Notebook: Rentschler Field sold out for Michigan
Saturday night to draw more than 42,000 for UConn
Published: Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 23:09
The UConn football team will take on No. 14 Michigan on Saturday night at 8 p.m. at Rentschler Field.
Boasting 906 all-time wins, 11 national championships and 42 Big Ten titles, Michigan is the biggest team to ever play at Rentschler Field. Because of the magnitude of the game and the demand for tickets, approximately 2,200 temporary bleacher seats have been brought into the stadium, meaning Saturday’s sold-out game will be played in front of the largest crowd in Rentschler Field history.
“It doesn’t get any better than this,” UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said during Tuesday’s press conference.
But the stadium will look small to the Wolverines. Michigan Stadium is known as the Big House. Over six home games last year, Michigan drew 659,406 fans, an average of 112,179 per game.
On Sept. 7, the then-No. 17 Wolverines defeated No. 14 Notre Dame in front of 115,109 fans, the largest football crowd – college or NFL – ever.
“You would hope that it doesn’t make any difference,” Michigan coach Brady Hoke said during a teleconference on Tuesday. “It doesn’t matter who’s there watching. It really matters about how we prepare. There will be some Michigan people that will be there and they will support us.”
Injuries causing concern for Huskies
Three key players are in danger of missing Saturday’s game due to injury.
Wide receiver Shakim Phillips, right tackle Kevin Friend and linebacker Graham Stewart are all questionable for Michigan, according to Pasqualoni. All three remain listed as starters on the weekly depth chart, but there is little optimism for their full recoveries for Saturday.
Friend’s absence may be the most catastrophic for the Huskies. When Friend is in and healthy, the line has given quarterback Chandler Whitmer plenty of time in the pocket to find the open receiver, a luxury he didn’t have during his first season in 2012. Without Friend, Xavier Hemingway has taken the snaps at right tackle, and Towson and Maryland were able to get to Whitmer by blowing past Hemingway on the right side. Despite that, Pasqualoni has faith in his young replacement.
“Xavier is a good, athletic big guy. We’re in the development there with him,” Pasqualoni said. “In our opinion, Xavier is far enough along where we can put him in, and Dalton Gifford is another guy, use Dalton a little bit as well.”
Hail to the victors valiant
UConn’s 0-2 start is due in some part to their inability to stop big plays.
Pasqualoni has pointed out after both losses that out of 50 rushing attempts for Towson and 43 for Maryland, only a few went for more than two or three yards, and they usually ended up in first downs with great field position or a touchdown.
Stopping the big plays will only get more difficult on Saturday, when Michigan takes the field in East Hartford. The Wolverines have had 21 plays go for 20 yards or more through its first three games of the season, three of them resulting in touchdowns. The attack has been balanced from Michigan, as 11 of those plays were passes and 10 were runs.
Leading the offense for the Wolverines is duel-threat quarterback Devin Gardner. UConn had enough trouble stopping Maryland’s C.J. Brown, so the Huskies have their work cut out for them stopping a player that has 941 all-purpose yards – 704 passing and 237 rushing – with four rushing touchdowns and seven passing.
As explosive as Gardner are three of his playmakers: running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, wide receiver Jeremy Gallon and tight end Devin Funschess.
“Everyone 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 we have to do – take care of your job, yourself, take care of the little things, check your assignment, your effort, your technique.
“We can’t worry about the scoreboard. We have to worry about our assignment and how we’re playing together.”
The quotable Paul Pasqualoni
Pasqualoni on the loss to Maryland: “I was frustrated, but I was having fun. I was frustrated as hell, but I enjoyed every minute of that game. That game had a chance to be a heck of a game.”