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Michigan vs Minnesota game preview

November 2nd, 2012 by Justin Potts


Michigan’s los to Nebraska last weekend put the Wolverines in a must-win scenario for every game the rest of the season. And it all starts tomorrow with the battle for the Little Brown Jug. It’s our very own Matt’s favorite rivalry.

Minnesota enters with a 5-3 record, but has won just one of four since Big Ten play started. The Gophers munched on douglas-firs – UNLV, New Hampshire, Western Michigan, and Syracuse – before dropping three straight to Iowa, Northwestern, and Wisconsin. Last week, Minnesota got back in the win column with a 44-28 win over Purdue.

TCF Bank Stadium  -  Minneapolis, Minn.
12pm EST  -  Big Ten Network
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Minnesota Head Coach: Jerry Kill (2nd season)
Coaching Record: 8-12 (at Minn.), 135-85 (overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Matt Limegrover
Defensive Coordinator: Tracy Claeys
Returning Starters: 13 (7 offense, 6 defense)
Last Season: 3-9 (2-6)
Last Meeting: Michigan 58 – Minnesota 0 (2011)
All-time Series: Michigan leads 71-24-3
In Ann Arbor: Michigan leads 38-12-1
In Michigan Stadium: 32-10-1
Current Streak: Michigan 4

Minnesota is fighting for bowl eligibility, needing at least one more win in its four remaining games. That will likely come next week against Illinois, but the Gophers would like to become bowl eligible this week and take back the Little Brown Jug. Can they? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

When Minnesota has the ball

Minnesota will be starting freshman quarterback Philip Nelson for the third straight week. He turned in rather pedestrian numbers against Wisconsin in his first start (13-of-24 for 149 yards, two interceptions and two touchdowns) but had a good game against Purdue last week (15-of-22 for 246 yards, three touchdowns, and no picks). He can also run a little bit, having carried the ball 25 times for 104 yards.

He will be throwing to junior A.J. Barker and a bunch of other guys. Barker leads the Gophers with 30 receptions for 577 yards and seven touchdowns. The next best receiver is Isaac Fruechte who has just 13 catches for 193 yards and two touchdowns. MarQueis Gray, who converted from quarterback to receiver, has caught seven passes for 73 yards in the past two weeks. He’s a great athlete, so he’s always dangerous with the ball in his hands.

In the backfield, Donnell Kirkwood is the workhorse with 138 carries for 609 yards and three touchdowns so far. He had his best game of the season last week, rushing for 134 yards on 6.1 yards per carry. No other running back has done much – Gray and Nelson are second and third on the team – but freshman Rodrick Williams Jr has been getting more carries each of the last three weeks.

The Gophers are only scoring 25 points per game and were held to 13 by Iowa, Northwestern, and Wisconsin. You might recognize that as the magic number Michigan has allowed a few times this season. Michigan’s defense has been outstanding the past six weeks, giving up an average of 9.8 points per game. The Wolverines held Nebraska well below its season average despite an offense that couldn’t stay on the field in the second half without Denard Robinson. Minnesota shouldn’t hurt Michigan at all with the run game, so look for Nelson to challenge Michigan’s secondary downfield. Even though Michigan features the top-ranked pass defense in the country, the corners have still been susceptible over the top.

When Michigan has the ball

Minnesota has the 7th-ranked pass defense in the nation but the 82nd-ranked rush defense. That shows that teams have been able to run all over the Gophers. The best rush offenses Minnesota has faced, Wisconsin and Northwestern, put up 337 and 208 rushing yards, respectively. Iowa also had a 100-yard rusher.

Rushing Attempts: 12 – Denard will pass Tyrone Wheatley for 6th in career rushing attempts.
Rushing Yards: 4 – Denard will pass Tyrone Wheatley for 4th in career rushing yards. With 115, he could pass Missouri’s Brad Smith (2002-05) for 2nd in NCAA FBS history. With 219, he could pass Jamie Morris for 3rd in Michigan history.
Rushing Touchdowns: 1 – Denard will pass Mike Hart for 3rd in career rushing touchdowns.
100 rushing yards: Denard will pass Jamie Morris for 4th in career 100-yard rushing games.
Pass Completions: 17 – Denard will pass Tom Brady for 5th in career completions.
Pass Yards: 211 – Denard will pass Elvis Grbac for 3rd in career passing yards.
Total Yards: 170 – Denard will pass Illinois’ Juice Williams (2006-09) for 6th in career total yards in Big Ten history.
Field Goals: 1 – Brendan Gibbons will tie Bob Bergeron for 6th in career field goals made. With 3 he will tie Ali Haji-Sheikh for 5th.

Safety Troy Stoudermire and cornerback Derrick Wells are the leading tacklers, while Wells also has a pair of interceptions. Linebackers Mike Rallis and Keanon Cooper are returning starters from last season and rank third and fourth on the team in tackles.

The defensive line found a pair of guys to step up after being a disaster last season. DL Wilhite leads the team and ranks second in the Big Ten with 6.5 sacks and also has nine tackles for loss. RaShede Hageman has also made an impact in the backfield, ranking sixth in the conference with four sacks.

Expect Michigan to run the ball just like it did against Purdue and Illinois. With a healthy Denard, Michigan should be able to eat up chunks of yards on the ground and only pass a handful of times.

The other third

Kicker Jordan Wetterstein is just 9-of-16 this season with a long of 44, while punter Christian Eldred averages just 37.4 yards per punt, which ranks ninth in the Big Ten. The Gophers don’t have much in the way of a return game. Barker handles punt returns and averages 7.1 yards per, but no one ranks in the top ten in the conference in kick returns.

Prediction

As I mentioned above, look for Michigan to run the ball. Denard better go out of bounds when necessary to avoid big hits, and hopefully the game can be well in hand by the end of the third quarter so he can rest and give Russell Bellomy some more game action. On the other side of the ball, Minnesota may connect a couple long balls, but shouldn’t be able to move the ball very much against Michigan’s defense. Michigan will retain control of the Jug for the fifth straight year.

Michigan 37 – Minnesota 10

Bonus: After Michigan’s win, root hard for Michigan State. Yes, I said it and I know it goes against everything you’ve been taught, but Michigan’s only chance of winning the Legends division is for Nebraska to lose one if its remaining game, and this is their best chance. So go Sparty!