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Michigan vs. Minnesota Preview – 100th Meeting

October 4, 2013

Little Brown Jug

Saturday Marks the 100th meeting between Michigan and Minnesota, and the 94th time the Wolverines and Golden Gophers will battle for the coolest trophy in all of college football, The Little Brown Jug.   Michigan leads the all time series 72-24-3, and has only lost the Gophers three times in the last 41 meetings.  Even worse for the Gophers, while they lost two games by a touchdown or less and won another from 2003 – 2005, Michigan has reasserted its dominance as of late, winning the last 5 games by an average of 28.2 points.   While anything can happen, this doesn’t bode well for Minnesota.

Two weeks ago, this game looked a lot scarier than it does today.  Michigan had just escaped an embarrassing loss to its 2nd straight inferior opponent while Minnesota was a somewhat surprising 4-0.   Fast forward almost two weeks and I feel significantly better about this game. Minnesota is coming off a loss to Iowa where the Golden Gophers managed just 165 yards of total offense in a 23-7 loss and the memories of UConn and Akron have faded.

Key Matchups for Saturday

Michigan Interior Offensive Line vs. Minnesota Defensive Line

No matter who the opponent the rest of the season, the interior Michigan line will probably be a focal point.  The focus will be even greater this week for a couple of reasons.  First, Michigan has made some changes as Graham Glasgow will move to Center from Guard, and Chris Bryant will be inserted into the lineup at Left Guard.   After the last two weeks this was a change that had to made.  The hope is that Glasgow and Bryant will be able to open bigger holes as a tandem than Jack Miller and Glasgow were able to.  What remains to be seen is whether or not Glasgow can make the right calls from Center to get Michigan in the right blocking assignments.

Glasgow and Bryant (and the rest of the line) will be tested early as one of the best defensive tackles in the conference, Ra’Shede Hageman will be lining up across from them.  Hageman is a disruptor who finished with 6 tackles along with a sack and a tackle for a loss last year against Michigan.  If the new lineup can neutralize Hageman, it bodes well for Saturday’s outcome as well long term for the new lineup change.

Michigan Defense vs. Minnesota Rushing Attack

Minnesota has one of the worst passing attacks in the country, rating 118th overall, which means that if Michigan can slow their running attack, the Gophers will struggle to move the ball and struggle to score.  Last week Iowa held them to just 30 yards rushing, and won easily.  The Gophers are led by Rodrick Williams Jr. and David Cobb who split the carries pretty evenly and each of whom averages 5.8 yards per carry.  Minnesota had been putting up almost 282 yards per game on the ground before the Iowa game, so there’s no secret of what they want to do on offense.  The Michigan defense has been stout against the run, giving up just 79 yards a game.  Only Notre Dame found some success on a regular basis, but they didn’t take full advantage of the opportunity.   It would be a surprise if Minnesota was successful running the ball on a regular basis, especially given that Michigan can load up the box and dare them to throw the ball.

Devin Gardner vs. Devin Gardner

It’s no secret that Devin Gardner is as physically talented as any quarterback in the conference, and maybe the country.  When everything is clicking for him mentally you get 5 touchdown performances like we saw against Notre Dame.  When it’s not, you see 4 turnovers per game, like the last two weeks.   It’s possible that Devin Gardner got into my supply of #DGKA the last two weeks and forgot he doesn’t need to beat teams all by himself.  With Fitzgerald Toussaint coming on strong and the defense getting better each week, Gardner doesn’t need a Notre Dame like performance for  Michigan to win.  A steady game where he manages the action, makes smart decisions, and uses his athleticism only for good will result in a comfortable Michigan victory.  It’s important for him to remember that against lesser teams (like Akron and UConn), his #1 job is to not create turnovers and liabilities. We’ll see if two weeks of practice has reminded him of that.

Three Useless Predictions:

  1. The big change everyone is talking about is on the offensive line, but I expect to see a different philosophy offensively too.  Don’t be surprised to see a lot more passes to the tight ends, and maybe even an athletic tight end lining up at wide receiver from time to time.
  2. For the first time since the 2nd half of CMU, we see another back getting carries besides Toussaint – and this time it happens in the 1st quarter.  The likely candidate will be Derrick Green, but rest assured Fitz won’t be the only one with the ball early on.
  3. Jake Ryan sneaks on to the field for a play or two

Game Prediction

As I stated at the outset, this game looked a lot more formidable a couple of weeks ago.  This is a typical Minnesota team under Jerry Kill – good enough to beat you if you try to sleep walk through the game, but not an upper echelon Big Ten team.  If Michigan doesn’t protect the football and finds a way to give Minnesota 7-10 points, we could be in for a four quarter battle.   Coming off of a bye week and two scares against lesser opponents, I’ll be both shocked and disappointed if Michigan gets caught in that situation again.  This defense should have no trouble controlling the game on their side, so it will be up to the offense to prove they have their mojo back.  It won’t be perfect, but it will be more than good enough.

Michigan 38

Minnesota 10

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