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M&GB staff predictions: Kansas State

Friday, December 27th, 2013


On Thursday morning, the Phoenix Zoo set out two boxes with equal amounts of ground beef in each one in the Sumatran tiger habitat. On one box was the Michigan logo and on the other was the Kansas State logo. With a large crowd looking on, the tiger went straight to the K-State box and devoured the beef. Last year, she was 2-0 with his picks, so if her prediction prowess holds true, K-State should win. Let’s just hope Shane Morris isn’t as easily devoured by the Wildcat defensive line. Let’s take a look at our predictions:

Justin: Shane Morris makes his first career start against one of the nation’s best defensive ends, Ryan Mueller, who ranks in the top ten nationally in both sacks and tackles for loss. It will be up to Taylor Lewan, making his 48th and final start, to neutralize Mueller, and the rest of Michigan’s much-maligned offensive line to do the rest. Unfortunately, Kansas State’s defense is solid and that’s not good for a true freshman signal caller.

Defensively, Michigan will need to force turnovers and hold the Wildcats below their season average of 33 points. In five losses, K-State was held to an average of just 25 points. That’s about what it will take for Michigan to have a chance. But the Wildcats have a good running back, John Hubert, and a very good receiver, Tyler Lockett, as well as a two-headed monster at quarterback, both of which are capable runners. That’s enough to keep Michigan’s defense off balance.

Expect a close game, but K-State will be too much down the stretch.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Kansas State
Justin 27 33
Chris 21 30
Josh 38 24
Sam 17 31
Derick 21 28
Katie 21 31
Drew 17 27
M&GB Average 23 29

Kansas State 33 – Michigan 27

Chris: Kansas State 30 – Michigan 21

Josh: Please see yesterday’s Friend vs Foe for my full breakdown.

Michigan 38 – Kansas State 24

Sam: With the recent news that Devin Gardner broke his foot playing against Ohio State and will not play against Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, it’s becoming more and more apparent that Michigan will be the underdog once again come Saturday night.

Michigan’s run game, which has struggled mightily for large portions of this season, will be the focus of a Kansas State defense that gives up just 23.7 points per game, and if the Wolverines are to have any chance, true freshman quarterback and first-time starter Shane Morris will need to live up to his recruiting projections quickly. I think running back Derrick Green will be able to find some holes to run behind after Michigan has had nearly a month to prepare for their Big 12 foe, but his increased production will probably be evened out by a less dynamic passing attack.

As in most bowl games, expect to see some trickery thrown in. Michigan will continue to run play action often, especially in this game, but they should also be playing without fear and trying plenty of new stuff. Kansas State could run away with it, but turnovers could also be a calling card for the Maize and Blue. A plus-two turnover margin or better and the Wolverines should find a way to stay in it til the very end.

Either way, I simply think Michigan’s inexperience at the quarterback position will prove too much to overcome. I’ll take the Wildcats.

Kansas State 31 – Michigan 17

Derick: With Shane Morris at the helm of the Michigan offense, who knows how the team will look. Morris has sat out basically two years of football after missing most of his high school senior season with mono. His return will be on the biggest stage of his life.

Michigan is also headed in the opposite direction as Kansas State, who finished the year winning five of six while the Wolverines dropped five of seven.

The outstanding effort against Ohio State has put Michigan fans back in a hopeful frame of mind, but beating a hot team with a true freshman quarterback is a tall order.

For better or worse, Michigan fans will get their first real look at Shane Morris (MGoBlue.com)

Kansas State 28 – Michigan 21

Katie: Call me crazy, but I’m looking forward to watching Shane Morris at the helm of the Michigan offense. Devin Gardner played so well against Ohio State, it’s true. But that does not erase the mistakes and fumbling around that was most of the season (and I do realize that the O-line was a terrible liability, and made Gardner’s job much more difficult). Morris had little to no playing time this season because the Wolverines couldn’t close out a game with enough time to put in a backup. Well, he’s got his chance now.

As for how he’ll do. I’m hopeful. Am I expecting a win? No. And after coming so close to beating the Buckeyes a win at the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl isn’t all that appealing. Yes, I want to win. However, I would rather give the kid a shot and have a more seasoned backup for next year.

All in all, if Michigan can play a game like the last one, they’ll come away with a win. If Morris looks like a deer in the headlights, it’s likely that the Maize and Blue will end up a disappointing 7-6. The only question is what team will show up? The one that played OSU to within a point, or the one that nearly lost to Akron.

Kansas State 31 – Michigan 21

Drew: The main headline entering tomorrow’s Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl is that starting quarterback Devin Gardner will be unable to play with a broken left foot. This is absolutely devastating news for the Wolverines. Gardner has been the target of many U-M fans’ criticism this season—some of it deserved, most of it not. Those fans would be foolish not to realize that he has been the catalyst for the Wolverines’ offense.

Gardner had one of the best statistical seasons in program history. His 3,443 total yards are the second-most by a Wolverine, trailing only Denard Robinson’s 4,272 in 2010. His 2,960 passing yards also are the second-best, trailing only John Navarre’s 3,331 in 2003. Gardner also accounted for 32 total touchdowns and 21 passing touchdowns, tied for second-most and sixth-most in school history, respectively. Very few backups, if any, can replace the production U-M will miss with Gardner’s absence.

Enter: true freshman Shane Morris. Morris will be the sixth true freshman to start at quarterback in Michigan history. Morris may be inexperienced, attempting only nine passes this season, but he has the potential to be a star. Recruiting services considered Morris a Top 100 recruit in the 2013 class. The question will be if Morris can show that promise tomorrow.

The good news for Morris is precedent. Michigan is 4-1 when one of its true freshmen makes his first career start at quarterback, 3-0 in such situations since 2004. Further, in the past decade, not only did U-M win those games, those three true freshmen played very well, throwing for a total of 411 yards, eight touchdowns, and only one interception.

The bad news for Morris is that he likely will have little help, which the previous three true freshman starters had. Michigan’s rushing offense is ranked #100 out of 123 NCAA FBS teams, averaging only 130.8 yards per game. And that includes the 40.2 rushing yards that Gardner averaged each game. Also, U-M’s offensive line has allowed more tackles-for-loss than any other FBS team. A poor rushing attack and a leaky offensive line? Not the situation a head coach wants to throw his true freshman quarterback into.

Ultimately, to win tomorrow against a Kansas State squad that has won five of its past six games, Michigan will need Morris to carry most of the load by himself. Morris will show flashes of the potential that made him an elite high-school recruit. But it will not be enough. Michigan’s defense will keep it competitive throughout before the Wildcats put it away with a late fourth-quarter touchdown, dropping U-M’s bowl record to 20-23.

Kansas State 27 – Michigan 17

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Links:

For more coverage of this week’s game, see: Michigan-Kansas State game preview; a First Look at Kansas State; the Kansas State edition of Friend vs Foe with John Morse of the K-State blog Bring on the Cats; and this week’s Five-Spot Challenge. Drew (@DrewCHallett) detailed Michigan’s custom of January bowl games and why the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl is rare territory for the Wolverines.

Also check out game previews from MGoBlogMaize n BrewMaize n Blue Nation, and Maize and Blue Nation.

From the other side, game preview from Bring on the Cats, as well as their staff predictions.

Finally, I did a story for BTN Live B1G on the clothing company run by former Michigan basketball player David Merritt and the good cause it is helping fund. Check it out and consider purchasing some merchandise to help support underserved youth.

M&GB staff predictions: Ohio State

Friday, November 29th, 2013


Michigan has lost three of four. Ohio State has won 23 straight. Most around the country don’t give Michigan a chance. The huge Vegas spread is evidence of that. One would think that a Michigan blog would be the most optimistic, so do any of us give the Wolverines a shot? Let’s take a look at our predictions.

Justin: Now that The Game is finally here, Al Borges can finally open up his playbook that he has kept under wraps the past few weeks. No more letting defenders run through the line forcing Devin Gardner to think quickly. No more confounding runs ending up in loss of yards. No more three-and-outs. Michigan will move the ball with ease, torching an overmatched Buckeye defense and putting up 40 points in a big win.

Ok, so that would be fantasy land, right? In all reality, it will be more of the same as what we saw the last few weeks. Michigan will score some points, but the offense won’t simply move in spurts. The defense will do a good job of slowing down the Buckeyes, but it simply won’t be enough. Ohio State is the much better team and, while Michigan will put up a fight, the disparity will show.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Ohio State
Justin 24 38
Chris 17 31
Josh 13 31
Sam 3 31
Derick 14 47
Katie 21 35
Drew 13 34
M&GB Average 15 35

Ohio State 38 – Michigan 24

Chris: Ohio State 31 – Michigan 17

Josh: Let me set the table before we dig into this week’s prediction. I hate Ohio State, I always have and I always will, that’s a given. I never root for Ohio State, even if it’s in Michigan’s best interest, on those occasions I just hope they don’t lose so it benefits us but I never root for them, ever.

I lived in Ohio for almost two years and it made me hate them even more. I’ve been to Columbus for Michigan games on several occasions and those fans make me hate them more still. I hate that they have lying cheating coaches who skirt the rules and yet are still heralded by the school as if they did nothing wrong.

However, this year my hatred has seemed to fade a bit. Maybe it’s because I’m a grown man in my mid-30′s and I shouldn’t be harboring hatred towards a school and kids I don’t even know. But more likely it’s because a snowball has a better chance in hell (not the one in Michigan) than Michigan does this weekend. In the end I think I am just trying to temper my expectations and hatred so I don’t get too upset if we play horribly and lose by a ridiculous amount.

And now on to what I’d like to see from Michigan this week. Whether we see it is another story.

On Offense:

Michigan is pretty bad at protecting Devin Gardner and giving up sacks. Ohio is pretty good at sacking the QB. I’d just like to see Michigan keep Devin Gardner from getting hurt. We still have a bowl game to play and getting this offense more practices with their starting QB over the next month will only add to their growth heading into the offseason. If Gardner is injured and can’t practice much or at all I think that might slow down any progress this offense might make. I could be wrong but at the very least you don’t want a kid like Devin Gardner to get hurt.

Keep Fitz Toussaint on the bench. I know this sounds harsh especially since he’s a senior but with the line the way it is we cannot afford to have him dancing around and being tentative behind the line when he should just hit a hole and power through it. Derrick Green has shown some flashes of what he can be in the future and right now he needs as many touches as possible. He hits the hole and isn’t someone who can be arm tackled. Even when he doesn’t get much, as long as he gets back to the LOS, he falls forward and gets more yardage. The same cannot be said for Fitz.

Yes, he is a senior and yes not all of his issues are his fault but Michigan football is about putting the best eleven guys on the field and letting them play. He has yet to show me he is one of those eleven.

Find someone not named Jeremy Gallon or Devin Funchess when the going gets rough. Early on Jeremy Gallon was Gardner’s security blanket and for good reason but it became too predictable. As soon as he was in trouble he looked for #21. Once Funchess emerged he became a second outlet, then the top option for a while. But last week Gardner again went back to Gallon when he was pressured and flustered. Urban Meyer and Luke Fickell know this and will key on it. If Michigan is to stand a chance they need to get Jehu Chesson and others involved in the offense.

Take advantage of any positive situations. Michigan has been awful on third down and has failed to punch it in the end zone on numerous occasions when they’ve had short fields. Field goals won’t beat OSU, plain and simple. Michigan needs to take advantage of short fields, turnovers, even just solid field position and make it count.

Throw out the record and past failures of the season and play like this is our bowl game. No, it’s not really but it might as well be since we’ll end up with some mid major team in the bowl most likely. Ohio has locked up their Big Ten title game slot but a Michigan win would give them zero chance at the BCS title (if FSU and/or Bama lose) and that alone would be awesome.

This is not to say they won’t give their hearts and play with full effort, because I feel they already have been, but they need to bring out some nastiness and play like Michigan. I’ll spare you the Brady Hoke intro press conference reference but you know what I mean. If there ever was a game this year for them to play like Michigan, this is it.

On defense

Contain Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde. Far easier said than done but if anyone can do it it’s Greg Mattison. By contain I don’t mean shut down, I mean slow down and limit their big plays. Big plays, as we all know, have hurt Michigan this year. The Buckeyes have an explosive offense and stopping all big plays is a tall task, but if Michigan can limit them they increase their chances of hanging with them.

Disrupt their rhythm. When high octane offenses, or any offenses for that matter, get in a rhythm they can be very tough to stop. Getting a few early stops and/or turnovers could slow down the OSU attack and give Michigan a chance to put some points on the board.

Play with reckless abandon. Michigan is already assured a bowl game and a winning season even if they lose their last two games. So why not throw out all the stops and play every down like it’s their last. The defense playing well may be Michigan’s only chance to win this game. Being aggressive and going for the pick instead of the deflection is risky but now is the time to be risky and go for gold. The defense is solid but they need to bring their A-game on every single play and go all out if they want to give the offense a chance.

On Special Teams

If there ever was a game where field position mattered it would be this one. This OSU team is going to score, they’re just too good not to, but at least make them work hard for it by driving the length of the field.

This may tie in more to the offense’s general ineptness than the special teams’ ability but giving OSU good field position all afternoon will spell doom and frustration for Wolverine nation.

From the Fans

I added this section because I think it’s important. I’ve been as hard on this team as anyone this year, and it’s because I expect a lot of Michigan. All through my grade school and high school years Michigan was a dominant team against OSU. They upset good OSU teams and then went on to win the national championship my senior year of high school. Those years led me to expect top defenses, punishing running games and Rose Bowl or bust. I’ve been critical of Al Borges, we all have, and even Devin Gardner and others but at the end of the day I still love Michigan football.

These kids ARE playing their hearts out, they ARE giving 100% effort and for anyone to question that is just disgusting. Expecting more from Michigan is one thing, but calling out players on Twitter or other media and questioning their heart and acting like jerks (or a more colorful word) isn’t cool. And it isn’t the Michigan way.

Win or lose I want Michigan fans to take the high road and not act like fools. Be disappointed if we lose, I will be, but don’t say hateful things to the players. These are 18-22 year old kids, they don’t need constant criticism from people outside the program, they need our support. And win or lose, that is what we should give them.

Prediction

As much as it pains me to say this I don’t think Michigan stands a chance. Yes, miracles do happen and I’ve seen bad Michigan teams beat good OSU teams before but I’m just not feeling that way this year. Unless the offensive line becomes great all of a sudden I’m not so sure we sniff the end zone much. Inability to convert on third downs, or even long downs could spell very short fields and numerous scoring opportunities for the Buckeyes. Above all else, OSU needs a statement win to impress the voters and Urbs will be looking to keep pouring it on a hated rival.

Ohio State 31 – Michigan 13

Sam: Do yourself a favor and try to stay away from the TV on Saturday if at all possible. The Game will not be much of a game this season in the blistering cold in Ann Arbor as Ohio State hammers one final nail into Al Borges’s coffin with a big win.

Ohio State 31 – Michigan 3

Derick: After completely forgetting about the second half of the game against Iowa,  Michigan has lost all confidence in it’s ability to move the ball. Though they put up 21 points in the first half, the team had less than 150 yards as a whole.

Unfortunately, an underrated and underrecognized defense is suffering from the offense’s  inability to get first downs, and it spends far too much time on the field.

Ohio State is the best team on Michigan’s schedule, and Michigan hasn’t handled the other 11 games well.

Discounting the first two Rich Rod years, this game would be the most surprising in my years as a Michigan fan if we pulled off an upset.

Ohio State 47 – Michigan 14

Katie: Maybe because this isn’t in The Shoe the Buckeyes won’t be lucky this weekend. Michigan could pull off the upset, but without a bit of good fortune and the full support of the crowd I don’t see it being a favorable outcome for the Wolverines. No, The Buckeyes have too potent an offense, and too resilient a defense. Miller is a great QB and a mobile threat as well. Their backup, Kenny Guiton, isn’t too bad either. That in combination with a powerful running game could mean some rather large issues for Michigan. If they have a weakness Michigan can exploit though, it will be in the passing game. The Maize and Blue will have to play their best defensive game of the year not only to keep OSU in check points wise, but to make sure that their fumbling offense won’t have too much of an uphill battle to overcome.

In this game I’m always for retaining that glimmering hope even when the outlook seems bleak. And if we get beat and beat badly, I hope that it will at least mean a change in coaching staff.

Ohio State 35 – Michigan 21

Drew: This week’s “Inside the Numbers” column detailed Michigan’s odds to upset third-ranked Ohio State in “The Game” tomorrow. To summarize those odds in one word: bleak. OSU has won a school-record 23 straight games. Michigan has lost four of its last six. Accordingly, OSU is a 15-point road favorite against U-M. Since 2000, the Wolverines are only 2-10 against the spread versus the Buckeyes. And, in the past three seasons, Big Ten teams that have been more than a two-touchdown underdog have won only five percent of their games.

In rivalry games, though, there is a general attitude that all rational thought and reason should be thrown out the window and that one should expect the unexpected. Michigan fans have experienced this many times before, witnessing the Wolverines record monumental upsets against their bitter rival from Columbus in 1969, 1993, 1995, and 1996 among others. So if Michigan was to surprise the world by handing Ohio State its first loss and salvage its season, it would not be a first.

But do not hold your breath, Michigan fans. It hurts to say it, but it will not happen tomorrow. The Wolverines will fight, claw, and do everything in their power to win tomorrow, but it will not be enough. The Wolverines will keep it close in the first half as Greg Mattison unleashes defensive schemes that confound Braxton Miller. However, an offense as explosive and dynamic as Ohio State’s will not remain dormant all game. The Buckeyes will blow it open in the third quarter, and Michigan’s offense—the one that has scored only 42 in its past four regulations—will not be able to keep pace. A long month of hardship finally will cease for the Wolverines. Unfortunately, it will be on a sour note.

Ohio State 34 – Michigan 13

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Links:

For more coverage of this week’s game, see: Michigan-Ohio State game preview; Monday’s First Look: Ohio State, and this week’s Five-Spot Challenge. Katie took a look back at Michigan’s big upset of Ohio State 20 years ago; Drew (@DrewCHallett) says screw the numbers, beat Ohio; and a Thanksgiving salute to the seniors that will be playing their final game in Michigan Stadium tomorrow.

Yours truly participated in Yahoo Sports The Post Game’s The Loyalty Report. I provided the Michigan side of why Michigan will win tomorrow, while Johnny Ginter of Eleven Warriors did the Ohio State view.

Also check out game previews from MGoBlogMaize n BrewTouch the BannerMaize n Blue Nation, and The M Block.

From the other side, game preview from Eleven Warriors, as well as a roundtable.

Finally, tomorrow is the last day to donate to the indiegogo campaign for Vincent Smith, Martaveous Odoms, and Brandin Hawthorne’s Pahokee garden project. Help out a group of Michigan Men who are working to make their hometown a better place.

M&GB staff predictions: Iowa

Friday, November 22nd, 2013


Last week, all seven of us had pretty similar predictions, and if Brendan Gibbons hadn’t made the last second field goal to send the game into overtime, we all would have been over. But after the three overtimes played out and Michigan’s offense finally found the end zone not once but twice, we all ended up under the final score. This week, Michigan faces a very good defense in a place the Wolverines haven’t won since 2005 in what will likely be poor weather conditions. Can Michigan build on the momentum from last week’s thrilling win, or will Iowa hand Michigan its third loss in four games? Let’s take a look at our predictions.

Justin: Al Borges did a good job of keeping the playbook pretty vanilla for 59 minutes and 50 seconds last week. Unfortunately, Ohio State now has on tape the rush field goal that the staff had been trying to keep under wraps. Then, in overtime, he was forced to open things up a bit in order to get the win.

This week, look for a game plan similar to what he used in regulation against Northwestern. The Buckeyes are just one week away, so no need to show them anything. Save the reverses and double reverses and triple reverses and halfback passes and flea-flickers and fumblerooskis and statue of Liberties for next week. Do just enough to eek out the win. But this time it won’t be enough because Iowa’s defense > Northwestern’s. And they have pink locker rooms.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Iowa
Justin 13 16
Chris 20 23
Josh 13 20
Sam 10 13
Derick 17 21
Katie 17 13
Drew 13 17
M&GB Average 15 18

Iowa 16 – Michigan 13

Chris: Iowa 23 – Michigan 20

Josh: See yesterday’s Friend vs Foe for my full breakdown.

Iowa 20 – Michigan 13

Sam: With basketball season now in full force, I don’t find a ton of free time to write about what’s left in the football season. And maybe that’s a good thing.

Michigan takes to the road for a second straight Big Ten barn-burner of a game that once again looks to be low-scoring and, frankly, somewhat boring. The Wolverines have not scored a touchdown in five consecutive regulation quarters and boast an offensive line that is in complete shambles. Devin Gardner, for his part, continues to have a difficult time reading blitzes and running away from them, which has contributed to the nearly 20 sacks taken in the past three games.

In Iowa City, I don’t expect too much to change. The offense will struggle to move the ball forward with any consistency and the defense will be solid.

Playing against the Hawkeyes will be quite like looking in a mirror for the Wolverines. Iowa is pretty mediocre all around on offense and features a bruiser of a running back that shouldn’t be able to get more than 3.5 yards a carry on Michigan and a quarterback who has tossed nine interceptions. Their defense is very solid and has allowed 20 or more points against only Northern Illinois, Iowa State, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Wisconsin. Iowa’s four losses are against teams that are ranked going into this weekend and their wins are unimpressive across the board.

It’s anyone’s guess as to what gives this weekend, but I think home field advantage might be a good place to start. Three of Iowa’s losses have come at home, but Michigan has been putrid away from the Big House for the better part of Brady Hoke’s tenure.

This game should be close until the bitter end when an Iowa field goal decides it. I’ll take the Hawkeyes.

Iowa 13 – Michigan 10

Fitz Toussaint is back but Derrick Green's performance against Northwestern warrants the bigger workload this week (MGoBlue.com)

Derick: Michigan continued to struggle on the road last week when the offense scored just nine points in regulation. This weekend, the team goes up against a much stronger Iowa defense.

Derrick Green gave the Wolverines a bit of a rushing threat in Evanston, and he will need to do the same on Saturday.

But on the road against a stingy defense? Doesn’t sound good for Michigan on offense.

Iowa 21 – Michigan 17

Katie: I feel like, you know what scratch that, I know that Michigan’s record could so easily have been worse than our 7-3 standing right now. The Maize and Blue faithful have held their breath against Akron, UConn, for quite a while against Indiana, and last week’s Northwestern matchup. I don’t know how the Wolverines have pulled it off I really don’t, but with two games left in the regular season I’m not going to pretend like a mark in the win column means that we’re improving. The same problems have been there all season, and to do nothing about them and keep playing the same way is the definition of insanity. Devin Gardner showed some level-headedness in OT. Yes, he threw the ball well then. But the coaches should have pulled him for freshman Shane Morris weeks ago. And running plays up the gut with our offensive line? Really Borges? Where is the imagination? I know these kids are struggling but maybe just something different. And the defense going into prevent, rushing three guys on crucial plays so that they give the call time to develop? No thanks.

It’s late in the season, so I’m venting now. I’ve tried to keep a positive attitude and brush aside the things that are irksome, like say Hoke not wearing a headset. So when the question is how we’re going to do away against Iowa (6-4) I’ll just go ahead and say that we could eke it out. But will it be pretty? Probably not. Although Iowa has raked up some wins over meager opponents, their points against ranking is 12th in the nation. Ohio State put up the most points anyone has scored against the Hawkeyes this season with 34, and that was an away game. The other Big Ten contenders Michigan State and Wisconsin scored 26 and 28, respectively in their games against them. So Michigan will have to put up points, which of late the team has struggled immensely trying to do. Truth be told though the running game is getting slightly better, and that could play a huge factor if we can gain yardage on the ground.

Of course no one knows how this will go, but I do know one thing. This time I won’t be holding my breath.

Michigan 17 – Iowa 13

Brady Hoke is looking for the first back-to-back road wins of his Michigan tenure (MGoBlue.com)

Drew: Remember my first “Inside the Numbers” column five weeks ago? The one explaining how Penn State needed an extraordinary amount of “last-minute luck” to topple Michigan in quadruple overtime? Well, Michigan was fortunate enough to benefit from it at least once this season, miraculously squeaking by a Northwestern squad that has now lost six straight.

Here are just a few things Michigan needed to transpire to beat the Wildcats: (1) NU dropping a wide-open touchdown pass in the first half; (2) NU dropping at least six interceptions even though no team in the nation had picked off more passes than NU beforehand; (3) NU allowing U-M to convert two fourth downs during the final drive of regulation; and (4) NU failing to recover Devin Funchess’ fumble in double overtime and seal its first conference win.

That should cover most of the “last-minute luck.” No? That list is missing something? Like what? Oh, the Michigan-fire-drill-substituting, Drew Dileo-power-sliding, Brendan Gibbons-still-backpedaling, 44-yard field goal to send the game into overtime? Yeah, that too.

It was a memorable and much-needed road win for the Wolverines, but U-M probably wishes it had saved that “last-minute luck” for tomorrow. Since 1994, all six Michigan-Iowa contests played in Kinnick Stadium have been decided by eight points or less.  Four of those six have been decided by three points or less. U-M has lived on the edge at the end of games all season.  Don’t expect that to change in Iowa City.

Although their styles differ, Michigan and Iowa are very similar football teams.  Both teams have been mediocre in the Big Ten season.  Both teams lost to Michigan State, beat Minnesota, and beat Northwestern in overtime. Both teams are undefeated against FBS squads with non-winning records, but have struggled to beat FBS squads with winning records. Both teams rely on their defense—each of which is ranked in the top 20 in total defense—while their offenses try to find their footing.

Everything about this contest screams a competitive, low-scoring affair.  In these situations, favorable results tend to favor the home team. It does not help Michigan’s case that it has been putrid on the road in recent years. In true road games under Brady Hoke, U-M is 6-7 and has not won two straight. This season alone, U-M is 2-2 on the road, performing shakily in its two wins against teams with a combined 4-15 record.

Michigan’s defense will keep it competitive throughout, but U-M’s offense will determine which team will be victorious. Although U-M will put points on the board—setting a new NCAA record with its 362nd straight game without being shut out—it will struggle yet again. Plus, Iowa’s exceptional punt-return unit will be the one that finally exploits U-M’s sub-par coverage team, scoring a critical punt-return touchdown in the second half that becomes the game-deciding score.

Iowa 17 – Michigan 13
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Links:

For more coverage of this week’s game, see: Michigan-Iowa game preview; Monday’s First Look: Iowa, yesterday’s Friend vs Foe with RossWB of the Iowa SB Nation blog Black Heart Gold Pants, and this week’s Five-Spot Challenge. Derick detailed his trip to the Northwestern game and what he took away from it. Drew (@DrewCHallett) explained the all-time streak Michigan is likely to break tomorrow.

Also check out game previews from MGoBlogMaize n BrewTouch the BannerMaize n Blue Nation, and The M Block.

From the other side, game preview from BHGP.

Finally, former Wolverines Vincent Smith, Martavious Odoms, and Brandin Hawthorne still need your help raising money for their urban garden project for their hometown of Pahokee, Fla.

M&GB staff predictions: Northwestern

Friday, November 15th, 2013


The battle of the bottom two in the Big Ten Legends Division takes place in Evanston tomorrow. A Michigan loss would remove any chance of a winning conference record for the Wolverines this season. A Northwestern loss would make the final two games of the season must-wins simply to get bowl eligible. Something has to give for these two reeling teams. Let’s take a look at our predictions.

Justin: Don’t expect Al Borges to open up his playbook just because the team has lost two in a row. He only has to keep it under wraps this weekend and next before he breaks everything out against Ohio State on Nov. 30. Right?

Michigan 20 – Northwestern 17

Chris: The Michigan offense has nothing going for it at the present time. No blocking on the line, no running game, no passing game, and poor play calling. The forecast is calling for rain in Evanston for Saturday afternoon. Not to mention, the Wolverines can’t seem to win on the road and are no longer playing for anything except respect, which is often not enough in November after a tough season. Northwestern isn’t exactly a world-beater either. They’ve lost five straight games. All of this combined looks like a snooze-fest of a game. I’ll take the home team, only because they’re at home.

Northwestern 17 – Michigan 16

Staff Predictions
Michigan Northwestern
Justin 20 17
Chris 16 17
Josh 20 17
Sam 17 20
Derick 24 21
Katie 24 17
Drew 21 17
M&GB Average 20 18

Josh: Aside from a key player suffering a major injury the last two weeks could not have gone any worse. Michigan is officially out of the Big Ten title hunt (though they were essentially out before last week) and are no lock to get a seventh win which would guarantee a winning season. We know the line is young and Borges’ play calling often leaves something to be desired but this is team 134 and we have to accept that. Brady Hoke IS the man for this job and, like him or not, Al Borges is the OC for the forseeable future.

Instead of the usual “Michigan will win if..” what I’d like to do this week is touch on “What I’d like to see” a sort of lowering of the high standards we have for our beloved Maize and Blue. We’ve seen several versions of team 134 throughout the season and who knows which one we’ll from week to week but here are some (realistic) things I’d like to see this week at Northwestern.

On Offense

Scrap the pro-style for now. As we’ve highlighted on this blog (and Nebraska noted last week) Michigan tends to tip its hand on offense, especially when they line up under center. The line’s issues cannot be fixed week to week so the next best thing would be to have a legitimate threat of the run to help open up the passing game. What I’d like to see is a predominantly Shotgun and Pistol offense, or at least as much of it as possible. If the defense has to worry about the run coming from all angles it should, in theory, keep them on their toes and prevent them from bull rushing up the middle so much. Will this fix their ails? Probably not but it’s a good place to start. If Michigan can have a semblance of a running attack it will open up the pass and we all know what Jeremy Gallon and Devin Funchess are capable of if Gardner has time to throw.

I won’t be greedy here and ask to see a 100-yard rusher, though it would be nice, but just enough of a run game to help the pass and to generate some positive yards, for once.

In case that’s too much to ask (and sadly, it might be) I’d like see some quick short passes instead of the run, stuff like screens and short slants. Plenty of teams use the short passing game instead of a run game and it works. For a team that can’t run the ball but has a solid QB (given time Gardner is a really good QB) the short pass might be what it needs to get the ball moving forward consistently. Which ties into all I really want to see this week..

Go back to basics. We haven’t really seen it all year but I don’t think it’s too much to ask here. Step 1: Dumb down the playbook. Break out the uber-simple KISS playbook, find some plays that work. Step 2: keep running them until the defense stops them. Then find some other variations and keep running those.

Despite a lot of internet sentiment Al Borges is actually a really good OC. It’s rather difficult to call plays when the interior of the offensive line isn’t doing its job. Offensive linemen typically take longer to develop and this squad just hasn’t had that luxury.

Fortunately for Michigan they won’t be facing a very good defense so they should be able to get something going.

On defense

Northwestern has been ravaged by the injury bug this season and isn’t the team we all thought they’d be. However, they still have players capable of making big plays, namely Kain Colter. Michigan has been vulnerable to the big play and Northwestern will be playing with nothing to lose, since well they have nothing to lose. Michigan presents the Wildcats a great opportunity to move one win closer to bowl eligibility and the defense needs to be prepared for their best shot.

Don’t let Northwestern get any momentum. I know that Evanston is a virtual home game for Michigan but there will be plenty of starving Wildcat fans looking to upend a reeling Wolverine squad and get their first conference win.

Get some pressure. On the pass and the run. This line doesn’t have a LaMarr Woodley or Brandon Graham but they are capable of getting some pressure, right? If they can be even just a little disruptive it will take a lot of pressure, no pun intended, off the secondary and Michigan’s offense. I’d like to see, and I don’t think it’s too much to ask, one or two guys consistently in the backfield and maybe a handful of TFL’s.

Capitalize on any opportunities presented. Michigan has missed out on picking off some balls to end drives and missing some tackles have led to bigger plays. Stick to fundamental football and then make the most of the opportunities. There will be balls up for grabs and ball carriers not holding on the way they should, it just happens. Michigan needs to take advantage of those opportunities. Getting some stops and a turnover, or two, will swing the momentum in their favor and help the offense gain some confidence.

On Special Teams

It’s too bad Matt Wile’s punting can’t count as an offensive stat. Anyway, this will be what it always is; win the field position game. I don’t know what else to say here that I don’t say every week so I’ll leave it at that.

Michigan 20 – Northwestern 17

Sam: Northwestern 20 – Michigan 17

Derick: Unfortunately, things have started to spiral out of control for Michigan after the blowout loss in East Lansing.

The offense has finally found some consistency, but it’s in the form of a negative running game. The last thing Brady Hoke needed was to take his young team on the road while mired in a two-game skid.

Northwestern hasn’t been much better during the Big Ten season, but so far this team has failed to play a strong game away from Ann Arbor.

Somebody has to win this game though, and Michigan needs to step up and settle things down. I think Michigan will get a win when it needs it.

Michigan 24 – Northwestern 21

Katie: Michigan at Northwestern. Two teams that started off looking better than the season has played out. Both are at the bottom of the Big Ten Legends Division, and the Wildcats haven’t yet won a conference game. But that doesn’t mean Northwestern is going to roll over and let the Wolverines make it to an even 3-3 in Big Ten play. This Wildcat team played the Buckeyes to within 10, lost to Iowa in OT, and lost to Minnesota and Nebraska by a combined 6 points. Northwestern hasn’t had much go its way, and as Michigan fans we shouldn’t sneer. Akron, UConn, ND, those games could have be losses. And Indiana played us for about all we were worth.

The way the coaching has been at the Big House and away, it’s not improbable that Michigan could suffer its third loss in a row. Northwestern is back in Evanston after two tough defeats on the road, and is looking to break into the win column with Michigan. With the condition of Michigan’s run game, ranked 96th in the nation in yardage, the lack of pass protection and passing ability in crucial moments, that could very well happen.

As if the line of 2 and a half didn’t make calling which way this game will go any harder, the allowed points just seems to be saying the same thing. Northwestern is 62nd in points against, and Michigan, 61st. So, I’m going to have my hands over my eyes watching this one, hoping that Michigan doesn’t turn out to be that guy who goes into the basement after the murderer. Dumb, and predictable.

Michigan 24 – Northwestern 17

Drew: Last week, I wrote that Michigan would lose to a shorthanded Nebraska only if it had not mentally moved past the debacle in East Lansing. Thirteen points, minus-21 rushing yards, 15 tackles-for-loss allowed, and seven sacks allowed against the 70th-ranked defensive unit later, I can safely say that the Wolverines let Michigan State beat them twice.

And now, for all intents and purposes, the 2013 season is over, at least by Michigan standards. There will be no Big Ten championship, no Legends Division championship, and no BCS Bowl. After finishing with only two conference losses in Brady Hoke’s first two years, U-M already has suffered three this season with three conference games remaining that may add to that total. To top it off, the Wolverines have a sub-.500 conference record for the first time under Hoke.

The only thing left for Michigan to do is to stop the bleeding before Ohio State comes to Ann Arbor, likely bringing with it a 23-game winning streak. The first chance to do this is tomorrow against Northwestern—another underachieving Legends Division school. The Wildcats—thought by many to contend for a Big Ten championship this season—are winless in conference play and have been bitten by the injury bug. There is no better opportunity for Michigan to hop back on the tracks.

Yet, despite this, Michigan is an underdog to Northwestern—a team on a five-game losing streak—for the first time in the history of the series. To put this in perspective, the Wildcats were not even the favorite in 2008 when they had a 7-3 record and U-M was 3-7. This is a historic low for the Wolverines. But when one considers Michigan’s offensive woes the past two weeks and its 5-7 record in true road games under Hoke, it is not farfetched that many expect Michigan to lose tomorrow.

I predict that Michigan’s defense will be able to keep Northwestern in check. NU’s offense has been atrocious in conference play, ranking 11th among Big Ten teams in scoring offense and total offense. The question will be whether Michigan’s offense can pull out of its funk. The Wildcats have a knack for forcing turnovers, intercepting the most passes in the nation, but U-M has maintained the best turnover margin in Big Ten play. But it will not matter if Michigan cannot generate more than 200 total yards—a feat it has not achieved since October.

I think Michigan will win and end its skid, but I have been unable to peg this Wolverines team correctly since I joined Maize & Go Blue staff. The only thing I can predict with certainty is that Michigan fans’ frustrations and concerns will not be alleviated afterwards.

Michigan 21 – Northwestern 17

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For more coverage of this week’s game, see: Michigan-Northwestern game preview; Monday’s First Look: Northwestern, and this week’s Five-Spot Challenge. Drew (@DrewCHallett) compared this year’s Michigan offense to 2008.

Also check out game previews from MGoBlogMaize n BrewTouch the BannerMaize n Blue Nation, and The M Block.

From the other side, staff predictions from Sippin’ on Purple and something about the funny names on Michigan’s roster. I’m sure you can guess which ones they choose as the “best” name.

M&GB staff predictions: Nebraska

Friday, November 8th, 2013


Last week, three of the seven of us predicted Michigan to lose to Michigan State, but none of us expected such a beatdown. Josh was the closest with his 27-17 pick. Now, Michigan gets to face a team they match up against much better, and the Wolverines get the luxury of playing at home. So without further adieu, let’s take a look at our picks.

Justin: I’ll keep it short and sweet this week. Michigan got kicked in the mouth last week and is eager to get back on the field. The good news is it’s at home where Brady Hoke hasn’t lost in 19 tries, and that streak isn’t going to end tomorrow. Nebraska has a good offense, but it’s a shell of itself without Taylor Martinez. Slow down Ameer Abdullah and you virtually shut down the Huskers. Nebraska hasn’t beaten an FCS team with a winning record this season, got walloped by UCLA, and lost to Minnesota, giving up almost 300 rushing yards in the process. Michigan will get back to running the football against a poor defensive front and win going away.

Michigan 35 – Nebraska 24

Staff Predictions
Michigan Nebraska
Justin 35 24
Chris 31 28
Josh 41 24
Sam 27 20
Derick 31 24
Katie 31 24
Drew 41 28
M&GB Average 34 25

Chris: This season has been too tough to accurately predict what the players and coaches on this team will do each week, so I wont try it again here. Okay, yes I will, but I can only bring questions to the table instead of certainties at this point. Can the defense stop a Nebraska offense which has played poorly on the road, especially in the Big Ten and without Taylor Martinez? Will the Michigan offensive line figure out how to block anybody? Will Al Borges ever figure out how to run an offense that is based on the personnel he has at his service and on what the defense is giving him? Will Brady Hoke become a real head coach and step in and demand that his coaches (i.e. Borges) be better at what they’re getting paid to do? We’ll see. Michigan wins, only because they are at home and will (hopefully) be hungry to get back on the field and get a much-needed win. But talent-wise and coaching-wise, they’re no better than Nebraska.

Michigan 31 – Nebraska 28

Josh: See yesterday’s Friend vs Foe for my full breakdown.

Michigan 41 – Nebraska 24

Sam: I’ve been swamped with getting ready for the basketball season opener tonight, so no full prediction, but Michigan will win.

Michigan 27 – Nebraska 20

Derick: Michigan, coming off of an embarrassing loss in East Lansing, returns to the friendly confines of Ann Arbor to face a reeling Nebraska team. The Huskers are coming off of two straight bad games against Northwestern and Minnesota and are struggling to find consistency on the offensive end. Michigan will get back on track at home.

Michigan 31 – Nebraska 24

Katie: Well, this will hopefully go better than last week. Michigan is at home, the weather doesn’t look to be as inclement, and Nebraska did some talking which could help light a fire under a Michigan team that has looked rather inept (I’m looking at you, offense). So, what’s the good news? Both teams have the same record of 6-2 (though Nebraska is 3-1 where UofM is 2-2 in Big Ten play), and as embarrassing as the loss was to State last week, the Huskers lost to the Golden Gophers, who even we managed to beat 42-13. Not to mention the fact that Nebraska has played only one ranked opponent, and five of their wins came against two of the worst teams in the Big Ten and three beat-up teams at the beginning of the season. Northwestern, who started off so well before going winless in-conference, would have beaten them too if not for a last second Hail Mary pass as time expired.

What this means is this game is definitely winnable for Michigan, but the offense has to do something. I mean six points against the Spartans? I know their defense is great, but really? The running game has been atrocious, and the play calling, uninspired. The offensive line collapses too often, and our core of great receivers are not getting the ball nearly enough. But, if the Wolverines offense shows up and plays a fearless four quarters, I think they’ll take this game.

A win tomorrow is vital for Hoke's approval rating among the Michigan fan base (MGoBlue.com)

Michigan 31 – Nebraska 24

Drew: There is a popular cliché in sports: “Do not let a team beat you twice.” It means that a team cannot allow the hangover from a heartbreaking or soul-crushing loss affect its focus and preparation for its next opponent. Otherwise, the hangover will cause that team to lose its next game. The cliché could not be more apt for Michigan’s situation than it is this week.

Michigan just suffered its worst loss to its in-state rival in 46 years. The loss not only put Michigan State in the driver’s seat in the Legends Division, but also essentially eliminated the Wolverines from the Big Ten championship hunt. Media and fans have discussed the loss all week thereafter, questioning where Michigan stands as a program. If the coaches and players have had a similar mindset, U-M will lose to an opponent that is seven-point underdog to the Wolverines.

Although Nebraska is 6-2, the caliber of this Cornhuskers’ squad is inferior to the ones U-M faced in 2011 and 2012. Nebraska has not beaten a FBS team with a winning record this season. The combined conference record of the three Big Ten teams it has beaten is 0-13. When the Cornhuskers have played teams with comparable records to Michigan’s, they have fallen short.

Traditional statistics imply that Nebraska has a very good offense, especially on the ground, but a sieve-like defense. However, Nebraska is #52 in offensive FEI, which tracks an offense’s opponent-adjusted efficiency. Thus, Nebraska’s offense is much more mediocre than their reputation would make seem and has feasted on weaker competition. Nebraska will not have such a luxury against Michigan. At #19 in defensive FEI, the Wolverines have the best defense Nebraska has yet to play this season.

The resumes and stats suggest Michigan is the better squad, especially at Michigan Stadium, but NU must not be taken lightly. Michigan needs a win, badly. A loss would snap U-M’s 19-game home winning streak, give U-M a below-.500 B1G record for the first time in Hoke’s tenure, and cause a 7-5 record to be the most realistic outcome for the Wolverines. If U-M has not moved past the MSU disaster, the entire season could spiral out of control with a loss tomorrow.

But will this happen? No. Michigan will feel comfortable playing on its own turf, where U-M has averaged 42.1 points in its last 10 conference home games. The Wolverines’ offense will come back to life, and the Cornhuskers will not be able to keep pace with starting quarterback Taylor Martinez sitting out with an injury.

Michigan 41 – Nebraska 28

You can follow Drew on Twitter: @DrewCHallett
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For more coverage of this week’s game, see: Michigan-Nebraska game preview; this week’s edition of Friend vs Foe with the guys from the Nebraska SB Nation site Corn Nation; Monday’s First Look: Nebraska, and this week’s Five-Spot Challenge. Drew (@DrewCHallett) took a look at Michigan’s unprecedented streak of consecutive games with crowds of over 100,000. Tomorrow will be the 250th straight.

Also check out game previews from MGoBlogMaize n BrewTouch the BannerMaize n Blue NationMaize and Blue News, UMGoBlog, and The M Block.

From the other side, a Michigan preview from Corn Nation and Michigan-Nebraska by the numbers.

M&GB staff predictions: Michigan State

Friday, November 1st, 2013


While we all knew it would be an offensive battle, none of us predicted such a high scoring game against Indiana two weeks ago. It was certainly fun to watch the Michigan offense go up and down the field with ease, shattering records in the process, but it was equally as concerning watching Indiana do the same to the Michigan defense. The good news is Michigan got a week off to fix what went wrong defensively and now gets to face one of the worst offenses in the conference. The bad news is Michigan’s offense has to go up against the best defense in the conference and perhaps the best in college football.

Can Michigan win its second straight against its bitter rival and win in East Lansing for the first time since 2007? Or will the Spartans win for the fifth time in six years? Let’s take a look at our picks:

Justin: The way this season has gone, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Michigan win by ten or lose by ten in this one. But neither is likely. As I mentioned in the game preview, Michigan will look to jump out early and dictate the way the game is going to be played, forcing Michigan State’s conservative offense to play from behind, and keeping the vaunted Spartan defense from being able to dictate. Look for an aggressive Michigan offense to start with before settling down into more of its base offense. Defensively, Michigan will play somewhat conservatively, looking to stop the run and make Connor Cook move the ball down the field.

As long as Gardner plays under control and doesn’t turn the ball over in Michigan’s territory, there’s no reason to think Michigan can’t win this game.

Michigan 24 – Michigan State 17

Staff Predictions
Michigan Michigan State
Justin 24 17
Chris 20 21
Josh 17 27
Sam 24 20
Derick 19 17
Katie 24 27
Drew 20 16
M&GB Average 21.1 20.7

Chris: Michigan State 21 – Michigan 20

Josh: See yesterday’s Friend vs Foe for my full breakdown.

Michigan State 27 – Michigan 17

Sam: It’s anyone’s guess as to whether the 2013 Michigan football team will ever have a true identity, or whether they will ever manage to pair together a solid display both offensively and defensively in one game.

As it stands now, this Michigan team is not unlike my golf game. If my driver is working well, my irons and short game are undoubtedly off. If my touch around the green is at its prime, I’m probably approaching the hole from somewhere in the woods to the right of the fairway.

Whatever the case may be, the time for the Wolverines to get it together is now. Over the next month, Michigan will face Nebraska and Ohio State at home in addition to away games at Iowa and Northwestern. If the Wolverines hope to compete for the Big Ten title and make it to a relevant bowl game, some consistency must be found – and soon.

Now, after the second bye week of the year, Michigan will travel to East Lansing for one of its three rivalry games after a 63-47 heart attack victory over Indiana.

Fortunately for the Michigan squad, the coaches should know exactly what to expect against a Michigan State team that shines on defense and sports an offense that some grade schools would be ashamed to field. Most agree that it will come down to the points each team is able to score this Saturday, and if Michigan is able to break down the Spartan defense for three or more touchdowns, the Paul Bunyan trophy should find its way back to Ann Arbor.

Unfortunately for the Wolverines, the Michigan State defense is exceptional yet again, giving up just 12.3 points per game. Indiana, who gave Michigan fits all day with a quick-fire offense that put up 47 points, is the only team all season, with 28 points, that has been able to put up more than 17 points on Michigan State. Michigan State’s last two opponents, Illinois and Purdue, combined to score three points while gaining just 354 total yards.

This weekend, the key is in Devin Gardner’s hands yet again. Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi loves to bring pressure via the blitz; if Gardner cowers at any semblance of defenders in the backfield, Michigan will be in for a long day, but if he can stay calm and find Jeremy Gallon and Devin Funchess over the top of a vulnerable Spartan secondary, the Wolverines will be successful. Of course, early gains through the air should also open up some holes for Fitzgerald Toussaint, but the run game will not be Michigan’s weapon of choice. Gardner will connect with Gallon, Funchess, and Drew Dileo just enough to keep Michigan State’s offense playing catch-up, which it will fail to do, as Michigan wins.

Michigan 24 – Michigan State 20

Derick: The two sides if the bye week couldn’t be more different. Michigan entered the break with a win that featured 110 total points scored and countless school/conference records broken.

In East Lansing, two scores could be enough.

One of the most bipolar offenses in the country faces off against potentially the stringiest defense as Devin Gardner attempts to continue the ball security that resulted in 63 points against Indiana.

Unfortunately, Michigan State’s defense not only forces turnovers, they score on them. It is critical for Gardner to keep the Spartan defense out of the endzone and force an anemic passing attack to move the ball on offense.

If he can accomplish that, the defense should be able to contain Connor Cook and the Spartans.

Statistically, of all Michigan State’s 2013 opponents thus far, Michigan most closely resembles the offense of Indiana, scoring just over 42 points per game. If that is any indication, Michigan will post around the same score (28) in East Lansing.

Given the intensity of this in-state rivalry I doubt Mark Dantonio’s defense will be so generous. To keep the Big Ten Championship aspirations alive Michigan will have to win an ugly low-scoring game.

Michigan 19 – Michigan State 17

Katie: What will happen when the Wolverine offense plays a defense that doesn’t allow 63 points in a game? We shall see. I’m going to keep this short and sweet. I don’t think Michigan is going to pull this one out, mainly because of the stat differences in when the Maize and Blue are at home versus away. The defining matchup will likely be Gardner and the offensive line against the touted Spartan defense. I think that the bye week has done the Wolverines good. Time to look at the tape, fix holes, and drill. Then again that’s what I said after the last bye week, and the play wasn’t spectacularly better after that respite.

Michigan State 27 – Michigan 24

Drew: On Monday, I asked my followers on Twitter whether they viewed tomorrow’s heated matchup with Michigan State as the most important game of Brady Hoke’s tenure at Michigan. Although the majority of the responses ranked U-M’s 2011 victory over Ohio State at the top of the list, an argument certainly can be made for tomorrow’s game against the Spartans.

First, after having a stranglehold on this in-state rivalry from 1969 to 2007, winning 30 of 39 contests, Michigan needed a last-second field goal by Brendan Gibbons in 2012 to prevent Michigan State from winning an unprecedented fifth straight time in this series. Tomorrow, MSU has an opportunity to win five of the last six games in this series for the first time since 1962. If Michigan wants to continue to be the “big brother” in this rivalry, it needs to start stringing wins together now.

Second, although Michigan is unbeaten at home under Hoke, the Wolverines have been notoriously bad on the road. With Hoke on the sidelines, Michigan holds a 5-6 record in true away games. The best opponent U-M has beaten in that span was a 2011 Illinois squad that lost its final six games of the regular season. This is Hoke’s last opportunity of 2013 to earn his first signature win in a hostile environment. To not have one in his first three years would be worrisome.

Third, and most importantly, Michigan’s Big Ten championship hopes are on the line. If Michigan loses, it essentially would be three games behind the Spartans in the loss column because MSU would win the tiebreaker. Only one MSU win or U-M loss thereafter would eliminate the Wolverines. For a Michigan program whose top goal every season is to win the Big Ten, missing the conference championship game for the second time in three years because it lost to its in-state rival would be a big black mark on Hoke’s first three seasons at U-M.

So will Hoke and the Wolverines earn a critical victory in East Lansing?

Despite a slow offensive start, Michigan finally realizes in the second half that the shotgun and pistol formations are the core of its offense. As a result, U-M becomes the first team this season to surpass 300 total yards against MSU. Defensively, Greg Mattison holsters his blitzes, forcing the inaccurate Connor Cook to force throws into tight windows. The strategy pays off as MSU struggles to sustain extended drives all game. After throwing a fourth-quarter interception that hands the Spartans a three-point lead, Gardner redeems himself, scrambling for the game-winning touchdown in the final minutes to keep U-M’s Big Ten championship dreams alive.

Michigan 20 – Michigan State 16

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For more coverage of this week’s game, see: Michigan-Michigan State game preview; this week’s edition of Friend vs Foe with Chris Vannini of the Spartan SB Nation blog The Only Colors; Monday’s First Look: Michigan State, and this week’s Five-Spot Challenge. Drew (@DrewCHallett) broke down Michigan’s running game through the first seven games and explained what it should do to have success going forward.

Also check out game previews from MGoBlogMaize n Brew, Touch the Banner, Maize n Blue Nation, The Big House Report, and The M Block.

From the other side, game preview from The Only Colors. Also, eight out of ten of them pick MSU to win and their average score is 26-18.

M&GB staff predictions: Indiana

Friday, October 18th, 2013


All of us picked Michigan to beat Penn State last week, and if the defense hadn’t allowed the last-minute game-tying touchdown several of us would have been pretty close to the final score. Instead, since no one foresaw a quadruple overtime battle, none of us was particularly close.

This week has the makings of a shootout, at least on paper. Indiana features a high-powered offense but little in the way of defense. Indiana hasn’t beaten Michigan since 1987 and hasn’t won in Ann Arbor since 1967. In other words, the last time Indiana win in the Big House, Bo Schembechler wasn’t even on Michigan’s radar. However, the Hoosiers have already ended one streak this season. They beat Penn State for the first time in school history. Could they make it two streaks ended in the span of three weeks? Here are our picks:

Justin: The vast majority of next year’s recruiting class wasn’t even alive the last time Michigan lost to Indiana. In fact, Brady Hoke was just nine years old and Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson was just five the last time the Hoosiers won in Ann Arbor. Given Michigan’s recent struggles and Indiana’s high-octane offense, this could just be the year those streaks come to an end…if IU had a defense that is.

Michigan will have some trouble slowing down the Hoosier offense which relies on a quick passing game and big plays, but with Jake Ryan back in the lineup the defense will be able to put more pressure on Nate Sudfeld and defend the screens and quick outs well enough.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Indiana
Justin 45 28
Chris 31 28
Josh 38 34
Sam 34 24
Derick 59 31
Katie 31 24
Drew 42 28
M&GB Average 40 28

Despite Michigan’s offensive struggles, they still rank fourth in the Big Ten in scoring at 39 points a game and thanks to the emergence of Devin Funchess at wide receiver the offense gets big plays even without much of a running game.

Combine Indiana’s offense with Michigan State’s defense and I wouldn’t give Michigan much of a chance, but I think we can expect a result similar to what Missouri and MSU did to the Hoosiers. Michigan will give up some yards and points, but will score too much on IU’s weak defense. Devin Gardner will have a big game like Missouri’s James Franklin did and Michigan will pull away in the second half.

Michigan 45 – Indiana 28

Chris: Michigan has to watch out for IU’s up-tempo offense. They wont give Michigan much of a chance to rest on defense and the Michigan offense have to put up points to keep up with IU. That could be tough given Michigan’s offensive woes this season, including no offensive line and poor play-calling. But I just can’t pull the trigger on an Indiana upset.

Michigan 31 – Indiana 28

Josh: Please see yesterday’s Friend vs Foe for my full breakdown.

Michigan 38 – Indiana 34

Sam: For the first month or so of Michigan’s season, the Wolverines managed to stay undefeated despite a few glaring problems – namely turnovers and an inefficient running game against competent defenses. Akron and UConn both had late opportunities to seal victories, but Michigan was able to grind out two closer-than-expected wins.

Last week in Happy Valley, however, the deficiencies finally reared their head in the loss column. Time and again, Penn State had chances to ruin Michigan’s undefeated season, and finally, in the fourth overtime, the Nittany Lions did just that. Without two more interceptions and one more fumble from Devin Gardner, perhaps it would have been a different story. Maybe if the offensive line could have given Fitzgerald Toussaint the opportunity to run for more than 27 yards on 27 carries, Michigan would be looking forward to the Indiana game with zero losses. Certainly if Brendan Gibbons was able to make any of his three missed field goals, there wouldn’t be such a gray cloud looming in Ann Arbor.

But the loss happened, and Michigan will have to move on. The good news for the Wolverines is that they are playing in the Big House again, where Brady Hoke has still yet to guide his team to defeat, and Indiana’s defense has been far from stingy this year, giving up nearly 33 points per game and at least 35  in four of their six games. The Devin Gardner-led offense is also dynamic at times, having put up 40 or more points in four games and having yet to score fewer than 24 in any game; the turnovers and the running game stick out like two sore thumbs, but Jeremy Gallon and Devin Funchess have been brilliant down the field and Gardner’s scrambling ability can make any defense vulnerable.

Look for a big game from Devin Gardner against IU's porous defense (MGoBlue.com)

There is always bad news as well, though. The Hoosiers, perhaps to make up for their struggling defense, have gone gang-busters on offense, putting up 41.7 points per game, good for 15th in the country, and have scored at least four touchdowns every time out. Quarterback Nate Sudfeld leads the vertical attack and has connected on 61.5% of his attempts for more than 1,600 yards and 14 touchdowns; he is happy to take what the defense gives him and will terrorize Michigan all day with the dink-and-dunk if the Wolverine linebackers aren’t up for the task. Running back Tevin Coleman leads a trio of backs averaging more than six yards per carry with 557 yards and eight touchdowns.

In the past, a home game against Indiana has been an almost certain win for Michigan, but this season has already proven to be far from typical. If Gardner adds to his 10 interceptions, Indiana will be certain to take advantage, and if Michigan fails to punch it in when they hit the red zone, the Hoosiers will be right there at the end. Expect a high-scoring affair with a couple turnovers a piece, but look for Michigan’s defense to get a key stop and a key turnover in the second half to lead the way to a win.

Michigan 34 – Indiana 24

Derick: Michigan sure looks different on the road, but luckily this week’s game is in the friendly confines of the Big House.

Indiana brings a talented offensive squad to Ann Arbor fresh off of a loss to Michigan State. Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, the defense is a sieve. If this game isn’t a jumpstart for the Michigan offense then it may never get going at all.

Hopefully the Wolverines can bounce back from the choke job in Happy Valley and get back on track in a shootout.

Michigan 59 – Indiana 31

Katie: Well, it had to happen sooner or later. Now that the first loss of the season has been tallied it’s time for Michigan to stop playing on its heels, and being conservative. No more constant up the gut rushing when it obviously isn’t working, no more Gardner not throwing, and no more no-pressure defense (when an opposing QB is throwing well and has lots of time the defense is allowing him to be efficient. Put some pressure on the QB!) Oh boy. At least this is a home game.

The Wolverines have been rather unimpressive this season, despite having only one loss. Indiana isn’t having an altogether stellar season either, and has a horrible record against Michigan. Losing to them would usher in predictions for the rest of the season that would be too terrible to go into. This is a must win game for Michigan, and a doable win. The Hoosiers have a potent offense, while the Wolverines have one with tremendous potential that needs to be unleashed consistently. Luckily for Michigan, Indiana’s defense might be able to oblige. I think that the Wolverine defense will be able to hold Indiana to enough points to give its offense a chance of winning the game. Whether or not Gardner, the O-line, and Toussaint can team up and stay in control is another matter. I hope Michigan will come in ready and able to extend its streak against the Hoosiers, but I’m not sure of it.

Michigan 31 – Indiana 24

Fitz Toussaint may actually have room to run this week (MGoBlue.com)

Drew: The Wolverines are licking the wounds on their paws after suffering their first loss of the 2013 campaign to Penn State in heartbreaking fashion, and the fallout has not been pretty. Coaches’ job securities have been questioned. Starting lineups may be reshuffled. Some fans and media doubt that Team 134 can muster more than two wins in the back-half of the schedule. Yet, Michigan put itself in a position to win seven different times against the Nittany Lions, and only a rare combination of miscues and bad luck prevented U-M from maintaining an unblemished record.

So what does it all mean for tomorrow’s contest against Indiana? The bad luck that Michigan experienced in Happy Valley will not travel with the Wolverines back to Michigan Stadium, where U-M is a perfect 18-0 under head coach Brady Hoke.

Facing a Hoosiers defense that ranks 101st in scoring defense, 105th in total defense, 109th in rushing defense, and 96th in team tackles for loss, Michigan’s offense once again will try to jumpstart the running backs and pound the ball with Fitzgerald Toussaint and Derrick Green. This time it will actually work as Toussaint surpasses 100 yards rushing for the second time this season, including a team season-long 40-plus-yard sprint for a touchdown. Additionally, quarterback Devin Gardner will rebound from a three-turnover outing with a near-flawless performance against a pass defense that allowed 232 yards and two touchdown tosses to Michigan State’s 101st ranked passing attack.

Defensively, Michigan will face its stiffest test of the season thus far. Although Michigan has allowed few big plays that have gotten behind the safeties and no rushes 20 yards or longer, Indiana is a quick-strike, big-play offense that has averaged 5.9 plays in 1:42 while covering 60.2 yards on its 36 scoring drives. Further, the Hoosiers’ up-tempo offense will give Michigan’s defense trouble as defensive coordinator Greg Mattison will be unable to rotate U-M’s defensive linemen and set the defense as much as he will like. Expect Indiana—which has scored no less than 28 points all season—to do some damage to the scoreboard.

But, at the end of the day, it will not be enough for Indiana—which has won only two of its last 24 conference road games. Michigan will force two second-half turnovers to slow down the Hoosiers enough for the Maize and Blue to win comfortably, become bowl eligible, and satisfy the fan base for at least the next two weeks.

Michigan 42 – Indiana 28

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For more coverage of this week’s game, see: Michigan-Indiaan game preview; this week’s edition of Friend vs Foe with Adam Johnson of the Indiana SB Nation blog The Crimson Quarry; Monday’s First Look: Indiana, and this week’s Five-Spot Challenge. We also welcomed our newest writer, Drew Hallett (@DrewCHallett) with a look at everything that had to go wrong to lose last week’s game.

Also check out game previews from MGoBlogMaize n BrewTouch the BannerMaize n Blue NationThe Big House Report, and The M Block. Also a recruiting visitors list.

From the other side, game preview from The Crimson Quarry.

M&GB staff predictions: Penn State

Friday, October 11th, 2013


If not for Blake Countess’ pick-six last Saturday, my score prediction would have been dead-on, but I’ll gladly take an extra seven points and a defensive touchdown over getting my prediction exactly right. Now if it had been a Minnesota score to ruin my pick that would be a different story. But Michigan’s 42-13 win over Minnesota was exactly what the Wolverines needed to put the Akron and UConn games behind them.

Now, Michigan gets a chance to make a statement with a big win on the road. Penn State certainly isn’t a powerhouse at this point, but they are better than every team Michigan has faced this season save Notre Dame and the Wolverines’ recent road woes – 10-18 since 2008 – make nothing a sure bet. Is Michigan in danger of its first loss of the season? Let’s take a look at our picks:

Justin: Jake Ryan returns from injury and immediately turns Michigan’s defense into a juggernaut. He leads the Wolverines with 15 tackles, two sacks, and picks off a pass and Michigan cruises to a 42-0 win.

Ok, so that probably won’t happen, but it will be great to see Ryan back on the filed even if only briefly to start getting him re-acclimated to game action before the brutal November schedule hits. He likely won’t play enough to make much of an impact on the game, but if Michigan plays the way it’s capable of playing it shouldn’t need him in this one anyway.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Penn State
Justin 31 20
Chris 28 21
Josh 38 17
Sam 31 24
Derick 31 24
Katie 35 21
M&GB Average 32 21

Michigan has more weapons to go around, especially with the move of Devin Funchess to wideout, opening up the field for Devin Gardner. His big game last week will force opposing defenses to respect the downfield passing game in a way they haven’t had to until this point, which means the running game will be more effective. The insertion of Chris Bryant into the lineup last week gave Michigan the ability to run more of a power running game and Indiana had some success running right at Penn State last week when it wasn’t throwing the ball.

Defensively, Michigan will give Hackenberg the short, underneath throws and try to prevent the big plays to Allen Robinson. Look for Greg Mattison to dial up some pressure to force the young quarterback to make quick decisions and ultimately lead to turnovers.

The team that wins the turnover battle will win this game and with the expanded offense Gardner has at his disposal combined with the youth of Hackenberg, I think that will be Michigan.

Michigan 31 – Penn State 20

Chris: Penn State recovers from their loss last week and plays well at home, but it’s not enough.

Michigan 28 – Penn State 21

Josh: Please see yesterday’s Friend vs Foe for my full breakdown.

Michigan 38 – Penn State 17

Sam: With the non-conference season in the rearview mirror and one win already in the books, the Michigan Wolverines take to the road for the second time in their 2013 football campaign. Three weeks and two games ago, Michigan made the trip to East Hartford, Connecticut for a night game against UConn that proved to be much closer than expected. With a record crowd of 42,704 watching at Rentschler Field, Devin Gardner overcame four awful turnovers and a 14-point third quarter deficit to lead the Maize and Blue to a 24-21 nail-biting win.

This Saturday, the visiting Wolverines will once again be playing under the lights (for the third time already this season), but in an environment that figures to be much crazier this time around in Happy Valley against Penn State. With a putrid crowd of nearly 93,000 against Eastern Michigan earlier this year, one of the smallest since 2001, and an all-time record of 110,753 in 2002, Beaver Stadium will be rocking in white-out fashion.

Luckily for Brady Hoke and his Michigan squad, Penn State is struggling through their second year of heavy sanctions to the tune of a 3-2 record. Already with a loss to Central Florida four weeks ago and a 44-24 beatdown suffered at Indiana last week, the once-proud Lions are certainly beatable this year. But if you combine Michigan’s inconsistency, a Bill O’Brien-coached offense at Penn State, and a raucous night crowd, you will find a game that will likely be up for grabs.

With Devin Funchess warranting attention outside, look for a big game from Jeremy Gallon and others (MGoBlue.com)

Christian Hackenberg, O’Brien’s star freshman quarterback, has been very good at times and sports a 60 percent completion mark and a 2:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio; unfortunately experience is not on his side, and Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison will be throwing different looks at Hackenberg all night. Penn State will also have a trio of running backs in Zach Zwinak, Bill Belton, and Akeel Lynch who have big-play ability and all gain more than four yards per carry, but Michigan has been solid against the run for the better part of the year.

Last week’s insertion of Chris Bryant into the starting lineup at left guard seemed to open up some running lanes for Fitzgerald Toussaint, but even more surprising was a stacked offensive look with Taylor Lewan, Michael Schofield, and Bryant all lined up to the left of center Graham Glasgow.

If Michigan trots out in that power formation again, expect to see some play action open up deep for quarterback Devin Gardner. On paper, Michigan has been the much better team so far, but these two squads should be battling into the fourth quarter with a critical win on the line. Vegas opened the books favoring Michigan by just one point, and still Michigan is giving less than a field goal to the Nittany Lions with a -2.5-point margin.

Michigan’s confidence should be back, however, after a big win over Minnesota last week, and Penn State is still playing for pride alone. Hackenberg will throw for two touchdowns but will also lose a crucial second half turnover that Michigan will take advantage of on the way to a Wolverine win.

Michigan 31 – Penn State 24

Derick: Michigan will face it’s toughest opposing crowd of the season Saturday after nearly failing the first road test in Connecticut. If Rentschler Field was a tough venue for Team 134 to play in then Beaver Stadium will provide a very rude awakening.

Fortunately for the Wolverines the running game perked up after the  shift in the offensive line and stabilized a struggling offense. Devin Gardner looked comfortable running both the play action and bootleg screens with Fitzgerald Toussaint picking up solid gains on first and second down. If he can take care of the football and make the easy passes then the defense should be able to carry the Maize and Blue to victory.

Though Happy Valley proves a tough test, I think Greg Mattison will have something prepared for freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Michigan wins the turnover battle and as a result, improves to 6-0.

Michigan-31 Penn State-24

Katie: So the Wolverines are 5-0 but it doesn’t quite feel that way. After two tough weeks where backups should have seen playing time but instead were left to watch as their teammates played for their B10 Championship lives, a win against Minnesota doesn’t exactly cleanse the palate.  It was a good win, but a victory in Happy Valley is a most necessary followup. And considering that the Nittany Lions are 3-2, with a loss last week to the Hoosiers, the outlook is rather good for the Wolverines to continue undefeated.

But the Nittany Lions have been amassing more than a fair share of offensive yards per game, averaging 475. With a starter out for Michigan in Ondre Pipkins, the Wolverines could certainly use someone who is arguably the best player on the defense, Jake Ryan. to return. The counter to racking up so many yards per game however, is how many the Penn State defense is allowing.  Against Indiana, the Lions gave up 486 yards and lost 24-44. If Michigan can put Penn on its heels early, with consistent throws and a good running game, they should be able to dig the Lions into a pit they can’t claw out of. The key for the Wolverines will be to do better on 3rd down percentage defensively. If the Nittany Lions aren’t able to rack up a series of long drives, it isn’t likely that their defense will be able to hold Michigan.  I’ve got the Wolverines winning this one, even given the hostile crowd they will be playing in front of (fingers crossed that Gardner doesn’t get rattled, or that Morris would be ready at the helm if he is).

Michigan 35 Penn State 21

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For more coverage of this week’s game, see: Michigan-Penn State game preview; this week’s edition of Friend vs Foe with Jared Slanina and Bill DiFlippo of the Penn State SB Nation blog Black Shoe Diaries; Monday’s First Look: Penn State, and this week’s Five-Spot Challenge. We also featured a new urban garden campaign by Vincent Smith, Martavious Odoms, and Brandin Hawthorne to expand their Pahokee garden and build one in Denard Robinson’s hometown of Deerfield Beach, Fla. Finally, Alexandra showcased some great maize and blue fashion that you can find in and around Ann Arbor to look great on gameday.

Also check out game previews from MGoBlog, Maize n BrewTouch the BannerMaize n Blue Nation, Maize and Blue News, and The M Block.

From the other side, game preview from Black Shoe Diaries as well as their roundtable predictions.

M&GB staff predictions: Minnesota

Friday, October 4th, 2013


Michigan has underperformed everyone’s expectations the last two games, but with two weeks of practice to fix mistakes, a refocused Michigan squad returns to action tomorrow against the Minnesota Gophers. If ever there was a time for Michigan to need a big, convincing win this is it. At the end of the day Michigan sits 4-0 and is still positioned well for a Big Ten title run, but the real test begins now. Can Michigan prove it’s better than what it showed against Akron and UConn? Or will the Wolverines struggle with Minnesota again? Let’s take a look at our predictions.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Minnesota
Justin 35 13
Chris 28 7
Josh 27 17
Sam 34 13
Derick 30 17
Katie 31 17
M&GB Average 31 14

Justin: Read this morning’s game preview for a more detailed breakdown, but essentially Michigan will be rejuvenated and come out pounding the ball with Fitz Toussaint and Derrick Green. Devin Gardner will play more under control and the addition of Chris Bryant to left guard will pay dividends. The offense won’t score 59 like it did against Central Michigan, but it won’t be stagnant like it was the last two games.

The defense will load the box to stuff the run, forcing Philip Nelson to throw the ball, and that will hold the Gophers in check just like Iowa did last week.

Michigan 35 – Minnesota 13

Chris: I was wrong about the UConn game. I said that Michigan would come out and dominate all game after a bad performance against Akron. The only thing the Michigan football team did that game was barely escape with a win. With an offense that has been barely mediocre over the past two weeks, the bye week couldn’t have come at a better time. Hopefully the coaches and players used the extra week to get their act together. If not, and the team comes out and plays like they did in the last two games, then we know that this team is not as good as what we thought and Ohio State will run away with the Big Ten title. But Michigan will win this one.

Michigan 28 – Minnesota 7

Josh: Please see yesterday’s Friend vs Foe for my full breakdown.

Michigan 27 – Minnesota 17

Sam: Three seasons and four games into Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill’s career in Minneapolis, it seemed that perhaps the Golden Gophers were on the right track. Minnesota, once a proud football program, had been irrelevant nationally and even in the Big Ten for the better part of five decades and has not won a bowl game in 10 seasons. Finally, however, with a tough coach at the helm and an offensive system that does not include the word “pass”, the Gophers won their first four games this year by an average score of 42-20 and seemed to be on the right track heading into conference season.

Alas, perhaps all good things must come to an end eventually. In the first week of the Big Ten, Iowa traveled to TCF Bank Stadium and simply stymied Minnesota’s offensive attack, giving up just 30 rushing yards on 27 attempts and 135 passing yards on 24 Philip Nelson throws. And while the verdict is still out on Iowa’s potential, last week made it quite evident that Minnesota’s early season success was largely a matter of playing UNLV, New Mexico State, Western Illinois, and San Jose State.

Chris Bryant steps in at left guard to bolster the run game (Angela J Cesere, AnnArbor.com)

Michigan, on the other hand, looked like absolute world beaters in weeks one and two against Central Michigan and a top-20 Notre Dame squad before squeaking by lowly Akron and Connecticut by a combined seven points before taking a bye last weekend. To give their recent mediocrity some context, consider the fact that just two weeks after the Zips nearly stunned the nation at the Big House and one week after UConn led Michigan the entire third quarter before falling by three, those two teams lost by a total of 46 points to Bowling Green and Buffalo, respectively, Connecticut fired their head coach mid-season, and they combine for one win on the season.

The Wolverines’ vulnerability is clear right now, and the Gophers will certainly give it their all this Saturday, but it won’t quite be enough when the clock runs out. Michigan’s defense continues to improve and has shown flashes of stoutness against the run that Kill will employ, and a change on the offensive line, where Graham Glasgow will slide over to center to replace Jack Miller and make room for Chris Bryant, should give Devin Gardner some extra time to pass and Fitzgerald Toussaint some running lanes. Minnesota’s stable of runners, including both Nelson and rotating quarterback Mitch Leidner, will break a couple long runs but struggle to set up a stagnant passing game.

Michigan holds onto the Little Brown Jug as Toussaint records his second straight 100-yard game.

Michigan 34 – Minnesota 13

Derick: Night game Michigan has to rear it’s beautiful head again sometime right? The bye week might be just what Brady Hoke needed to get things back on track. One rough game is a fluke, but two is a trend and with Notre Dame’ s struggles I don’t think Michigan is quite where we thought they were.

Having said that, Minnesota is still far inferior. I think a team desperate for an easy win will do just enough to re-instill some confidence heading into Big Ten play.

If Devin Gardner can manage single-digit turnovers and both lines can hold their own then Michigan should beat the Golden Gophers.

“Should” has become a taboo for Michigan football unfortunately.

Michigan 30 – Minnesota 17

Katie: Normally, I would feel that the chances of Michigan losing the Little Brown Jug would be about as great as a gopher getting the best of an actual wolverine.  This year, even after the bye-week and some team alterations, I’m a bit nervous.  After Akron most thought we would roll over UConn, and after UConn, well I don’t want to begin the whole demoralizing after effects if this is another close one.  I know we’re favored, I know it’s by more than two touchdowns and maybe this is the week when Michigan will, well, look like Michigan.

The changes to the Wolverines O-line should prove to be a fairly integral part of the game. Gardner needs more time in the pocket, and less threats so that he can find a rhythm and stop these jitters he’s been playing with.  He also needs to know when to throw the ball away, and when to stop scrambling backwards and just take a meager loss.  He’s got great receivers, and hopefully Toussaint and Green will be able to come up with big yards; run to throw, which could take some of the pressure off of Gardner.

As for the Golden Gophers, their stats look good on paper, but having played the first four games against the likes of UNLV, New Mexico State, Western Illinois, and San Jose State, those numbers begin to look less and less impressive. There 4-1 standing (loss last week to Iowa) is likely to begin evening out as B10 play takes off. Not to say that Minnesota is going to roll over, they had 130 yards passing against Iowa, and if they can manage to be effective against Michigan’s secondary then we could have ourselves a game.

Really though I think this game hinges on Michigan’s offense. If the run game goes smoothly (thanks to a more efficient O-line) and Devin Gardner calms down and stops running with the ball four feet from his body, then Michigan could very well win by a two touchdown margin.

Michigan 31 – Minnesota 17

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For more coverage of this week’s game, see: Michigan-Minnesota game preview; this week’s edition of Friend vs Foe with JDMill of the Minnesota SB Nation blog The Daily Gopher; Tuesday’s First Look: Minnesota, and this week’s Five-Spot Challenge. I also answered some questions for The Daily Gopher.

Also check out game previews from MGoBlog,  Maize n BrewTouch the BannerMaize n Blue Nation, Maize and Blue News, and The M Block. Great Little Brown Jug history from MVictors.

From the other side, game preview from The Daily Gopher and some old school Little Brown Jug shots from Minnesota.

M&GB staff predictions: UConn

Friday, September 20th, 2013


Katie and Chris tied for the closest score last week, although I considered not giving it to anybody since no one was anywhere close. We all predicted blowouts and their prediction of 48-6 ended up the “closest”. Last week in this space I said that if Michigan was to not meet our expectations, at least they were exceeding them in the first two weeks, but then the Wolverines went out and played so far below expectations that now no one knows what to truly make of this team. Was that performance simply a fluke? Or was it an indication of what’s to come the rest of the season? Let’s take a look at our picks for this week’s game.

Justin: After what happened last week, any Michigan player or coach who overlooks UConn should be dismissed from the team. But that’s not going to happen. Tomorrow we will see a Michigan team with a renewed focus take the field in East Hartford looking to prove to everyone that last week was simply a letdown and not part of a larger problem.

While it won’t be the blowout we all expected last week, the matchup sets up perfectly for Michigan to have a big game and win in convincing fashion. Defensively, UConn prefers to sit back and try to keep everything in front of them, but the linebackers tend to get sucked up on play action. They also have trouble stopping the zone read and inverted veer. All of that means that Devin Gardner could have a monster game and make people forget about last week.

Offensively, UConn does most of its damage through the air, but quarterback Chandler Whitmer is prone to throwing interceptions. Expect Michigan to blitz much more than it did the last two weeks, trying to force Whitmer into bad decisions. He’s been sacked 10 times in two games and has thrown 19 interceptions dating back to last season.

Staff Predictions
Michigan UConn
Justin 45 20
Chris 49 13
Josh 42 17
Sam 42 20
Derick 40 17
Katie 41 13
M&GB Average 43 17

It won’t be a blowout, but should be similar to the way Maryland beat the Huskies last week. Close through the first half and pulling away in the second. With a bye week next week, don’t expect to see Shane Morris play at all, but don’t be surprised to see more of Derrick Green, especially if Toussaint keeps struggling. Michigan wins and turns its attention to the Big Ten title chase.

Michigan 45 – UConn 20

Chris: This week, the Wolverines visit UConn. My guess is that the guys on the team can’t wait to get back on the field after last week’s narrow escape. The players have talked all week about proving to themselves and everyone else that their performance last week was an aberration. All of that is bad for a UConn team that has struggled thus far this season.

I think Michigan dominates this game for all four quarters. Everyone has something to prove, especially Devin Gardner. Hoke and the other coaches need to leave the starters in until they’re up by 50, as work needs to be done by each player to get better before the Big Ten schedule begins. Michigan wins big.

Michigan 49 – UConn 13

Josh: Please see yesterday’s Friend vs Foe for my full breakdown.

Michigan 42 – UConn 17

Sam: After cruising in the first two weeks of the season, the Michigan Wolverines looked to be on the fast track to a BCS bowl berth; then last week happened.

An ugly, turnover-riddled, defensive-disappearing-act of a game found its way to Ann Arbor in the form of a 28-24 win over the lowly Akron Zips and sent shock waves across Michigan message boards, causing fans to wonder what is going on at Michigan.

Just two weeks ago, Devin Gardner was phenomenal in leading the Maize and Blue over a nationally-ranked Notre Dame team, and the game never really seemed to be in doubt. One short week later, however, Akron, a team who had not won away from home in five years and had not beaten an FBS-level opponent since 2009, found itself within three yards of a game-winning touchdown in the final seconds at the Big House.

Clearly something was, or is, wrong. Whether the near-loss (because it was more that than a narrow win) was the result of a massive hangover or was more indicative of actual weakness should be evident as soon as this weekend, when Michigan takes to the road for the first time this season to play Connecticut. Two weeks ago, this game seemed like a walkthrough, after UConn was throttled 33-18 in their season opener to Towson, and followed that up with an 11-point loss against Maryland last week. Now it seems like a game in which anything could happen.

Still, the Wolverines open as 18-point favorites in East Hartford and really have no business letting UConn compete. The Huskies have proved to be putrid in defending the run thus far, giving up 201 yards and four touchdowns on the ground to Towson and 224 more rushing yards to Maryland, and perhaps even worse in running the ball themselves, averaging just 59 rushing yards per game – good for 122nd place out of 123 FBS teams.

Hoke made the team practice in full pads on Sunday following the Akron game and will have them ready for UConn (MGoBlue.com)

Fitzgerald Toussaint has had some troubles this season in finding the hole behind a raw interior offensive line, but if he can’t crack 100 yards Saturday, he may lose his starting job. Expect him to bounce back while one of Derrick Green or De’Veon Smith carries the rock double digit times as well to help Michigan amass 250-plus rushing yards. Gardner should also bounce back as the running game opens up the field and Jeremy Gallon will score twice more.

Michigan 42 – UConn 20

Derick: After a week of punishing practice, Taylor Lewan and the offense rebound from an “embarrassing” performance against Akron. Al Borges absolutely needs to find some semblance of a running game to give Devin Gardner less touches and take care of the ball. That responsibility falls on the shoulders of the offensive line, which has yet to create solid running lanes for Fitzgerald Toussaint in this young season.

Defensively, the line has to get in the backfield and keep the quarterback from getting too comfortable; as Kyle Pohl did last Saturday. With pressure, a secondary that has gotten strong starts from Jarrod Wilson and Blake Countess can limit the big plays over the middle.

Last week was a wakeup call for Michigan fans that started looking too far ahead after the Notre Dame victory. Akron exploited some weaknesses that could kill the Wolverines during the Big Ten season, and now Brady Hoke’s team gets a chance to bounce back in the first road test. Luckily, UConn has shown countless weaknesses so far this year and Michigan should be able to right the ship and regain some of their confidence heading into the bye week before the important conference schedule arrives.

Michigan-40 Connecticut-17

Katie: First off, I’m predicting a much cleaner game from Michigan, and with a lot more heart than what they played with against Akron.  After watching the post game interview with the team captain, Taylor Lewan, and Devin Gardner I think it’s fair to say that the Wolverines are out to prove that they shouldn’t be counted out of the hunt for the Big Ten title just yet.  The main problem last week was the turnovers and the lack of defensive pressure.  This game will hopefully serve to show that the nail-biter against the Zips as more of a fluke than a genuine estimation of what this team is capable of…at least one hopes so.

Considering Michigan has two great tight ends in Funchess and Butt, two sure handed wide outs in Gallon and Dileo, and UConn has a weak secondary, Michigan should be able to demoralize the Huskies (One of the issues last week was that the Zips were confident and only grew more so as the game continued).  Toussaint will hopefully get more help from the O-line, as promised by Lewan on Saturday.  And if the defense is able to put more pressure on the quarterback and isn’t forced to take the field after multiple turnovers, I think this game is going to go rather smoothly for Michigan.

I don’t see another close game in store for the Wolverines, but then again I am a bit anxious going in.  The Maize and Blue barely avoided a disaster, and I hope that it will only serve to light a fire under them. We can’t have another close call this week.

Michigan 41 – UConn 13

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For more coverage of this week’s game, see: Michigan-UConn game preview; this week’s edition of Friend vs Foe with Andrew Callahan of the aptly named UConn SB Nation blog The UConn Blog; Monday’s First Look: UConn, and this week’s Five-Spot Challenge.

Also check out game previews from MGoBlog,  Maize n Brew, Touch the Banner, 247, Maize n Blue Nation, UMGoBlog, and The M Block.