Last year’s 30-14 loss to Minnesota still resonates with most of Michigan’s football team. Not only did they lose the Little Brown Jug, but some believe it was the end of the Brady Hoke era. Needless to say, the Wolverines are hungry for this one.
Minnesota will be under the direction of associate head coach Tracy Claeys. Head coach Jerry Kill was forced to suddenly retire this week, due to his battles with epilepsy. This isn’t Claeys’ first rodeo, as he was responsible for the Golden Gophers victory over the Wolverines last season. Players may come out with a little more to play for this week as they try to win one for their coach.
Rushing Offense against Minnesota
After a week off, the Michigan running backs should be well rested and ready to go. De’Veon Smith and Drake Johnson top the depth chart once again, but this time we should see more of Johnson than we have previously. Harbaugh implied that Johnson should receive an increased workload, and with the sample size we’ve seen, Johnson could be the complete back the Wolverines need going forward.
Minnesota’s linebackers have been plenty busy this season. Starting linebackers Jack Lynn, Cody Poock, and De’Vondre Campbell all have 30+ tackles heading into Saturday’s game. Minnesota plays a risky style of defense: one that allows his defensive linemen to occupy the offensive linemen, and free up the linebackers to fill holes and be aggressive. The risky part comes when the linebackers miss tackles or can’t get off a block. Once that happens, the opposing running backs usually have a lot of space to run, gashing the Golden Gopher defense for big chunks of yards.
The Wolverines are a power running team with several backs capable of busting loose. Minnesota has capable players but none to overpower the run game.
Passing Offense against Minnesota
Minnesota also uses aggressive defensive back play. The cornerbacks are used in man to man and bump and run coverage on the regular. With the front seven or eight being so aggressive, the Gophers try to prey on the quarterback panicking and making bad decisions. Defensive tackle Steven Richardson leads the team with 3.5 sacks. Junior DB Jalen Myrick is an athletic player that leads the team with three interceptions. If Jake Rudock is late with the ball or makes a poor choice, Myrick will be happy to take advantage.
Minnesota will also send and drop several players at any given play in a game, looking to confuse Rudock. They could send eight or drop eight and it will be on Rudock to decide what to do with the ball.
Michigan will be able to take advantage of the middle of the field with the passing game. The tight ends should be prepared for an eventful day as Harbaugh already loves using the intermediate passing game, especially to the big pass catchers. Anticipate seeing multiple tight end sets and maybe even the fullbacks getting into the passing attack.
Michigan has yet to prove their worthiness in the passing game but have proved to be serviceable. Minnesota has held opposing quarterbacks to an average of 177 yards passing per game. Facing Heisman Trophy candidate Trevone Boykin, the Golden Gophers held him to 246 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Rushing Defense against Minnesota
Minnesota will unleash a duo of freshman running backs to help protect the Little Brown Jug. Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks lead the team in touches. Smith is averaging four yards a carry but has only crossed the goal line once. Brooks is averaging seven yards a touch but only has 45 carries. He has touched pay dirt three times, tied for the team lead with quarterback Mitch Leidner. Brooks has come on as of late and might see more carries than Smith.
By no means are the Minnesota offensive lineman world beaters, but they are willing and able to help create holes. They have helped the team rush for an average of a 156 yards per game. But the question here isn’t if they’re willing and able, it’s will they be able to handle this tenacious Michigan defensive line?
The Michigan defense is still holding opponents under 65 yards rushing per game. With Minnesota being an average running team, do not expect to see them move the ball much more than anyone else the Wolverines have faced. Ryan Glasgow, Chris Wormley and Willie Henry will all be looking to take out some aggression after the loss to MSU.
No one has been able to run on Michigan, and Minnesota will not be the first. Michigan’s experience will prevail over Minnesota’s luck.
Passing Defense against Minnesota
The quarterback, Leidner, played a huge roll in Minnesota’s defeat of Michigan last season. Protecting the ball and completing third down passes is crucial to put up points against this tough Michigan secondary. He has thrown seven touchdowns and six interceptions this season.
KJ Maye is the man in the Minnesota receiving corps. They will do what they can to get the ball in his hands as much as possible. Maye has 33 receptions for 350 yards and three touchdowns, and has also ran the ball six times, scoring on one of those. Receivers Drew Wolitarsky and Eric Carter are the next in line if Maye can’t get away from Jourdan Lewis.
Lewis will more than likely be given the duty to blanket Maye. If this is the case, Minnesota is going to need some misdirection and maybe some trick plays to put one over this disciplined secondary.
Michigan’s secondary should be able to do anything they want with very little playmakers on Minnesota’s side. Turnovers may be in store.
Special Teams against Minnesota
Minnesota’s special teams have been good. They have to be with the style of ball they play- protect the ball and convert special team’s opportunities. Kicker Ryan Santoso is 10-for-13 on field goals and punter Peter Mortell averages 44 yards per punt. Myrick and Brooks return kicks and they have enough speed to break one if given the space.
Michigan’s special teams continue to be one of the most improved units. As long as they continue to do what they’ve been doing, they should have no problems in the kicking or return game. Outside of the punting blunder against MSU, all units have been sound.
Both teams are very similar with their solid special teams play. It won’t make or break the game but should be interesting to watch. Peppers and receiver Jehu Chesson give the Wolverines the edge as they are more explosive than anyone Minnesota has.
Prediction: Michigan 38 – Minnesota 6
The Little Brown Jug returns to Ann Arbor after a year’s vacation but not without a spirited run from Kill’s bunch. They will play their hearts out for him early but will run out of gas late.
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