Devin Gardner said earlier this week that whenever a team plays badly, the week feels longer.
Well, he’ll have to wait a bit longer than usual as the Wolverines have the 8 p.m. primetime spot on Saturday night against UConn. Here’s what we’ll be watching for as Gardner and the Wolverines take the field one week removed from one of the most unimpressive performances under Brady Hoke in a 28-24 win over Akron:
Shake up in the secondary. Hoke is never fully committed to any one starter on the team. If a player practices poorly, he will not start. And if another guy steps up, he will play. That was on full display last weekend as James Ross -- who finished the day against Akron as the Wolverines’ leading tackler -- didn’t start because he had poor performances in practice. The secondary is a place we could see a few new faces this weekend. Courtney Avery has been limited because of arthroscopic surgery, but expect him to return and start in the secondary, possibly at corner across from Blake Countess. I think we’ll still see Jarrod Wilson and Thomas Gordon as the starting safeties, but Avery should see plenty of action on Saturday.
Devin Gardner’s response. He described his play against the Zips as possibly the worst of his career. The way he allowed mistakes to compile and compound has been well-documented, but he faces a new test this weekend: competing on a big stage after having struggled mightily the week before. In his eight starts, Gardner hasn’t quite faced adversity like that, and it’ll be interesting to see how and if he responds against UConn. He is a confident person and a skilled player, but we’ve now seen the good Gardner and the bad Gardner. We know the good is very good and the bad is very bad. Which one shows up on Saturday?
The defensive line getting pressure. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has vowed that this team will be able to send a four-man rush and pressure opposing quarterbacks. However, I also remember him saying that the past two seasons. Ever since Mike Martin and Ryan VanBergen left, it hasn’t really been the case. We’ll likely see the same starters and depth, as Mattison has liked his players, just not their productivity.
Michigan’s first test on the road. Michigan might be 17-0 at home under Hoke, but the Wolverines have struggled (read: crashed and burned) on the road, turning the ball over far more often than they ever do at home. Hoke didn’t really have any kind of explanation for it, but the Wolverines better figure out how to get their act together early and often, because the road isn’t going to get any kinder from here on out for Michigan.
Offensive line change ups. Akron tore apart Michigan’s offensive line. As a result, Gardner was a turnover king and the Wolverines never really got a run game (or any kind of momentum) going. Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges have always said that the offensive line starters are written in pencil, not permanent marker. I think this week could be a time when we see some different faces in the lineup. Obviously, Taylor Lewan’s job at left tackle is secure (assuming he plays despite not practicing at times this week), and I think the same is true for right tackle Michael Schofield and right guard Kyle Kalis. The interesting spots will be center and left guard. I believe we’ll see the same starting lineup against UConn, but don’t be too surprised if Graham Glasgow moved to center and Chris Bryant took some major snaps at left guard as the Wolverines try out a few new line options.