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Published: Monday, 9/23/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

4-0 Wolverines don’t feel perfect

BY RACHEL LENZI
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner straight-arms Connecticut safety Ty-Meer Brown during the second half Saturday in East Hartford, Conn. Michigan won 24-21. Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner straight-arms Connecticut safety Ty-Meer Brown during the second half Saturday in East Hartford, Conn. Michigan won 24-21.
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Devin Gardner didn’t openly consider all of the wayward circumstances and mitigating factors that led up to his team completing a less-than-perfect September.

But as he entered the makeshift interview room Saturday night at Connecticut’s Rentschler Field, Michigan’s quarterback considered the bottom line.

“We got a win,” Gardner said after a 24-21 win over Connecticut.

That’s the positive side of being 4-0. But UM is far from perfect going into its first bye week, and its record deserves to be scrutinized. The Wolverines dropped three spots in the Associated Press poll to No. 18.

Michigan’s final two nonconference games, against lower-echelon FBS teams, have exposed its flaws. The Wolverines had to pull out a key defensive stop on the last play to preserve a 28-24 win over Akron, and Desmond Morgan’s fourth-quarter interception was the turning point in Saturday’s 24-21 win at Connecticut.

Both games were plagued by turnovers, and in the first month of the season, the Wolverines have committed 12 turnovers, including four Saturday — three of those a result of Gardner’s substandard play. Gardner finished with a season-low 97 yards passing and his second-half fumble set up a touchdown that gave Connecticut a 21-7 lead.

UM’s ground game is averaging less than 200 yards — a likely byproduct of an offensive line straining to mesh as a unit — and Michigan is struggling to cultivate depth in its passing game behind Jeremy Gallon. Gallon leads the Wolverines receivers with 328 yards and four TDs, yet only one Wolverine behind him has more than 100 yards this season, sophomore tight end Devin Funchess.

While Michigan’s defensive play has been its hallmark under coordinator Greg Mattison, it’s weakness in September has been its pass rush, which has allowed 232 yards a game (ninth in the Big 12).

They’re certain to be areas the Wolverines will concentrate on before they open the Big Ten schedule Oct. 5 at home against Minnesota.

“There’s things we have to clean up,” said Morgan, whose interception set up Fitzgerald Toussaint’s game-tying 12-yard touchdown run Saturday. “We’re seeing improvement. It’s a lot better going into the bye week with a win, than to have a loss.”

Michigan coach Brady Hoke didn’t point out particulars Saturday night, but considered his team’s youth and its identity as a team — two things that need to be cultivated and defined in preparation for the Big Ten schedule.

“It was an away game, with 38 first and second-year players, against a team that has a very good coaching staff,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. “We all are trying to figure out where we’re at as a team. I like how they responded, and that’s the positive of it.”

With the bye week coming up, the Wolverines are choosing to put a positive spin on what’s gotten them to this point. Yet are the problems fixable, and does the bye come at a good time?

Hoke answers that question in the affirmative.

“They are because number one, I think I know our team, and we know our team,” Hoke said. “They realize the things they need to do better and we’ve got to give them tools to do things better. That’s our job. And they’ll do that.”

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



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