EAST HARTFORD – The opportunity awaits the University of Connecticut football team. Whether they can cash in their opportunity remains to be seen.
But it stands in front of the Huskies. Only 11 other teams in the nation this year will get to face Michigan – one of the most storied collegiate football programs ever. Connecticut will get their chance to play No. 15 Michigan Saturday night before a record crowd at sold-out Rentschler Field. It is the second meeting ever between the two schools with the previous meeting coming in 2010 on the road in Ann Arbor.
“We’re happy to be playing a high quality team,” UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said. “It’s the challenge of being in Division I football; you get to play an outstanding program like Michigan. It’s good for football, it’s good for Connecticut, and it’s good for Eastern football.”
The Huskies (0-2) are staring into the abyss of an 0-3 start. The undefeated Wolverines survived a 28-24 scare to Akron last week but are a quick and talented squad led by quarterback Devin Gardner, who passed for 248 yards and two touchdowns last week against the Zips while also scrambling for 103 yards and a touchdown. He has scored at least two TDs in the last eight games.
Gardner also has a talented receiver in Jeremy Gallon, who caught six passes for 66 yards last week. He’s caught a pass in 29 straight games.
Pasqualoni remains upbeat about his defense that has given up big yardage (449.5 yards per game) in losses to Towson University and Maryland. The defense is ranked 101st among 123 FBS teams (Division I-A) teams.
“There are a lot of things on the run defense I really like,” Pasqualoni said. “I think Shamar Stephen is playing well, Julian Campenni, Yarwin Smallwood are playing well.
“The difference is, we’ve had a couple of assignment issues that lead to big plays. Those four big runs that they had last week (against Maryland), they accounted for 114 yards of the 200 or so they had,” he said. “The thing that is bothering is an assignment mistake here or there. And when we’ve had the assignment okay, the technique hasn’t been what it’s needed to be and we’ve either missed a tackle or been out of position.”
Miss an assignment or a tackle and Michigan is likely going to make you pay. In just three games, the Wolverines have already generated 21 plays over 20 yards including 11 passes (three for TDs) and nine runs.
UConn needs more from its offense, too. While the Huskies are decent throwing the ball (277 yards a game), their running game has been poor, averaging only 58 yards a game. Starting QB Chandler Whitmer has already been sacked 10 times in just two games. The running game is nearly last in the nation (122).
“We’re not creating enough open space and keeping the (defensive) guys up front moving,” Pasqualoni said. “We were unable to move (Maryland) defense backwards.”
UConn receiver Shakim Phillips leads the Huskies with 15 receptions for 225 yards and three TDs. He tweaked his hamstring scoring on a long touchdown pass against Maryland and is questionable.
NOTES: This is Michigan’s first non-conference game on the East Coast since playing Boston College on Sept. 16, 1995. The Wolverines won, 23-13. … The game will be broadcast nationally on ABC. … In two games, Gardner has led Michigan on 12 touchdown drives of 70 yards or more. … UConn plays its final non-conference game next week at Buffalo on Saturday, Sept. 28 at 3:30 p.m. online on ESPN3. The Huskies open up American Athletic Conference play two weeks later on Oct. 12 when they host South Florida at Rentschler Field. … UConn linebacker Yarwin Sherwood leads the American with 15 tackles a game. … With the addition of 2,200 seats, there will be a record 42,200 fans at the game.