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.
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.
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.
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.