeWee knifing through every play, Ross acting like a human missle throwing himself at anything that dares carry a football in front of him, and Devin showing off why he will be the B1G offensive player of the year.  Is that too much to ask for in one game???

Crazy Canuck

June 14th, 2013 at 10:04 PM ^

Sadly in the 30 years or so I have been a fan I have never seen them play. Since UConn is only 5 hours away(where as A2 is 16) I just might finally be able to see my beloved Wolverines in person. Maybe I'll bump into you MGoStrength. We could have a beer and rub it into your friends that we are vastly superior in football.


June 14th, 2013 at 10:21 PM ^

I definately plan to be vocal in my support of UM so it won't be too hard to find me, although UCONN football fans aren't like the fans you see in the B1G.  They don't have the same sort of school pride in thier program and it doesn't help that the stadium is not on campus.  I don't know if you've ever been to Rentschler Field before, but it only seats about 40,000.  There aren't really any bad seats, but there are currently only 468 tickets available according to Stubhub (starting at $136) and I'm guessing this one will sell out.



Crazy Canuck

June 15th, 2013 at 12:54 PM ^

The stadium for our CFL team holds only 20 000+. It's on the top of a hill behind a University and next to a hospital. I am very acustomed to no ambiance. As long as I finally see them play I could care less about where they play.


June 15th, 2013 at 2:49 PM ^

There is no atmosphere because it's too far from campus and you don't get the feel of a college atmosphere.  It was never really intended with UCONN as it's main focus as it was originally planned as the Patriots stadium and was going to be in downtown Hartford until they decided to create Gillette Stadium, then it was scaled back, moved, and used primarily for UCONN among others.  I personally like the stadium itself in terms of comfort and view of the game, but in terms of feeling like a college football atmosphere...it does not really.  But, it's all we got in Connecticut and there's not much north of PSU for good college football.

G Money

June 14th, 2013 at 11:56 PM ^

...it'd be interesting b/c we'd suck and face a team from the Suck (Big) East... To assume Edsell would have taken UConn to a new level would be the same as Rich Rod taking UM to a new level.... Wait, Rich Rod did take UM to a new level. My bad.


June 15th, 2013 at 8:50 AM ^

Technically, the Big East doesn't exist as a football conference any longer. It is now the American Athletic Conference and as bad as the Big East was it is even more pathetic now. Almost every team in this new conference was in Conference USA within the past 7 years. I assume that they will not be getting an auto BCS bid any longer...not that it matters much with this being the last season of the BCS and all.

Louisville will probably go undefeated in the regular season and will not have beaten a single Top 25 caliber opponent along the way.


June 15th, 2013 at 9:58 AM ^

That really speaks to UCONN football!  Is the student section still on the far corner between the end zone and the visitors side?  The three times I went I was always either in the opposite end zone, which was actually pretty cool because the dance team or cheerleaders were only a few rows in front of us, or on the home side sorta near that same end zone.  My buddy got us tickets and I hope we are on visitors side this time.  Good for you rocking the UM gear in your own student section!


June 15th, 2013 at 12:39 PM ^

The student section is now the entire endzone and one corner. It usually doesnt fill up, but its really not the students fault. The stadium is in Hartford which is between 30- 45 minutes depending on traffic . Lots of students will usually just go to tailgate because the parking situation is pretty good as its just one enormous grass lot and tickets to the games are only $5 with ID.

We had hopes of being a better football school and it seems like Edsall was on the path to taking us there along with a truly amazing on campus football facility worthy of a top 10 national program, the thing is really impressive. However, after he left it really has been all downhill from there except for producing a decent amount of NFL draft pics. We are truly only a basketball school and if people are football fans their loyalties usually lie elsewhere so I am not really worried about getting heckled.  (I was a Michigan fan before I moved to CT)

Another thing I'm not going to name any names but I have a good friend who is on the team who will actually be rooting for Michigan to win. That is saying something about our fan base and students.


June 15th, 2013 at 2:54 PM ^

I am not originally from Connecticut, but have lived there for about 7 years.  I was born in AA, but have lived all over the place and in the Northeast for almost 20 years.  But, you're right, not only is there not a lot of loyalty for UCONN football, football fans in the Northeast don't really follow college football.  Until you get down to PA, football fans in the Northeast are much more interested in the Patriots, Jets, or Giants.  It blows my mind, but it's an argument I have been having for years.  They just don't get it because there is no big time program for them to hang their hat on.  You know it's a sad state of affairs when women's hoops is more popular than football.

Tyrone Biggums

June 15th, 2013 at 3:07 PM ^

What do you think the scalping situation will be like on gameday? I'm going to be travelling to the game with my girlfriend and a couple of my east coast buddies from Boston. The prices on Stubhub are doable but I'm a little trigger shy because of my last two away games (Sugar Bowl & Jerryworld) tickets could be had for way less than I paid for them outside the stadium. Any guidance will be much appreciated. I know a sellout is anticipated but it seems like the draw is really for the UM fans and there will be plenty available on gameday? 


June 15th, 2013 at 1:36 AM ^

...I really can't see the logic behind the 14-6 projection. Truthfully, one does notice that Borges is more conservative on the road. Part of that might be because he didn't trust Denard's arm. Factually, Borges let Gardner air it out against Minny and South Carolina. If you want to say Minny was just that bad...well...UConn isn't THAT much better. It's not really enough to say their linemen are big and their Mike is elite. BC had Luke Kuechly, after all, that was never enough.Really, a 14-6 prediction for an away game is almost projecting a tossup. All it would take is one careless pick-6 or the like, and the game is in the air.                                      


June 15th, 2013 at 1:45 AM ^

I mean, statistics don't always tell the tale. The idea of UConn's defensive quality, based on points per game, really should be filtered through a quality of opposition caveat. Playing in the Big East with a soft non-conference schedule is going to skew things wildly. I mean, that takes into account a shutout of UMass, which is still functionally an FCS team, and the normal squad of hapless Big East punching bags like South Florida and Temple.And I'll give you the fact that they held Louisville to an abusrdly low score (maybe Bridgewater was injured that day?) and did well against Rutgers (who were very up and down with Nova), but they also gave up 40 points to Nassib and Syracuse and 34 to Cinnci, and even 30 to Western Michigan....and after losing five starters, including several NFL draft picks, you think Gardner and Co. can't put up gaudier numbers than 14 points? I just don't see it.

Perkis-Size Me

June 15th, 2013 at 11:22 AM ^

14-6? Come on. I know we still need to prove ourselves against tough opponents on the road, but this is anything but a tough opponent. I could maybe understand 14-6 at the half, like Gardner just gets off to a slow start. But if I were a betting man, I'd say this game will be over by halftime.

35-7. Green/Fitz will have at least 150-200 yds between them, and Gallon will go for 150 yds and 2 TDs.

True Blue in CO

June 15th, 2013 at 11:54 AM ^

of Denard in the groove with the spread offense.  Was looking for but did not see our man Lloyd Brady in the highlights from the stands.  The game at UConn this year should be a nice preparation trip for BIG road games later in the season.


June 17th, 2013 at 11:59 AM ^

Judging solely on strength of opponent (rather than drama or rivalry), the 2010 UConn game was probably RichRod's biggest win. And also kind of an outlier in many respects.

Unusual for the time, the defense got some stops but that was probably because the offense was a grinding, third down converting, mistake free juggernaut. Rather than relying on big plays, they ground out 28 first downs on 8 possessions behind 19/22 for 186 and no INT passing from Denard.

Until maybe the end of the 2011 regular season, Denard never really achieved that level of accuracy and efficiency as a passer again.

The whole game was very weird in retrospect.


June 26th, 2013 at 5:30 PM ^

UConn fan here. UConn alum and son of a varsity Ohio State alum.

I think 14-6 is a little generous to UConn - I think we're looking more like a 23-0 or 19-3 (some odd score involving a lot of Michigan field goals).

UConn is an enigma in the Pasqualoni era. A couple times a year they "show up" and beat a Louisville on the road or first-place Rutgers two years ago. I haven't decided if this year will be a disaster or an improvement over the last two years of sub-mediocrity. During the Edsall era, sub-par talent (especially on the offensive-side of the ball minus the running back position) overachieved. The talent may be better now than it was (he's already recruited 4 QBs equal or better to the best QB Edsall ever had - Dan Orlovosky) but the team just doesn't show up sometimes. Case in point, their chance to make a bowl game last year, coming off a road win over a Louisville team that went on to be Florida, they were blown out at home by a good, not great Cincinnati team.

The defense wasn't just "good" last year, it was great... but it was on the field too much. The three best teams they faced last year (Louisville, Rutgers and NC State) all struggled to score against them. NC State's only points came on a busted play with a back-up CB on the field while their best CB was on the bench getting a concussion check - NC State put up 30+ points vs. Tennessee the week before. That being said, a lot of that defense is gone - 4 drafted players. They do get Graham Stewart back this year (originally a Florida recruit, had a touch down vs. Ohio State in the bowl game 2 years back on a blocked punt) and some other good young linebackers. The D-Line backups last year were solid, and by the end of the year the DB 2nd string played enough not to be humiliated. Michigan would be smart to go against the 'run on the road' strategy, and air it out early and test the secondary. The longer this game is close, the more anxious it's going to be for Michigan. The Rent is a small facility but it's loud (RGIII called it the most difficult stadium he played in in college). The seats are right on the field and UConn is a markedly better team at home (sans last year's louisville and cincy results). UConn fans will already be nuts because the hype for the Michigan game is pretty big here, and it's the week after UConn plays Randy Edsall's Maryland squad.

And everyone who said UConn can't score against this Michigan defense is right. The offense was a train wreck last year. Traditionally UConn's O-Line is better than last year. I think the receivers are actually stronger than most would give credit, but the QB is dreadful (watch him throw 2 times more picks than TDs this year) and a QB controversy will erupt because there are a RS Freshman and 2 Freshman who were all brought in to be the "QB of the future".

I hope it's a good game, obviously not rooting for Michigan (sorry) but I think this is going to be a snooze fest, not quite a laugher, but never in doubt for Maize Nation. UConn will be very "up" to face Edsall the week before - if they lose there (which is possible - Maryland set the NCAA record for bad breaks last year; they have to be better) they are going to be flat. They could be flat off a win. Or they could be the team that beat Louisville last year (I can only hope).