- Chantel Jennings, ESPN Staff Writer
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Michigan won’t ever say it, but the Wolverines are getting a fall camp in the middle of their season.
With games against Akron, UConn and a bye week, they’ll have three weeks -- the equivalent of the Wolverines’ fall camp -- to fix the game spasms that have showed up so far this season.
Now, Michigan will treat every game as a game. It can’t do any differently -- history has taught the Wolverines that (Appalachian State in 2007, Toledo in 2008). But the truth of the matter is that the Wolverines have somewhat of a cakewalk until they start the Big Ten season.
These won’t be the kind of games that people will watch decades down the road, and it won’t prepare them in the way that an early-season loss to Alabama helped last season. But they are games that still help tremendously. They will help Michigan to continue to make progress on the new offense and allow younger players chances to play while building chemistry during in-game scenarios.
And Michigan will have the opportunity to use what it works on during practices -- which will likely focus on personal and team development more than game planning -- against opponents other than the scout team. Obviously losses can happen, interceptions can be thrown, opportunities can be botched. But Michigan should win these games.
Akron just snapped a 10-game losing streak Saturday with a win over James Madison. But against Michigan, it’ll likely have more struggles. The Zips gave up 319 passing yards in the season opener to the University of Central Florida, which is something Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner should be able to exploit.
Gardner has already shown growth this season through just two games. Offensive coordinator Al Borges has harped on his message that sometimes the best decision is to throw the ball away, and a few times against the Irish Gardner did just that. There were other times when his decision making wasn’t quite on point and he will be the first to admit that he has to become a better quarterback. Games like these -- while the defenses won’t test him as much as a Michigan State or an Ohio State -- will help prepare him in the sense that there l be chances for repetition, which is key to his development.
Then Michigan will travel to UConn, which started its season with an ugly loss to Towson, one of the many FCS schools to upset an FBS team in its opening weekend. The Huskies allowed Towson to put up 33 points and 393 yards of offense. Again, this is an opportunity for Gardner and his receivers, as well as Fitzgerald Toussaint and Derrick Green, to continue working their way through Borges’ expanded playbook.
On top of that, these games offer big-lead potential, which could secure some playing time for younger players. Coach Brady Hoke was happy to get freshman quarterback Shane Morris in for some snaps in the Wolverines’ season opener against Central Michigan. And with Gardner running more than most expected, there may come a time when the Wolverines would need to turn to Morris. Having more players with more experience is beneficial in the long run for Michigan.
Freshman tight end Jake Butt saw some early action against Notre Dame, recording two receptions, but with Michigan wanting to run more multi-tight end packages, getting players like Butt more accustomed is only a good thing. And other true freshmen like Dymonte Thomas, Channing Stribling, Ben Gedeon and redshirt freshman Erik Magnuson, who was the only non-starting offensive lineman to get into Michigan’s game against Notre Dame, could use the extra game snaps, too.
Following their trip to Connecticut, the Wolverines will have the bye week to officially prepare for the conference slate. But in reality, these three weeks will truly allow Michigan to prepare for Big Ten play, to work through the issues that have arisen thus far in game situations, while adding more and experimenting some. So while they won’t be the prime-time games, they are games that down the road could help lead Michigan to some prime-time opportunities.