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Saturday, September 15, 3:30 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Frank Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: With the Big Ten Conference slate set to begin in a couple of weeks, the 17th-ranked Michigan Wolverines continue to fine-tune their game as they entertain the Massachusetts Minutemen this Saturday at the Big House in Ann Arbor.
UMass has had a rough go of it here in the early going of its first foray in the Football Bowl Subdivision, losing its initial two games to Connecticut and Indiana by a combined score of 82-6. The Minutemen, who following this tilt will kick off Mid-American Conference play at Miami-Ohio on Sept. 22, are likely to suffer many more defeats this season as a successful transition from the FCS is expected to take some time.
Michigan opened the season with an embarrassing 41-14 loss to defending national champion Alabama, but coach Brady Hoke's team responded by outlasting Air Force last weekend, 31-25. The win was UM's 16th straight at home in the month of September. The Wolverines will play one other non-conference game, next week at Notre Dame, before embarking on Big Ten play at Purdue two weeks later.
This game marks just the second meeting between UMass and Michigan, with the Wolverines claiming victory in the first, 42-37, also in Ann Arbor on Sept. 18, 2010.
UMass hasn't been able to muster much in the way of offensive production through the first two games of the campaign, averaging a mere 161.5 ypg. The Minutemen have struggled to establish any semblance of a rushing attack (40.5 ypg), and the aerial assault has been just as poor (121.0 ypg). The team has scored only one TD to this point, and no player has amassed more than 32 yards on the ground (Michael Cox).
Starting QB Mike Wegzyn has completed 56.2 percent of his pass attempts, but for just 207 total yards. He owns the team's only TD on the year, that coming by way of a 16-yard run in the opening quarter of last week's home loss to Indiana. Marken Michel is the club's leading receiver after two games, but he only has eight catches for 82 yards.
The Hoosiers rolled up 596 yards of total offense last weekend, compared to 264 for the Minutemen. The home team found few holes to run through, finishing with a net of 78 yards on 36 carries. In addition to his rushing TD, Wegzyn converted 18-of-26 pass attempts for 151 yards, hitting Michel five times for 68 yards.
The Minutemen were led on defense last week by DB Darren Thellen (11 tackles, one INT) and LB Perry McIntyre (nine tackles). So far this season, foes are averaging 240 ypg on the ground, and 244 ypg through the air against them.
Michigan QB Denard Robinson accounted for 426 yards of total offense (208 passing, 218 rushing) and four TDs (two passing, two rushing) to lead his team to victory over the visiting Air Force Falcons last week. Freshman TE Devin Funchess caught four balls for 106 yards and a TD, while RB Fitz Toussaint, who missed the opener due to suspension, made his season debut but was limited to just seven yards on eight carries.
Robinson's passing exploits haven't been up to par just yet, as he is hitting a disappointing 49 percent of his throws with an equal number of TDs and INTs (three). No pass catcher has more than six grabs (Devin Gardner), and Robinson is far and away the team's leading ground gainer with 245 yards and three scores on 30 totes.
Robinson, who with his effort last week became the first player in FBS history to have at least 200 yards rushing and 200 yards passing in three career games, noted the difference in his team from the first week to the second.
"Air Force is a good team. That's a hard offense to stop. Not a lot of teams can stop that Air Force offense. We came out and played ball today, and played it pretty well, I think. We have to keep moving forward and progress on everything we do. That's how I look at it. We did get better after the first week, and we've just got to keep going."
Air Force churned out 290 rushing yards in the game, and that came a week after Alabama piled up 247 yards on the ground. The Wolverines were led by LBs Jake Ryan and Joe Bolden with 11 and 10 tackles, respectively. For the season, safety Jordan Kovacs sits atop the team's tackles list with 17, but there are eight guys with double-digit stops. The team as a whole has made 13 TFL, but has just two sacks.
Coach Hoke realizes that despite last week's win, his team still has a ways to go in achieving its goals.
"We talked after the game as a team. Did we play our best football? No. Do we have to play much better football if we want to win the Big Ten championship? Yes. We've got to get better each week. Part of that is up front, on both sides of the ball. I think we're a work in progress defensively. We have a lot of guys in and out. And offensively, because we have some older guys that don't have a lot of experience, we have to keep working through that and get better."
UMass has very little chance of containing Robinson, and with the Minutemen struggling on offense as well, this could be a long day for the visiting team. Unlike the last meeting between these two just a couple of years ago, expect the Wolverines to win this one rather easily, setting up next week's showdown with Notre Dame in South Bend.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Michigan 41, Massachusetts 7
09/12 10:36:39 ET
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