Michigan vs. Connecticut: Biggest Storylines Heading into Showdown

Steven CookFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 20, 2013

ANN ARBOR, MI - SEPTEMBER 14: Devin Gardner #98 of the Michigan Wolverines scrabbles away for the tackle of Nick Rossi #44 of the Akron Zips during the fourth quarter at Michigan Stadium on September 14, 2013 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Michigan on the game 28-24. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Two programs that have faced opposite paths so far in 2013 face off in East Hartford, Conn., Saturday when the No. 15 Michigan Wolverines travel to face the Connecticut Huskies.

The Wolverines have a big win over Notre Dame already and sit at 3-0 behind the stellar quarterback play of Devin Gardner but nearly suffered a big upset against Akron last weekend.

Meanwhile, the Huskies have sputtered to an 0-2 record, both losses coming at home, and one to FCS opponent Towson in the season opener. 

Needless to say, this matchup is loaded with big storylines to follow as the battle progresses. Let's take a look at them. 


Was Michigan's Akron Scare a Fluke? Or a Sign of Things to Come?

Sep 14, 2013; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Akron Zips offensive linesman Henry Orelus (55) celebrates after recovering a fumble by Michigan Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner (98) in the second quarter at Michigan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TO
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

It's not too abnormal for good football teams to have letdowns after emotional wins like Michigan's over Notre Dame, but the Wolverines were nonetheless exposed against the Akron Zips.

The 28-24 scoreline is very telling, but it's also worth noting that the Zips trailed Michigan by just seven yards in total offense (417-425) and threw for a whopping 311 yards on what had been a stingy Wolverines secondary through two games. 

If it weren't for a goal-line blunder from Akron and some poor play-calling down the stretch, Brady Hoke and company could be walking into this matchup out of the top 25 completely.

Instead, Michigan still holds on to an elusive undefeated record and retains hope of making a title run. 

But if the Wolverines don't figure out what went wrong last weekend and how to make sure it doesn't happen again, they could be in for a long night.

Connecticut doesn't look like enough of a test for Michigan to be on upset alert, but if the Maize and Blue sputter again and let the Huskies hang around, Michigan fans will need to start worrying.


Is Connecticut Anywhere Near Being a Bowl Contender?

Sep 14, 2013; East Hartford, CT, USA; Connecticut Huskies quarterback Chandler Whitmer (10) is sacked by Maryland Terrapins linebacker Marcus Whitfield (left) and linebacker Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil (right) during the first half at Rentschler Field. Mandatory
Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

After a 5-7 campaign a season ago, Paul Pasqualoni's Huskies are showing no signs of being a bowl-contending squad and look likely to regress in 2013.

Not only did UConn lose to an FCS team in Towson at home to open the season, but its defense completely folded down the stretch, as the Tigers swung a 15-point upset win in a 33-18 drubbing. Towson running back Terrance West scampered for over 150 yards with two scores. 

Connecticut returned five starters on a defense that finished atop the Big East last year, but it lost two defensive backs to the NFL—Blidi Wreh-Wilson and Dwayne Gratz—and that has caused problems, as both Towson and Maryland took advantage of mismatches on the outside. 

Now members of the AAC, the Huskies will face the likes of No. 7 Louisville, South Florida, Cincinnati, Rutgers and more able teams that should be much stiffer tests than Towson.

Saturday will be a huge telling factor to the state of this team. Hanging around with Michigan for even a half would be considered promising, and being anywhere near the lead in the fourth quarter should be cause for partying in the streets of East Hartford. 

However, a blowout Michigan win could spell doom for Connecticut's season. 


Can Devin Gardner Get Back in Heisman Conversation?

ANN ARBOR, MI - SEPTEMBER 07: Devin Gardner #12 of the Michigan Wolverines escapes the rush of cornerback Bennett Jackson #2 the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the second quarter at Michigan Stadium on September 7, 2013 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  (Photo b
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

After emerging as one of the sleeper picks for a Heisman Trophy run amid his high-flying start to the 2013 season, Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner laid an egg last weekend with a four-turnover performance.

Gardner finished 16-of-30 passing for 248 yards and two scores, but it was his three interceptions and one fumble that has Michigan fans—and Heisman voters—worried about what he's capable of this season.

The junior already has six interceptions through three games, a ratio that needs to reverse itself immediately if he wants any chance of suiting up in New York City this December. 

The Wolverines won, but Garnder is still having a rough week due to his struggles, as he told USA Today's Mark Snyder

I can't wait. This week has been so long, and we're only halfway through it. When you play bad, the week moves so slow, and when you play good, it moves so fast. I just can't wait to be back on the field. And then we have an eight-o'clock game, so it makes it even longer.

I definitely have to play better. I can't wait.

Gardner did have his best rushing performance of the season against Akron, with 103 yards and a score on 10 carries. But until he can protect the ball, he won't be anywhere near front-runner status in the Heisman race.