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September 24, 2013 - Image 8

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The Michigan Daily, 2013-09-24

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8 -Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Sports

The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

5 things we learned: Connecticut

By ZACH HELFAND
Daily Sports Editor
1. The offensive line is not near-
ly ready for the Big Ten. +t
Saturday was the worst per-
formance yet for Michigan's scuf-
fling offensive line. Lesser teams
had dominated Connecticut in the
trenches, yet on Saturday, UConn
controlled the line of scrimmage.
Fifth-year senior running back
Fitzgerald Toussaint had his best
game of the year, and even with
that performance, Michigan still
rushed for fewer yards against
UConn than Maryland or Towson
- an FCS team. The Wolverines
rushed for 173 yards. A Big Ten
defense would've dominated the
Michigan run game.
With an ineffective interior
line, runs up the middle went
nowhere, and offensive coordina-
tor Al Borges had to increasingly
rely on attacking the edge.
That, along with the struggles
of redshirt junior quarterback
Devin Gardner, made the offense Re sosphomoe
one dimensional. isn't just rushing.
Gardner couldn't find a rhythm,
but part of the blame goes to the . At times, it see
lack of pass protection. At the end other first-down.
of the second quarter, sophomore to Toussaint fora
tight end Devin Funchess whiffed were quite a few
on a block, which led to a Gardner Excluding pena
scramble and a long sack. On the put itself in secot
next play, fifth-year senior left ger 10 different t
tackle Taylor Lewan allowed a a third of the sect
rusher to get free and sack Gard- But the runn
ner again. as troublesome a
Gardner typically handles pres- Michigan ran the
sure well. But since the Akron first down for at
game - maybe as far back as of course, UCon
his interception in the end zone trouble containi:
against Notre Dame - he has dis- Towson and Mara
played a tendency to make bad And Michigar
decisions while escaping the pass rushes for either
rush. Still, an average
The offensive line has shown carry on first do'
major issues against the likes of adequate.
Akron and UConn. Against a Big But of biggerco
Ten team, the result could be even ner's inability to
uglier. on first down. Boi
three times asn
2 The problem on first down runs than passe

4. The defense isn't the prob-
em.
Was this a dominant showing
for the Michigan defense? Not
exactly.
But the defense still only gave
up 14 points. And apunt thathit off
the leg of freshman wide receiver
Da'Mario Jones essentially gave
away a touchdown to the Huskies.
What's left is a defense that
surrendered just one long scor-
ing drive. Against anyone, that's
enough to get the job done.
More positives for the defense:
the pass rush showed up. Com-
ing into the game, the defensive
line had accounted for only one
sack all season. Three different
linemen had at least half a sack
against UConn. Junior defensive
end Frank Clark finally broke
his drought with two Saturday.
Sophomore Mario Ojemudia and
redshirt freshman Chris Wormley
each had a half sack.
Passes over the heads of the
linebackers is still a concern.
UConn dropped some easy com-
pletions that could've gone for big
gains. And the rush defense gave
up too many easy runs.
But overall - and especially
compared to the offense - the
defense has performed well.

e centeriJack Miller is one of three interior offensive lineman that could be shuffled around during Michigan's bye week.

emed as if every,
play was a run
a loss. And there
of those plays.
lties, Michigan
nd-and-10 or lon-
imes, more than
ond-down plays.
ing woes aren't
s they appeared.
ball 20 times on
otal of 98 yards.
n's defense had
ng the likes of
yland.
n did have six
no gain or a loss.
of 4.9 yards per
wn is more than
oncern was Gard-
complete passes
rges called about
many first-down
s. The running

woes were more apparent because.
they were more numerous. But the
passing game was far worse.
On seven passing plays, Michi-
gan had just three positive plays.
And of those three, none went for
longer than three yards. The Wol-
verines averaged just one yard per
attempt on first down.
Yes, Toussaint and the line
were inconsistent on first down.
But the defense didn't have to
respect the pass.
3. Gardner's struggles go
beyond turnovers.
What makes Michigan's recent
struggles so puzzling is that
against Notre Dame, it was a
dynamic and impressive football
team. Akron could've just been a
letdown, but that rarely happens
two games in a row. Michigan
has major holes, specifically on
offense, but are the Wolverines
really as bad as they've shown

againsttwo inferior opponents?
Probably not. Much of that has
to do with turnovers: Michigan
has 12, which is second only to
Western Kentucky (15) for the
most in the nation.
Ten of those are attributable to
Gardner, whose recent swoon is
just as mysterious. Gardner leads
the nation in turnovers with 10,
and many have been the result of
reckless decision-making. That
wasn't exactly the case against
UConn.
Gardner should have been more
careful with the ball on a quarter-
back sneak that resulted ina fum-
ble. Still, the ball came loose after
redshirt freshman lineman Erik
Magnuson was pushed back into
Gardner.
Gardner's first interception was
a result of a poor pass and a tipped
ball. The read wasn't careless, but
the throw was off. The second
pick came on an underthrown ball
into single coverage on a streak.

Redshirt freshman receiver Jehu
Chesson didn't help much to break
up the interception.
The execution was poor, but
a deep shot into single cover-
age isn't ill-advised. on Satur-
day, though, Gardner missed an
alarming number of passes due to
inaccuracy. He finished 11-for-23
for 97 yards through the air.
That's the first time he has
completed less than 50 percent of
his passes as the starter and the
first time he's thrown for fewer,
than 100 yards. During the week,
Borges said Gardner doesn't
repeat his mistakes often. That's
encouraging.
"At least I'm not falling back,
the things he talks about so
much," Gardner said, referring to
Borges's advice.
The problem is, he's found new
errors to make. Gardner's problem
was never his arm. But on Satur-
day, even that failed him.

a

5. Bold Prediction: Brady Hoke
and Co. will shake up the offensive
line in two weeks.

They almost have to. The cur-
rent front five has not shown the
ability to get the job done.
Even prior to the UConn game,
Hoke and Borges said they were
open to replacing some of the inte-
rior line.
"It's always been in pencil,"
Borges said at the time. "We're
going to continue to force people
to compete atthe position. It'sthat
simple. But to say we're going to
start firing guys left and right, no.
We knew if we go through this."
But at this point, what choice
does he have?

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