Gopher Moon

Breaking down Michigan's 33-10 win over Minnesota

Patrick Barron
November 4th was a full moon, which we obviously couldn't see through the foggy drizzle. The November full moon is more commonly referred to as the "Beaver Moon". But for Michigan, it was the Gopher Moon.

Whether by design or not, Michigan relied on it's ground attack to do most of the heavy lifting in this game...which has drawn some flack (believe it or not) from "fans" who want to see more passing from RS freshman Brandon Peters. What we did see from Peters was mostly good. A few errant passes but nothing to get too worked up over.

I am not one of those people. I say, if your line is eating the defense alive and the backs are feeling it like Higdon and Evans were...I say feed that beast!

There's something to be said for a running game. It does things. It can make everything better. And a sustained running game, one which improves gradually but steadily – it can turn a season around. Michigan's running game is turning this season around...but maybe too late.

Michigan's ground attack leading into the MSU game was riding a sloping trend downwards. The offense had become increasingly reliant on the quarterback and the passing game...which for Michigan's sake, was not ideal as both Wilton Speight and John O'Korn and the coaching staff struggled with an offense that had become so one-dimensional. The bottom ultimately fell out in the rain-drenched battle for the Paul Bunyan trophy.
But then things got better. Michigan started going back to a more basic, fundamental gap blocking scheme that, so far, has worked. This, combined with a competent quarterback, has given the Michigan offense new life leading into the home stretch of their 2017 schedule.

What we saw last night against Minnesota is the end result of an offense starting to figure things out. Are things perfect? Of course not...but they're a LONG way from where they were just a few weeks ago against Michigan State. And that in and of itself is a great sign for Michigan fans. Instead of peaking in September, as has been the case for many Michigan teams over the last 10 years, this team is peaking in November.

Part of this resurgence can be attributed to the opponents, of which Rutgers and Minnesota aren't exactly stalwarts. But neither were Air Force or Cincinnati, but these wins have a much more satisfying feel to them.

Michigan's win, coupled with losses by Ohio State and Penn State have slightly changed the road map on Michigan's hopes to getting to Indy for the first time. While not impossible, it's still quite unlikely. Michigan, of course needs to win out...and then hope for chaos everywhere else...which we certainly got plenty of yesterday.

Michigan, MSU, OSU and PSU are all currently sitting at 7-2 overall.

Michigan State and Penn State both own the tie-breakers over Michigan with head-to-head wins. Michigan needs both of those schools to lose again. Michigan State travels to Ohio State this weekend and then has Maryland and @Rutgers. Penn State meanwhile has Rutgers, Nebraska and @Maryland to finish out the season. With the way this chaotic Big Ten season has gone so far, I wouldn't be surprised to see anything happen.

What else...the ground game. Higdon's 200 yards and Evans' 191 were easily the best two-back running attack I've seen as a Michigan fan in my lifetime. The offensive line was eating Minnesota's 36th ranked rushing defense alive. I don't know what will happen over the next 3 games against the #11, #2 and #6 rush defenses in the league, but you have to like where things are headed.

The officials. Hands down.

According to Twitter, this was the same crew that worked the Michigan vs Ohio State game last year. If that was the case, then somehow a lot of the terrible calls from this game suddenly make more sense. Minnesota only had 3 penalties for 10 yards while Michigan was hit with 9 penalties for 85 yards. The worst came during the scuffle in the 2nd half when both Michigan's Josh Matellus and Minnesota's Donnell Greene were flagged and ejected for doing two very different things. Donnell punched Tyree Kinnel while all Matellus did was get in his face. I get the refs just want to defuse the situation, but that was pretty awful.

Also, how a team like Michigan can tally 5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss and Minnesota was not once called for holding is beyond me. I'm sorry but the illegal hands to the face personal foul on Rashan Gary was especially egregious given that no one on Michigan's defense was being held more than he was.

Also of note, I did go back and watch the broadcast, and man...Brando and Tillman had a ROUGH time calling the game. Maybe my judgment of Brando has been clouded, but I didn't like pretty much anything he had to say throughout the broadcast. Tillman had some cringe-worthy moments, especially during the scuffle. How he thought it was all Kinnel's fault is really beyond me.

Offense: The Offensive Line
I don't want to single out any one guy on the OL for the rise of the Michigan offense, its a group effort, and one that this Michigan team so desperately needed. For all of the grief the right side of the line caught in the first half of the season, the substitution of Nolan Ulizo for Juwann Bushell-Beatty as RT seemed to be the turning point. I thought Ruiz looked great (in run blocking) in for the injured Michel Onwenu at RG. Clearly this group is coming on strong and the real beneficiaries are Karan Higdon and Chris Evans.

Defense: Khaleke Hudson
The dude simply 13 total tackles, 11 solo, 2 sacks, 6.5 tackles for loss and one forced fumble. He was also ahead of a punt block that he showed up for just half a beat too early for. That was about all he did wrong last night. He was so good, history might remember this as the "Khaleke Hudson game". I'll be shocked if he's not Big Ten defensive player of the week.

Special Teams: James Foug
One a day when no one else was really doing anything exceptional special teams-wise, I have to admit I was impressed with Foug's directional kickoffs that were more often than not fielded inside the 5 and outside of the hash marks. I don't think many kickoffs were returned past the 20...which really helps bank those hidden special teams yards you don't even think about on the stat sheet.

Coaching: Jim Harbaugh
I don't remember what Harbaugh's offense felt like when he was at Stanford, but I do remember what they looked like and I'll be damned if that's not what we're starting to see in Ann Arbor. Most run plays were based out of no-receiver sets. Usually just a couple tight ends and a million linemen. There's no question this, more than in the previous two years, is starting to resemble those typical Harbaugh pound-you-in-the-ass offenses we remember from his Stanford days.

Honorable mention: Karan Higdon, Chris Evans, Sean McKeon, Devin Bush, Rashan Gary, Maurice Hurst, Chase Winovich, Ambry Thomas

2017 Game Ball Standings
1. Don Brown (4)
2. Quinn Nordin (3)
3. Karan Higdon (2), Chase Winovich (2), Ty Isaac (2),
4. The OL (1), Khaleke Hudson (1), James Foug (1), Jim Harbaugh (1), Ambry Thomas (1), Greg Frey (1), Maurice Hurst (1), John O'Korn (1), Devin Bush (1), Brad Robbins (1), Donovan Peoples-Jones (1), Tyree Kinnel (1), Devin Bush (1), Greg Mattison (1)

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