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Huskies welcome Michigan

By Gavin Keefe

Publication: The Day

Published September 21. 2013 4:00AM

No fiery pep talk is required. No need to build up Michigan, a tradition-rich program with 11 national championships and 42 bowl appearances in its history.

UConn understands the reputation of its opponent and the magnitude of tonight's game at sold-out Rentschler Field (8 p.m., Chs. 6, 8).

Off to a 0-2 start and facing a difficult stretch following Saturday's game that includes five of the next seven on the road, the Huskies are in desperate need of a win, no matter the opponent.

Playing on national television adds to the pizzazz of the marquee game against the No. 15 Wolverines (3-0).

"Our players in this program have played against Michigan and played against big teams," UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "So I think the kids understand. I'm not going to get up in front of them and say this is the Michigan Wolverines. That's not in my fiber to do that.

" It doesn't get any better than this being at home playing against a quality opponent on ABC."

In the only other meeting between, UConn lost 30-10 before 113,090 fans at Michigan Stadium in 2010. Tonight, with an additional 2,300 temporary seats, the Huskies will be playing before the largest Rentschler crowd, roughly 42,000.

They hope to finally put on a good show by avoiding the inconsistent play has been their early-season trademark.

"It's not what we expect," senior Kevin Friend said. "We really just need to come together as a team right now and hold our heads up. There are things that we could have done better for a different outcome, but it didn't happen."

While frustrated with his team's mistakes, Pasqualoni still firmly believes UConn will live up to its potential.

He's convinced that only a handful of breakdowns have been the difference between winning and losing. Line play has been a glaring problem. The Huskies have yet to record a sack and given up an average of 212.5 rushing yards while they've allowed 11 sacks and rushed for just 54.5 yards per game.

"I'm hopeful that everybody understands that it's only a play or two in these games that turn these games around," Pasqualoni said. "There's a great sense of urgency to be able to focus on what you have to do. We can't worry about the scoreboard. We've got to worry about our assignment and how we're playing and the effort that we're giving."

Akron didn't do UConn any favors last weekend by nearly upsetting Michigan. The Wolverines needed a goal line stand on the game's final play to hold on for a 28-24 win. All-American offensive tackle Taylor Lewan called the narrow victory "embarrassing."

Coach Brady Hoke sent a message by running a full-padded practice on Sunday, normally a day reserved for rest and film work.

For the second straight week, UConn faces a potent offensive team. Michigan is averaging 42.7 points per game, owning wins over Central Michigan (42-9), Notre Dame (41-30) and Akron.

And for the second straight week, the Huskies will try to contain a dual-threat quarterback. Devin Gardner is averaging a team-best 79 yards on the ground and 234.7 yards in the air. He's accounted for 11 of his team's 17 touchdowns but also has thrown six interceptions.

Last week they had little success stopping Maryland's C.J Brown, who rushed for 122 yards and passed for 277.

UConn is looking forward to playing a big-time program in a big-game atmosphere.

"I hope I walk into a big, loud Rentschler Field," cornerback Byron Jones said. "I can't wait. It should be an exciting time for us - 8 o'clock, prime time. We need to perform well."

g.keefe@theday.com

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