In a game with as big of a talent difference as UConn’s 59-0 defeat at No. 4 Michigan on Saturday, it can be hard for either coaching staff to draw meaningful conclusions.
UConn’s starting lineup, made even more patchwork through considerable injuries, had the odds stacked against them against a Michigan roster that included nearly three times as many blue-chip recruits as the Huskies have three-stars.
Even at such a talent disadvantage, however, there are positives and negatives that UConn can glean from the middle of this murderous stretch of schedule:
Under the surface
You wouldn’t know it looking at the scoreboard, but UConn showed a modicum of improvement in multiple — count em! — areas of execution on the defensive side of the ball.
UConn’s defensive line had their best game all season getting into the backfield, with five tackles for loss and a pair of sacks. After three tough weeks at the line of scrimmage, Eric Watts was a disruptor with five tackles, two for loss, and his first sack of the season.
Michigan’s 4.5 yards per carry on the ground didn’t feel debilitating, and their passing attack didn’t exactly run wild on the Huskies either. UConn’s secondary looked merely outclassed physically, and not totally incompetent. J.J. McCarthy was forced to look for his second and third read often, and the Huskies executed their cover 2 and 3 zone defenses better than they did against Syracuse, it just didn’t matter a whole lot at the end of the day.
Special teams struggles
UConn already had a hard enough path to victory on Saturday against the No. 4 team in the country, but spotting Michigan 14 points on special teams in the second quarter and fumbling the ball three times certainly didn’t help their cause to keep the game close.
Michigan blocked a punt on the Huskies’ first drive of the second quarter, leading to a Blake Corum touchdown, then Michigan all-purpose back AJ Hennings took a punt return to the house right before halftime. These weren’t a result of Michigan out-muscling an inferior opponent; mistakes on the field ended up resulting in a 14-point swing before the break.
UConn’s defense made mistakes of their own, but the special teams struggles harmed the Huskies more than anything else.
Tough times on offense
UConn’s offensive struggles against Michigan were nothing if not predictable. The Huskies were down their top two wide receivers, their starting quarterback and, for large stretches of the game, their starting running back Nathan Carter. Head coach Jim Mora later confirmed that Carter suffered a second-degree shoulder separation during the game, and with Devontae Houston suffering from a shoulder injury of his own, much of the carries went to Victor Rosa.
The offensive line struggled predictably against a hyper-athletic Michigan defensive line, and the offense was either unwilling or unable to move the ball down the field, resulting in one of freshman quarterback Zion Turner’s toughest games in a UConn uniform, going 4-of-16 with 1.1 yards per attempt. UConn’s offensive staff is in an unenviable situation and they’ll have to get creative with their playcalling to scheme players open.