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Michigan hopes to reverse road woes

Michigan-QB-Gardner

Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner tries to get past Akron's C.J. Mizell, center, and Jatavis Brown in last week's game. Gardner said he's not sure why the Wolverines have struggled on the road recently.

BLADE/JEFFREY SMITH Enlarge

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — Ask Devin Gardner what has held his team back from being successful on the road, and the Michigan quarterback can’t come up with a solid answer.

“I can’t really tell you one particular thing that’s stopped us from winning on the road,” Gardner said. “You can say that maybe we’re not focused enough, or maybe we’re not tough enough, or what not, but that’s something we’re trying to shake.”

The No. 15 Wolverines (3-0) play in their first road game of the season when they face Connecticut (0-2) at 8 p.m. today at Rentschler Field. While Gardner tried to find reasons for his team’s road struggles, his coach can pinpoint what he thinks has held back the Wolverines in their recent travels across the country.

“Turnovers,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. “Turnovers. Turnovers. That’s what’s plagued our team.”

Why has it been the case on the road, and not necessarily at home?

“I don’t know,” Hoke said. “I have no idea. You wouldn’t think it would, but it did last year.”

In Hoke’s first three seasons at Michigan, the Wolverines are 5-7 on the road. It’s a far cry from their spotless 17-0 record at Michigan Stadium.

The road record comes with the correlation that Hoke points out; of the team’s 57 turnovers in that time, 30 have come in the Wolverines’ 12 regular-season and bowl games outside of Ann Arbor in 2011 and 2012.

“It’s our first challenge on the road, and that’s something we’re striving to take pride in, winning road games,” wide receiver Drew Dileo said. “We haven’t been too successful in it the last couple years, and that’s kind of what we’re going for."

Several other factors on the road didn’t help, either. In last year’s season opener at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, eventual BCS champion Alabama overwhelmed the Wolverines from the start; Michigan finished with 69-yards rushing against the Crimson Tide and trailed 31-7 at halftime.

Then, in a 23-9 loss last October at Nebraska, the Wolverines lost quarterback Denard Robinson to an injury at the end of the first half, and the Huskers neutralized the Wolverines’ offense, which accrued just 52 yards in the second half.

Furthermore, the turnover woes aren’t just plaguing the Wolverines on the road. Michigan has committed eight turnovers (including seven interceptions) in its first three games this season — all at home — and are one of four FBS teams that are tied for 117th in the nation in lost turnovers. Only San Diego State (nine), Western Kentucky (12), and Southern Mississippi (12) have more.

Even with those blemishes, including a near-upset last week by Akron, Connecticut is cognizant of what Michigan will bring to the matchup.

“Michigan can’t be sky-high every single week,” said UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni, whose team faces its first Top 25 opponent of the season today. “They’re coming off a real big game, and Akron, I’m sure was able to spend a lot of time on them for a really big game out at Michigan. I thought Michigan showed their character in the end, doing what they had to do to win the game.

“Michigan will be ready to play, I’ll promise you that.”

And instead of fretting about the idea of traveling, Michigan embraces it.

“I’m looking forward to it,” said Gardner, who passed for 248 yards but was intercepted three times by Akron. “We’ve been talking about going on the road because obviously, as of late, we haven’t been a great road team. It’s going to be exciting. The whole world’s going to be watching and I’m going to be able to redeem myself from a poor performance last week.”

Contact Rachel Lenzi at: rlenzi@theblade.com, 419-724-6510, or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.

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