Notebook: Desmond Morgan, defense bail out stagnant offense

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By Liz Vukelich, Daily Sports Editor
Published September 21, 2013

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — There’s one thing that Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison never wants to leave for a road trip without. At times, it seemed like the Michigan football team left it in Ann Arbor, but luckily for them, junior linebacker Desmond Morgan remembered to bring it to Connecticut.

“(Mattison) tells us every time we go on the road you’ve got to pack your defense, you’ve got to pack your championship effort,” Morgan said. “He always preaches to us we always have to step up and hold opponents to as little yards as we can and keep the points off the boards.”

Morgan remembering to bring that effort can certainly be called the turning point in the game for Michigan. His fourth-quarter, one-armed interception that he returned for 29 yards compensated for the Wolverines’ stagnant offense and led them to a 24-21 win over the Huskies.

Morgan said all he had to do was read the quarterback’s eyes and he knew where the ball was going to be. As soon as he caught it, his high school running back days kicked in and he set up an easy touchdown for the Wolverines.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke acknowledged that, even though the defense didn’t truly pick up until the end of the game, it still played “awfully hard” during the lackluster first half.

Though Morgan’s interception was the highlight of the Wolverines’ performance, Hoke also made sure to mention the pass rush — an area of concern that Mattison took upon himself to fix in the week of practice leading up to UConn.

According to junior defensive end Frank Clark, the Wolverines live for those fourth-quarter big defensive plays. Clark, who boldly predicted double digit sacks for himself this season, finally notched his first two on Saturday.

“When you get the game and you’re able to have the game put on the defense’s back that’s what we come here for,” Clark said. “We come here for those situations like this.”

SPECIAL TEAM’S SPECIALTIES: Between Morgan’s big moment and the absence of any huge offensive plays, it would be easy to overlook one of the most consistent aspects of Michigan’s game all night: its special teams performance.

The Wolverines reverted back to senior wide receiver Drew Dileo handling punt returns, partly due to his veteran status, and partly due to the breezy conditions on the field.

“I think tonight, the (UConn punter) in the two previous games sprayed the ball around a little bit,” Hoke said. “To have a guy who has that experience is always good.”

Michigan also saw more production from junior kicker Matt Wile. Wile struggled in the previous week, with either too many kicks out of bounds or ones he just shanked. On Saturday, though, Wile averaged 42.4 yards on five punts, prompting praise from Hoke.

RESTING GARDNER: Hoke said that Michigan had no serious injuries, but that redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner would use the upcoming bye week to recover from a few big hits he took. In the preseason, Gardner said it was going to be a goal of his to run out of bounds more frequently to try and avoid unnecessary hits.

“I’m sure he’s banged up,” Hoke said. “He took some licks and sometimes he puts himself in that position because he’s competitive and tries to get that extra yard.”