Michigan hopes to buck turnover trend in road opener

Todd Needle/Daily
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By Matt Slovin, Managing Editor
Published September 19, 2013

One week after the Michigan football team struggled to beat Akron, likely the worst school on the schedule, Saturday’s opponent, Connecticut, presents its own set of challenges.

The Huskies (0-2) are in worse shape than the 2010 team that lost 30-10 to Michigan at the Big House, but eventually reached the Fiesta Bowl. Michigan fans might best remember the last meeting with Connecticut as then-quarterback Denard Robinson’s coming-out party.

The Huskies have already lost at home to Towson and Maryland, but because this will be the Wolverines’ first road game, Michigan coach Brady Hoke still believes Connecticut is dangerous. He even joked that, because of the Wolverines’ youth, he’ll need to bring nannies along for the trip.

“Every experience will be different,” Hoke said. “Believe me, I’ve thought about this a lot.”

Coming off a season in which Michigan went 2-5 in neutral-site or away games, however, Hoke’s main concern going on the road is limiting turnovers. Wednesday, he had no answer as to why the Wolverines seem to give the ball away much more frequently in away games.

But perhaps most alarming is that the turnovers have been popping up at home to start the season as well. Against Akron, a defense that had previously allowed scoring totals of 38 and 33 to Central Florida and FCS school James Madison respectively, redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner gave it away four times.

Gardner said Wednesday that the week has felt like it might never end. He is itching to get a chance to redeem himself Saturday, when he could prove that he is more like the quarterback that torched Notre Dame two weeks ago than the one that allowed the Zips the chance to climb back into the game last week.

“The whole world’s going to be able to watch us redeem ourselves from last week,” Gardner said.

Offensive coordinator Al Borges said he thought Gardner kept his composure for the most part in the Akron game, and that their in-game conversations were centered around correcting the errors Gardner had made. Hoke, on the other hand, said someone as competitive as Gardner can be tempted to try and do too much on the next opportunity to try and compensate for earlier mistakes.

“The big thing about a game like that is, because you’re playing a team against whom you’re heavily favored, there’s a natural tendency for everyone to think that every time you get the ball you should score,” Borges said.

Against Connecticut and its base 4-3 defense, Michigan might finally be able to find room to run the ball that hasn’t been there the past two weeks. Last week, Maryland ran right through the Huskies defense for 224 yards off 43 attempts — an average of 5.2 yards per carry.

The outside is where the Terrapins did most of their damage, and the Wolverines will likely need to stretch the field too because Connecticut’s strength is up the middle. If they can, fifth-year senior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint should have one of his biggest games of the season, and Michigan will right the ship that looked well off course against Akron.