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Pregame Final Five Thoughts: Michigan @ Connecticut

John Kayser Feature WriterHello Hokeamaniacs!

After our scare last weekend in The Big House against Akron, I’m pretty sure that Hoke and his staff have been putting the team through the ringer in practice this week. And as a result, we shouldn’t see a sloppy performance this Saturday in the first road game of the year for the Maize and Blue when they travel to Connecticut to take on the Huskies in primetime.

Those that know Michigan know that the Wolverine lines and run game must improve if Michigan is to be successful Saturday. So with that said, here are my Final Five Thoughts for the game tonight against UConn.

1. Consistency
We all know that Team 134 has the potential to be great as was made evident during the second edition of Under the Lights a few weeks ago against Notre Dame. Yet, after the shocker last week against the Zips, few things are now as important as consistency.

Wolverine quarterback Devin Gardner at times this year has looked, well, bad (throwing two interceptions returned for touchdowns). Yet at times, Devin has shined (rushing for 10 carriers and 103 yards with a score against the Zips and his 7 touchdown completions total).

Gardner finding his groove and keeping a happy medium going forward will be key if Michigan is to go to extraordinary heights this season. Devin can not continue to play well for stretches of the game, then play poorly in others.

The defense currently ranked 49th in the nation for points allowed must too find a way to get consistent pressure on the opposing team’s quarterback. They must also do a better job against the pass as they are currently 87th overall in yards allowed through the air. At times this unit has shined in both areas, but has also been susceptible to giving up long drives and big plays for scores this year. Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison needs to get this right.

After the hell week I’m sure Hoke put his team through I see consistency as being crucial and non- negotiable. And that starts now.

2. Turnovers
Turnovers go hand and hand with consistency. Akron did a good job of “taking” the ball from Gardner last week and that kept the Zips in the game until the very last play. This week I expect to see a very focused, very smart Wolverine football team.

Gardner leads the nation for quarterbacks in interceptions so far throwing 6 total in three games. Expect that too to change Saturday. Eliminating mistakes and reducing turnovers while also creating turnovers ourselves will keep the Wolverines in a comfort zone for most of the night and beyond.

3. Atmosphere
It’s the first road game of the year, truly unfamiliar territory, and we are reeling from the victory that feels much more like a loss. Brady Hoke is undefeated at home in The Big House, yet can’t say the same away from it.

Those components mixed with what is expected to be the largest crowd in Uconn football history will surely cause a few hiccups. But by comparison, as large as the crowd may be, it will still be the smallest crowd Michigan will have played in some sixty years. Plenty of Maize and Blue faithful will be in attendance.

And of course, ABC will be broadcasting this game in primetime. That is surly to hype the home crowd and add extra excitement to this contents for both teams. Additional excitement leads to increased neves. Keeping the adrenaline in-check and playing under control will be key.

The Wolverines are used to big games under the lights on national television. I’m not so sure if the same can be said about the Huskies. With that said, I’m very comfortable in our ability to overcome the road game blues that have plagued Coach Hoke since his arrival in Ann Arbor.

4. Confidence
With any road game if things go wrong early it could become a long night in the northeastern united states. After the Akron debacle everyone wonders about the wolverines mindset going into Saturday night. Once they calm down and gain composure the points should start coming. The confidence will grow as the game goes along as will the team’s cohesiveness. Last saturday caused some everyone to lose some sleep, this week the maize and blue will bounce back stronger than ever.

5. Play calling
Let’s face it folks, last week Akron coach Terry Bowden proved he’s still got it. The Akron staff had an answer for almost everything Hoke and his staff threw at them. This week look for Michigan to strike quick and early, play nasty defense and come together as a sound team.

Offensive Coordinator Al Borges needs to be quicker to modify his play calling once he identifies things are not working as designed. At times, the “pro style” offense has struggled to gain yards in the air or in the ground-game. Michigan last week got going in the second half in thanks to Gardner’s scrambling ability to make first downs on the ground. If that is what it takes to win, Borges needs to call those plays sooner.

I predict we will see Michigan go under center more than they have since the season opener. There have been some wrinkles this year in the play calling. Wrinkles not for the best. This week Michigan gets them straightened out.

Final Thought…
No one in Ann Arbor is talking glazed donuts this week believe me! “The Team” will be sharp and focused. Hoke will be fired-up and ready to make a statement. The statement will be a big game from the Victors.

Im airing on the side of caution after my bombing of last week’s prediction, therefore I say this:

Michigan – 38
Uconn – 17

John Kayser

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