LARRY LAGE, AP Sports Writer
ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — Michigan has slipped in The Associated Press college football poll the past two week despite staying undefeated.
Clearly, a lot of people think the 18th-ranked Wolverines (4-0) have work to do.
Michigan came back from a 14-point, second-half deficit to win 24-21 at Connecticut a week after barely holding on to escape an upset against Akron.
Following a 28-24 victory over the Mid-American Conference Zips, coach Brady Hoke lamented that his team didn’t improve. Against the Huskies, he insisted the team got better.
“Oh yeah, there isn’t any doubt,” Hoke said Tuesday night. “It was a much different team.”
Hoke will acknowledge that to win a Big 10 championship the Wolverines have to keep getting better, especially on the interior of their offensive line. They don’t play a game this week, giving them time to focus on fundamentals and to get some rest before hosting Minnesota in their Big Ten opener.
“Back to basics,” Hoke said.
Most importantly, the Wolverines need quarterback Devin Gardner to make better choices with the football.
He had a career-high three interceptions and fumbled against Akron. He threw two more interceptions and fumbled again at Connecticut, giving him a total of 10 turnovers through just four games.
Hoke said Gardner has gotten used to being “Superman a long time,” on the field and plays with a lot of confidence, but the coach is hesitant to reign in the fourth-year quarterback too much because it might stunt his ability to make positive plays.
“Part of it is that you get guys who are multitalented, they have had a lot of success being, I don’t want to say loose, but playing a little bit of sandlot football,” Hoke said. “You play good football teams, you can’t do that.
“It’s a fine line because you’d rather try and tame a bucking bronco than an old mare.”
Gardner has thrown seven touchdown passes and run for five scores with much of that production coming in his five-TD performance against Notre Dame.
“We’ve got a lot of confidence in him,” Hoke said. “But at the same time, you’ve got to point out those flaws.”
After the win against Akron, offensive lineman Taylor Lewan was among Michigan’s most vocal critics. Lewan repeatedly said the Wolverines’ performance was “embarrassing,” and vowed such a lackluster effort wouldn’t happen again in practice or a game.
Instead of striking the same tune following an unimpressive win over Connecticut, a winless team that had a 21-7 lead deep into the third quarter, Lewan wasn’t willing to lash out again.
“I’m not apologizing for being 4-0,” he said. “Obviously, I said a lot of strong things after the Akron game and they didn’t turn out the way I wanted to. But this team is still 4-0. We did do something right.”
Lewan, though, knows a lot of people who follow college football’s winningest program expect more.
“When you play at Michigan, there’s a lot of fans and those fans will get you if you’re not doing what they like,” he said. “People are upset about the way we played the last two weeks. We haven’t played perfect.”
It doesn’t appear that the Oct. 5 game against the Golden Gophers will be the perfect time for Jake Ryan to return. The junior linebacker tore a knee ligament during spring practice, and is getting closer to playing.
“Sometime in October,” Hoke said.
The Wolverines will likely be a heavy favorite to beat Minnesota before a very tough test the following week at Penn State, a game in which they could certainly use Ryan, one of their best defenders, back on the field.
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