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No. 15 Michigan avoids upset against unraked Connecticut

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The Canadian Press
9/21/2013 11:58:25 PM
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EAST HARTFORD, Conn. -- Michigan was making a mess of another game against a heavy underdog, when Desmond Morgan snatched away Connecticut's chance for a huge upset.

Morgan's one-handed interception in the fourth quarter swung the game Michigan's way and the 15th-ranked Wolverines dodged another potentially embarrassing loss with a 24-21 victory against Connecticut on Saturday night.

A week after Michigan needed a last-second stand to hold off Akron at the Big House, Brendan Gibbons kicked a 21-yard field goal with 4:36 left to give the Wolverines (4-0) their first lead of the second half.

"We're Michigan. We don't play to everyone else's level and for the last two weeks we have. But we're going to step it up," defensive end Frank Clark said.

Chandler Whitmer threw two touchdown passes and Ty-Meer Brown returned a fumble 34 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter that put UConn (0-3) up 21-7.

Quarterback Devin Gardner turned the ball over three times for Michigan and the Wolverines also muffed a punt inside their 10 that led to a UConn touchdown. Fitzgerald Toussaint carried the offence with 120 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries.

Toussaint broke a 35-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, and scored from 12 yards out right after Morgan's pick with 9:56 left.

Against the Zips, Gardner threw three interceptions and lost a fumble and the Wolverines came away feeling more relieved than victorious. Gardner wasn't much better this week, going 11 for 23 for 97 yards. He ran for 64 yards and a 17-yard touchdown in the first quarter. But his defence had to bail him out, specifically Morgan.

After star Connecticut linebacker Yawin Smallwood stopped Gardner short on a fourth-and-2 at the Huskies 22 with 11:23 left in the fourth quarter, the record crowd of 42,704 at Rentschler Field was rocking and starting to believe an upset was in the making.

But Morgan made the play of the game and one play later Toussaint swept untouched around the left side to make it 21-21 with 9:49 left.

Michigan forced a three-and-out on the next series and got the ball back around midfield, but its drive stalled at the 4 and Gibbons made the short kick to give Michigan a three-point lead with 4:36 left.

UConn's last drive never had a chance. Michigan pushed the Huskies backward and then they came up a few yards short on a fourth-and-29.

UConn, playing without leading receiver Shakim Phillips, managed only 206 yards, 159 passing from Whitmer.

The Huskies limped into the most high-profile nonconference home game they have ever played, trying to avoid their first 0-3 start since 2001 and take some heat off third-year coach Paul Pasqualoni.

But Michigan had three turnovers in the first half that helped give UConn a 14-7 lead. Turnover No. 4 came on its first possession of the second half and put the Wolverines in a deep hole. Gardner tried to sneak on a third-and-short, but as he slid down the line, he bumped into one of his linemen and the ball popped loose.

Brown picked up the ball and had a couple of teammates escort him into the end zone for a 21-7 lead less than 2 minutes into the half.

Michigan finally responded with a drive, going 75 yards, the final 35 by Toussaint who made it 21-14 with 5:37 left in the third.

The Maize and Blue's visit to Rentschler Field was a major event in these parts. Former UConn basketball star Ray Allen made the trip and Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who grew up in Michigan and almost played for the Wolverines, also took in the game from the athletic director's box.

On the field, though, the Huskies didn't appear to be in any condition to challenge Michigan, having already lost at home to Towson and Maryland -- at least without help, and Michigan gave it to the Huskies.

Gardner threw a first-quarter interception deep in UConn territory. He redeemed himself later with a 17-yard touchdown run to give Michigan a 7-0 lead with 1:52 left in the first. UConn ended the quarter with one first down.

But Michigan couldn't take advantage as the Huskies' offence sputtered, and the Huskies tied it at 7 with 3:54 left in the half when Whitmer found Spencer Parker, a former walk-on, for an 11-yard touchdown pass.

The third Michigan turnover of the half, a bouncing punt that hit off the leg of Da'Mario Jones while he was looking the other way, gave UConn the ball at the Wolverines 9 and two plays later Whitmer floated a 7-yard TD pass to Lyle McCombs that put the Huskies up 14-7.

Gardner didn't complete a pass in the second quarter and for the second straight week Michigan looked disjointed against a heavy underdog.

The Wolverines will go into their off week undefeated -- if not satisfied with their play -- and much to work on

Fitzgerald Toussaint (Photo: Canadian Press)

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(Photo: Canadian Press)
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