Preview: Minnesota

Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI
October 1, 2011, 12:00 PM

TV: Big Ten Network (Eric Collins, Chris Martin, Dionne Miller)
Radio: WWJ-950 AM, WTKA-1050 AM, Sirius/XM 85 (Frank Beckmann, Jim Brandstatter, Doug Karsch)
Line: UM -20.5
Over/Under: 54
Series Record: UM leads 70-24-3
Last Meeting: 2008: MICH 29 - MINN 6
UM Record/Rank: 4-0 (0-0), #19/19 (AP/Coaches)
MINN Record/Rank: 1-3 (0-0), NR
Gametime Forecast: Partly Cloudy, 45º-50º, Winds N 15 MPH

A little background
I could give you a rundown of this game that includes a bunch of old dates and references to the Little Brown Jug, but I couldn't do it as well as Greg from MVictors who I consider the foremost historian on all things Jug.

This year marks the 100th anniversary since Michigan and Minnesota started playing for the Little Brown Jug. It has since become the oldest college football trophy (one of the oldest trophies in American sport for that matter bested by only the Stanley Cup and the Americas Cup). The Michigan-Minnesota rivalry is one of the oldest in college football -- dating back to that famous 6-6 tie in 1903 that began the legend of the Little Brown Jug.

Since 1969, this series has been exceedingly one-sided. In the last 39 contests, Michigan is 36-3 -- including 19 out of the last 20 going the Wolverines way. Minnesota's last victory over Michigan was October 8, 2005 when the Gophers upset us 23-20.

Statistical Breakdown (based on stats through week 4)
Remember that Michigan's week 1 stats against WMU are not taken into account here.

MICHIGANValue (Nat. Rank)Value (Nat. Rank)MINNESOTAADV.
Rushing Offense (ypg)270.00 (9)104.75 (33)Rushing Defense (ypg)MICH
Passing Offense (ypg)175.33 (101)278.50 (108)Passing Defense (ypg)PUSH
Pass Efficiency132.21 (33)145.50 (102)Pass Efficiency DefenseMICH++
Total Offense (ypg)445.33 (33)383.25 (76)Total Defense (ypg)MICH+
Scoring Offense (ppg)31.33 (53)26.75 (75)Scoring Defense (ppg)MICH
Rushing Defense (ypg)176.00 (87)173.75 (44)Rushing Offense (ypg)MINN+
Passing Defense (ypg)199.00 (41)179.25 (97)Passing Offense (ypg)MICH+
Pass Efficiency Defense118.66 (41)110.96 (102)Pass EfficiencyMICH++
Total Defense (ypg)375.00 (71)353.00 (87)Total Offense (ypg)PUSH
Scoring Defense (ppg)13.67 (13)22.75 (93)Scoring Offense (ppg)MICH+++
Net Punting Yards37.17 (54)30.00 (2)Punt Return YardsMINN+
Punt Return Yards9.83 (39)42.50 (8)Net Punting YardsMINN
Kickoff Return Yards18.43 (109)19.38 (38)Kickoff Return DefenseMINN++
Kickoff Return Defense22.55 (66)20.56 (79)Kickoff Return YardsPUSH
Turnover Margin0.67 (32)-0.25 (78)Turnover MarginMICH+
Penalty Yds/Game32.30 (11)46.00 (44)Penalty Yds/GameMICH
Sacks0.67 (112)2.50 (89)Sacks AllowedMINN
Sacks Allowed0.33 (2)0.25 (117)SacksMICH+++
Redzone Offense (%)100.00 (1)76.92 (38)Redzone Defense (%)MICH
Redzone Defense (%)53.85 (8)87.50 (43)Redzone Offense (%)MICH
Redzone TD %92.31 (2)69.23 (87)Redzone TD % DefenseMICH+++
Redzone TD % Defense38.46 (11)56.25 (79)Redzone TD %MICH++
3rd Down Conv. %47.50 (32)46.00 (93)3rd Down Defense %MICH++
3rd Down Defense %47.27 (104)37.47 (86)3rd Down Conv. %MINN
1st Downs Per Game18.80 (88)20.80 (83)1st Downs Allowed Per/GmPUSH
1st Downs Allowed Per/Gm19.30 (63)19.50 (75)1st Downs Per GamePUSH

Difference less than 20 in national rank = Push
Difference more than 20 in national rank = Team
Difference more than 40 in national rank = Team+
Difference more than 60 in national rank = Team++
Difference more than 80 in national rank = Team+++

Common Opponents

When Michigan has the ball
Last week, Michigan struggled to get a well-balanced offensive attack going. It must have been something in the air because both Denard Robinson and SDSU Ryan Lindley, who's no slouch, both had a tough time throwing the ball. Michigan will come into this game with a huge statistical advantage in the passing game, so it would stand to reason that Al Borges will do the best he can to get some confidence building throws for his speedy QB.

Of course I would really like to see Devin Gardner get some more gametime reps. At some point, we're going to need Gardner to step up. Shoelace isn't indestructible. I'm not saying he should share time with Denard, because #16 is just too good to keep on the bench. But some reps with the ones would do Devin some good.

Up front, Michigan could be missing Ricky Barnum who has missed practice this week because of an ankle issue. He left the game last week and all-around OL backup Michael Schofield stepped in and did an admirable job, although it should be noted that Elliot Mealer is listed as Barnum's backup on the depth chart.

After four games, it seems that Fitz Toussaint and Vincent Smith have separated themselves from the pack to lead Michigan's rushing game. Lack of ball handling ability by Stephen Hopkins has eliminated him from contention. I'm a bit surprised to see that Michael Shaw hasn't stepped up more during his senior year. But when you watch Fitz and Smith run with the ball, there's a clear difference in both overall ability and field vision.

Another part of the passing equation is the receivers. They didn't do Denard any favors. As Brady Hoke mentioned all week in his many press conferences, the blame for the passing game doesn't fall fully on the QB. There were multiple times when WRs were just not where Denard needed them to be. I have to think that most of the reason why Al Borges ran so much in the second half last week was because he could see that the receivers were just not running crisp routes and getting open. There were also some pretty bad drops in this game as well.

For Minnesota, they will have their hands full trying to stop Michigan and Denard Robinson. They're strength is their overall experience and their linebackers. Weaknesses are pass rush and run defense.

Up front, there's nowhere to go but up. In 2010 they finished dead last in sacks. Right now, they're 117th overall in sacks per game. Michigan is 2nd nationally in sacks allowed. So...yeah.

The two leading tacklers are both defensive backs...which is never a good sign. Safety Kim Royston who broke his leg last year leads the team in tackles. Royston is a transfer from Wisconsin and is maybe the best player on this defense. Sophomore cornerback Brock Vereen is the other leading tackler, and also leads the team with pass breakups. Both are good at stopping runners, but lack -- much like the rest of the defense -- in stopping the pass.

Senior Gary Tinsley leads a linebacking corps that has been rebuilt for 2011. Mike Rallis went from walk-on to scholly when he beefed up from 210 to 236 to look more like a linebacker. This group is experienced but really doesn't do a very good job of getting pressure on quarterbacks or their pass coverage.

When Minnesota has the ball
One of the biggest surprises of the year so far for Michigan fans has been the much improved play of the defense. And not just a few guys or maybe just the front seven, but the entire defense. I think this overall improvement is the direct reflection of better coaching (much better coaching), and more emphasis on playing aggressively.

You really can't discount the addition of Greg Mattison as the defensive coordinator -- not that anyone has. He will be the feature of an upcoming post that I am just starting to do some work on. No question, Mattison is probably one of the best defensive coordinators out there, and that has been proven by our sudden improvement in every aspect of the defense.

Putting it lightly, Minnesota is going to have a tough time doing anything offensively this Saturday. Word on the street is that Minnesota quarterback MarQueis Gray is likely to miss this game due to a toe injury. He did not practice Wednesday. This is a tough blow for an already struggling Minnesota offense which ranks last in the B1G on pass efficiency offense.

The defensive line has been getting better as the season goes on for Michigan. Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen, Craig Roh, Will Heininger, Nathan Brink, Will Campbell and Jibreal Black have all seen a lot of time in the rotation and have been getting stronger as a unit.

I think the linebacker position has seen maybe the largest turnaround. Well all expected Kenny Demens to be a solid middle linebacker. But freshman Jake Ryan and Brandin Hawthorne have really stepped up in just the last couple games. Mike Jones, Brandon Herron and Merrel Evans have seen some time, but need to improve to unseat the current starters.

On the injury front, it sounds like Cam Gordon, who has yet to see the field this year, is still at least a week away from coming back.

What is this? Depth in the backfield? Cornerback depth? Say whaaaaaaat?

When Troy Woolfolk when down with a bum ankle (again) against SDSU, Courtney Avery came into the game and looked pretty solid. Then JT Floyd went down when he got his bell rung a little too loud. Michigan fans commenced full-blown panic meltdown.

Then, in came freshman Blake Countess. And he actually looked...good. Not backup good, but real actual good. He got tested a couple times when he first got into the game by San Diego QB Ryan Lindley...and he held his own. When both starting corners were not in the game and Michigan's pass defense actually kinda got better...there was much rejoicing.

Minnesota offers a relateively decent running game, and no passing game to speak of. And that's with Gray being healthy. The thing that Gray adds to this offense is a modestly scary scrambling quarterback with an arm to match. In his absence is true freshman Max Shortell. He's seen limited action this year.

Gray is Minnesota's leading rusher. The leading rushing tailback is Duane Bennett, who has 164 yards and 1 touchdown. He is flanked by freshman Donnell Kirkwood. Both will see plenty of carries this Saturday.

When a foot meets a football
Welcome back Will Hagerup. Fresh off a 4-game suspension "violating team rules", Hagerup will try to wedge his way back into the punting role which as been filled by freshman Matt Wile -- who's looked both really great and average in his first 4 college starts. I think Hagerup offers a bit more consistency and a stronger overall leg.

Expect Wile to continue to battle Gibbons for place kicking duties. Gibbons is 1 for 1 so far this year. He missed a 40-yard attempt last week. To offer up a comparison, Michigan is ranked 97th nationally with a .500 field goal percentage, while Minnesota is 83rd at .625.

Safe to say that field goals will not be a deciding factor in this one.

Gut Feeling
Looking at the stats comparison, it's pretty clear that Michigan has way more advantages than Minnesota does in this game. If Gray doesn't play, a tough day will only get tougher for the Gophers.

I fully expect a dominating performance by Michigan on both sides of the ball. We're 4 games into the season and we've managed to get out of the non-conference schedule unscathed. Any kinks that remain in this system should be ironed out enough to make short order of the Gophers on Saturday. We're giving Minnesota 20 1/2 points in this one, and I'm frankly surprised it's not more.

I want to see Devin Gardner playing in the 3rd quarter...and not because Denard is hurt. I want some meaningful snaps for our backup signal-caller, not only because I think he deserves it, but because he's going to need the experience. I personally feel that Devin is good enough to start at most other B1G schools right now.

I also expect a big day from the defense. Denard may get the full attention from the media if he puts up big numbers, but I'll be paying most attention to the defense. I'm talking a shutout here. I'm talking no plays over 20-yards sans a random pass play. I'm talking keeping the opportunistic play going. I'm talking getting more turnovers. I think we can start to become a defense that plays with confidence and swagger. That's what I'm looking for.

That's what this Minnesota game is all about -- gaining confidence on both sides of the ball and getting ready for the meat of the Big Ten schedule which has been Michigan's Achilles Heel the last two seasons.

Related content:
Hoke, Players Presser (9/26)
Coaches Midweek Pressers
B1G Breakdown: Week 5

1 comment

  1. I would LOVE to see Devin get some snaps and some game action.