Game 5 Preview: Minnesota

Saturday, Oct. 5 • 3:30 p.m. ET • Ann Arbor, Mich. • Michigan Stadium (109,901)
ABC (regional), ESPN2 (outer-market) • Announcers: Mike Patrick, Ed Cunningham, Jeannine Edwards Series: Michigan leads, 72-24-3 • Last Meeting: Nov. 3, 2012: Michigan 35, Minnesota 13

Minnesota Vitals
4-1 overall, 0-1 Big Ten
Head coach: Jerry Kill
     Career: 140-90 (20th year)
     at UM: 13-17 (3rd year)
Offense: Multiple
     Rush: David Cobb (61-352 yards, 5 TD)
     Pass: Phillip Nelson (33-65, 380 yards, 2 TDs)
     Rec.: Derrick Engel (12-160 yards, 1 TD)
Defense: 4-3
     Tackles: Damien Wilson (33 tackles)
     Sacks: Theiren Cockran (3.0-11 yards)
     Int: Five tied with 1 INT

When Michigan has the ball
Well, we've heard the rumblings, and now it's official. The Michigan offensive line 2.0 will be unveiled Saturday at 3:30. Jack Miller has been replaced at center by left guard Graham Glasgow, who was the backup center. And making his first career start at left guard will be 6-4, 316-pound redshirt sophomore Chris Bryant. Welcome to the show, Chris.

For Michigan to be successful offensively, they must stop turning the ball over, we all know that. Thankfully...mercifully, Michigan has played some it's worst football in years against some of it's worst competition in years. And this week feels no different. Minnesota limps into this game just having given up 464 total yards against Iowa last week in a 23-7 loss at home. Not only did Iowa beat the Gophers, they dominated.

Aside from the shuffle along the line, Michigan fans should also expect to see more guys carrying the ball. Fitzgerald Toussaint will remain the primary back, and should expect anywhere from 15-25 carries, but freshman Derrick Green will see more action as Michigan will attempt to get more backs involved. I wouldn't be surprised to see DeVeon Smith as well.

Nose tackle Ra'Shede Hagemen is the man up front for Minnesota. He could require some special attention from the interior of Michigan's line. He's a legit run stopper who will likely be playing on Sundays. But as stout as they are in the middle, the edges are another story. They're highly susceptible to big runs.

Minnesota ranks 113th against the pass, giving up 1298 yards in 5 games. Oddly, 12 and 98 are Devin Gardner's two jersey numbers he's worn this year, but I digress. If Gardner is looking for a B1G team to help increase his passing stats, there's no one better to play than the Gophers. No one in the defensive backfield can cover Gallon man-to-man, which is what Minnesota prefers to run.

I'd love to see the Devin Gardner of old come back to life and just tear up the Gopher secondary. If he'd had better outings against Akron and UConn, I'd say Devin could feast on Minnesota. But I can't say that. I can hope it, but I can't say it.

Michigan must get guys like Dileo, Funchess and Chesson more involved in the passing game. Against Minnesota you can get away with it, but it can't just be the Gallon show for the rest of the year.

When Minnesota has the ball
Stats can be deceiving, but Minnesota has played better than they have on paper...all up until last week, of course. The Gophers are a bit of a mess offensively. They run multiple offensive sets, with plenty of I-formation and zone-reads with spread looks a lot of time. They're not a very effective offense, which could be the reason they're trying so many different schemes. Michigan fans know this feeling.

Frankly, I'll be shocked if Minnesota can move the ball will any consistency tomorrow. Akron and UConn, and Notre Dame for that matter, were all effective in short 3-step drops and slant routes against Michigan. Phillip Nelson is a serviceable passer who also likes to think he can run as well. But I think Minnesota is still a run-first offense.

In their first 4 wins, they were averaging 282 yards rushing per game. Against Iowa, they ran the ball 27 times for 30 yards.

That's not a typo.

For Michigan, the 30 rushing yards against barrier is a goal they might actually be able to achieve. On paper, it's possible. I think we see Minnesota do some crazy stuff tomorrow...anything to get Michigan on their heals a little bit.

Receiver Derrick Engel is Minnesota's primary target, and really the only Gopher receiver with any meaningful stats.

This has all the potential to be a major blowout if the Michigan offense shows up to play. Minnesota's offense is not only predictable in it's play calling, but it's a slow huddle-at-all-costs type of offense that's not particularly well coached.

Honestly, given how well Michigan's offense has played lately, Minnesota's best play could be a punt.

Relevant links from sites we trust
It was strongly suspected that Minnesota was pretty bad at football this year despite their 4-0 start since they'd gotten outgained by 99 yards against UNLV and 62 yards against San Jose State in wins that looked like blowouts but were far from that. Then the Gophers grind out 165 yards of offense against Iowa while giving up 464 in a win that only Kirk Ferentz could keep as close as 23-7. Minnesota is terrible at football.
MVictors (via The Blockhams):

Maize & Go Blue:
I predicted blowouts each of the past two games and Michigan barely survived both, so I would be crazy to pick anything other than a close game in this one, right? The thing is this Michigan team has the pieces to be very good this season, and because of that it should be expected to win big against a team like this despite what happened in the past two. Swapping out Jack Miller for Chris Bryant on the offensive line won’t cure all of the problems, but it should at the very least be a boost to the running game that has been inconsistent so far. It will allow Hoke and Al B0rges to run more power plays, which is what they have wanted to run all season, and with Green in line for some more carries we could start to see a glimpse of what the offense will look like going forward.
Maize & Brew:
Just 10 years ago (and almost to the day) Michigan was down three scores in the fourth quarter in the Metrodome to one of the better Minnesota teams it has faced. It was also a game played on a Friday night because of baseball playoffs the following night taking place there. 2005 was when Laurence Maroney and Glen Mason stole the victory in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter. Minnesota plays Michigan tough, and it will likely be no different on Saturday.
All of that being said, I really need to trust that this staff knows what it is doing, and they can see the same shit we're all complaining about.  If I don't trust the staff, then we're going to have to head to that dark place that I can't even fathom going to...I can't do that yet.  So...adjustments.  So...less turnovers.  So....dominate inferior opponents.

Get me to Sparty unscathed, and then take care of the real business.  And, as always, GO BLUE.

On paper, this game is already over. But so was Akron and UConn. The cure that Michigan is looking for is simple. Stop the turnovers. Self-inflicted wounds have kept the last two games much closer than they needed to be. This should be a game where Michigan literally trips over Minnesota and falls into the endzone.

Minnesota is a bad football team. And Michigan, for all intents and purposes is still a pretty good one, so they need to come out sharp and put the Gophers away as fast as possible to avoid what could be another embarrassing outing against a wildly inferior opponent.

And I think Michigan does that this week. I know that deep down this team is better than they've shown. But the problem is they keep shooting themselves in the foot. I think tomorrow we see a Michigan team that is rested, confident and ready to start taking their opponents, no matter how bad they are, seriously.

If things start to go the way they've gone the previous two games...

Tweet obnoxiously if...
• If you're tweeting obnoxiously these days, you're probably an Ohio State fan. Or Mark May.

Commence panic if...
• Things are going anything like they have the last 2 games.

Michigan 38 Minnesota 9

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