1) Holy Akron! The Zips are one of the worst teams in college football. Michigan, currently ranked No. 15 in the country, is obviously leagues above them in terms of talent, coaching, etc. What did Akron do to stay close? Are there any glaring Wolverine weaknesses that they were able to exploit?
Yeah, so needless to say, not many Michigan fans saw that one coming. Akron was supposed to be the easiest game on the schedule, and it turned into the closest game of the still-young season.
As for what Akron did to stay close, it is a combination of making a few important plays and being sure to take advantage on Michigan's really awful offensive game. Credit where credit is due, Akron's offense made some impressive plays in the second half and put together two nice scoring drives that twice gave the Zips a go-ahead score. Now that that is out of the way, Michigan's offense gave the game away at multiple points. Five second quarter drives ended in three turnovers, a missed field goal, and a shanked punt. Two of those turnovers were in the red zone and the shanked punt led directly to an Akron field goal. That is at least a nine point swing and probably more like a 17 point swing. With Michigan's offense floundering in the second quarter, Devin Gardner began to force some throws he shouldn't, and when combined with the fact that Michigan put itself in seven third-and-nine or longer situations – converting none of them – there wasn't much offensive rhythm. Also, Michigan's punter shanked another punt and only booted a third 35 yards. Even with all of that, Michigan was still up 11 points going into the fourth quarter before a pick-six brought Akron back within four.
In summation, Michigan did every single thing you don't want to do as a heavy favorite. It turned the ball over four times, with two of those turnovers leading directly to 10 Akron points. It didn't convert third downs and failed to set itself up with manageable situations. It lost the special teams battle with a missed field goal and three bad punts that gave Akron good field position. And even after that, Michigan still pulled out the win.
There are still issues that UConn can exploit. Gardner has proven himself prone to mistakes under pressure, and because of his tendency to lock on to Jeremy Gallon. If UConn can keep Gallon covered up and get good rushes against Gardner, it could force mistakes. Michigan has also struggled to run the ball because of a young interior offensive line and Fitz Toussaint's tendency to not want to follow his blocks. Finally, you have to consider Michigan's punting game a weakness until proven otherwise. Unfortunately for UConn, the Huskies might have caught Michigan a week too late to pull the upset, but these are systemic problems that aren't going to be solved over night
2) As you can imagine our fans were thrilled to schedule two games against Michigan. One chance to visit one of college football’s greatest venues and a chance to see them play in our home stadium. What were you're perceptions about adding a UConn home-home to your out of conference schedule?
At the time the move seemed almost like it would come back to bite Michigan. UConn had recently made the jump to the FBS level and before 2010, former coach Randy Edsall led UConn to a string of 8 and 9 win seasons. Meanwhile, Michigan was a complete train wreck under Rich Rodriguez. Nobody knew what to expect when Michigan took the field in the opener against UConn in 2010.
Of course now, the UConn home and home has lost some of its luster. Michigan went on to win the first matchup handily, then the Wolverines fell apart as the season progressed. UConn went to the Fiesta Bowl and lost Randy Edsall to Maryland soon thereafter. Since then, UConn has bottomed out as a program and Michigan hired what looks to be a good long-term solution in Brady Hoke. I was hopeful that this return trip to UConn would be against a better team, but it seems like Paul Pasquiloni has ruined any chance at that. (Editor’s Note: He sure has)
3) UConn fans are very familiar with Rich Rod from his days at WVU, and I count myself as one of the people who thought Michigan recruiting power + Rich Rod spread offense was going to be a roaring success. What went wrong?
It was almost everything. Rodriguez walked into an athletic department that was already fractured after the mis-handling of his hire, and there were enough initial PR screw ups and mishaps that some people were already dissatisfied. Of course, 3-9 with losses to Toledo, Purdue, and all three major rivals killed every bit of goodwill that was left. It was put up or shut up time.
Rodriguez was never able to put up. The defense suffered from mismanagement, a lack of identity, and a lack of sufficient depth all over the field. The offense rounded into form by year three, but there were enough issues with the roster that it was an uphill battle. Rodriguez didn't walk into a team with a roster built to win early, but he also made a lot of really bad moves. It was a disaster through and through, and I don't think it would be possible to reverse enough issues to turn it from an outright disaster into anything resembling modest success.
4) Seems like the Brady Hoke era is going pretty well. What was the opinion when he was hired and how has that changed since? How has he compared to his predecessors on the recruiting front?
Opinions of the Hoke hire were mixed. I was underwhelmed by the hire, and there were plenty of other people who felt Michigan aimed low. Hoke wasn't proven at a BCS conference level, he didn't have a great overall record, and it looked like it was based entirely on the fact that he was the only guy other than Harbaugh with head coaching experience and ties to Michigan.
I think a lot of this was Michigan missing out on Harbaugh. Most of the fan base was excited about the possibility of bringing him in, and as that option slipped away anyone who got hired was going to look a little worse by comparison.
The thing about Hoke was, despite his fairly mediocre track record, he did just about everything right when he got to campus. He brought in a solid staff that he was comfortable with and added a lot to it by bringing in Greg Mattison to fix the defense – and Mattison did a remarkable job turning it from one of the worst defenses in the country into a solidly top-25 unit with the same players. Hoke also did what Rodriguez didn't: he won early, leading Michigan to a Sugar Bowl win and a victory over Ohio State. Even in his rough second year Michigan still got wins over Notre Dame and Michigan State.
Past that, his recruiting has been very impressive and if the offense continues to round into form, the influx of young talent could turn this program into a perennial top-10 team. Anyone who wasn't excited by Hoke's hiring early has surely come around by now, and I would expect him to be at the school for a very long time.
5) Okay, last but not least. Your QB Devin Gardner wears #98, what’s up with that?
Michigan has been doing a Legends Patch thing where it honors numbers of Michigan greats from the past by giving them to current players. Right now there are a number of them out there. Desmond Howard's 21 was the first to be honored and has been worn by three players in two years. Two of Michigan's starting linebackers wear 47 and 48 in honor of Bennie Oosterbaan and Gerald Ford. Same with Ron Kramer's 87 and the Wistert brothers' 11. Gardner was given the 98 jersey before the Notre Dame game to honor Tom Harmon, Michigan's first Heisman winner.