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Posts Tagged ‘David Cobb’

M&GB staff predictions: Minnesota

Friday, September 26th, 2014


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Michigan enters Big Ten play 2-2 with losses against the only two power-five teams they’ve played. Minnesota comes to Ann Arbor 3-1 with wins over three cupcakes. Could the Gophers win for just the fourth time since 1968? Or will Michigan hold onto the Little Brown Jug for yet another year? Let’s take a look at our predictions.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Minnesota
Justin 24 13
Sam 23 10
Derick 28 24
Josh 24 21
Joe 28 26
M&GB Average 25 19

Justin: Both teams are going to look to run the ball. That’s pretty much all Minnesota does and they’ll look to get David Cobb and redshirt freshman quarterback Chris Streveler going. Michigan’s run defense has been its strength in the early going, having held the last three opponents under 100 yards. Look for Greg Mattison to load the box and force Streveler to pass.

Michigan’s offense will also look to feed Derrick Green often, especially if Shane Morris gets the start. Don’t expect the offense to open up for him, but he can have success against Minnesota’s pass defense than has allowed three of four opponents to throw for more than 250 yards.

I expect a boring, low-scoring game that Michigan wins comfortably, but not a blowout.

Michigan 24 – Minnesota 13

Sam: It only took until Rich Rodriguez’s third season at the helm of Michigan football to have fans speculate over who Michigan’s next head coach would be – despite a better record year-over-year. We are now early in Brady Hoke’s fourth year leading the Wolverines, but the widespread speculation over his impending firing has certainly begun – because of a worse record year-over-year and an increasingly inept offense.

After a dismal 26-10 loss against a Utah team that is probably not great and in which Michigan’s defense scored more points than its offense, the Wolverines find themselves standing at just 2-2 going into the first weekend of Big Ten play against lowly Minnesota. Is the Big Ten title still up for grabs? You bet. How are Michigan’s chances of reaching that goal? Maybe as good as Lloyd Christmas’s chances of ending up with Mary Swanson.

All signs point to a new starting quarterback tomorrow as Devin Gardner appears to be regressing, but Shane Morris has not shown much to-date. Minnesota is probably the worst team in the Big Ten, and they only managed to complete one pass last week, so Michigan should win, but I don’t think it will be pretty.

The first time Michigan reaches the red zone tomorrow (not to jinx it) would be the first time the Maize and Blue has gotten there against a real team all season. Unless the offense churns out 50 points, I’m ready to write the season off. Ultimately, though, I’ll take Michigan.

Michigan 23 – Minnesota 10

Derick: Michigan played one of its worst games since Brady Hoke took over as head coach Saturday, falling 26-10 to Utah at home. The team looked unprepared for a third straight week and is limping into the conference season opener against Minnesota.

The Little Brown Jug has been a staple in Schembechler Hall over the last decade, and Minnesota likely sees Saturday as its best chance in many years to bring the trophy back to Minneapolis. I think Michigan will have to really battle to fend off Minnesota, but will come away with a close win.

Michigan 28 – Minnesota 24

Josh: Coming into this season I had pretty low expectations (8-4) but after losses to Notre Dame and Utah yielded no offensive touchdowns and ZERO red zone trips I’ve all but checked out of football season (I wonder if John Beilein knows anything about developing football players). If the offense can’t even sniff the end zone against decent teams then the wheels have all but fallen off for Brady Hoke and crew. For now let’s enjoy Jabrill Peppers while we have him because he may very well bolt if (when) Hoke gets the boot.

Looking ahead at the schedule only two games pop out to me that can be chalked up as wins; Minnesota and Northwestern. Luckily for Michigan the Gophers are in town this weekend.

Minnesota can’t pass the ball to save their lives and while David Cobb is a very good running back, the run defense is the strength of Michigan’s defense. Sadly, defense is not the problem for Michigan. We’ll probably see Shane Morris starting at quarterback. While I like Devin Gardner, it is clearly time for a change, because he hasn’t progressed like he should have and his poor decisions have cost Michigan one too many games. I don’t see this one getting out of hand like most Minnesota games do (read: it won’t be a blowout) but I do think Michigan should be able to handle them. Then again I said that about Akron and UConn last year and they barely escaped, so who knows anymore.

Regardless of whether the quarterback is Morris or Gardner, I expect Nussmeier to keep the offense bare bones simple with some quick short throws and then pound the ball non-stop, with an occasional deep bomb off play-action to Devin Funchess. I’d be willing to bet Morris/Gardner still tosses a pick or two, and Minnesota will be in it far longer than the fans would care for. In the end I think Michigan will eek out a close one.

Michigan 24 – Minnesota 21

Joe: I could not be more confused heading into the Big Ten opener against the Golden Gophers. I have no idea who will be under center for this one. Although, I have a feeling we may witness the start of the Shane Morris show on Saturday with a compliment of Gardner out wide. Just a hunch. If this is the case, it will be Green followed by more Green followed by Funchess and a little more Green.

I want to see the offense spread things around a little more. It’s becoming very predictable once again and that is never good. If Michigan is able to get everyone involved and keep Minnesota guessing, they will be able to move the ball with some level of success. This will allow the defense to stay fresh and contain a very weak passing attack. The Michigan run defense has been solid but will have its hands full with David Cobb.  Keep an eye on their running quarterback as well.

This game has been fun to watch for the last few years and should be another close one. I will give it the ol’ college try and predict with absolutely no level of confidence a Michigan victory. Now where are my BBQ tongs?

Michigan 28 – Minneeeesota 26

Michigan-Minnesota game preview

Friday, September 26th, 2014


Game Preview_Minnesota_banner

Michigan limps into conference play with a 2-2 record, but as Brady Hoke has said over and over again in the last couple of weeks, the goal of a Big Ten championship is still within reach. A turnaround in conference play can erase the futility of the first four weeks of the season and get back the fans that jumped off the bandwagon. It all starts tomorrow when Minnesota comes to town looking to beat Michigan for just the fourth time since 1968.

UM-Minnesota-small-final
Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 3:30 p.m. EST – ABC
Minn. Head Coach: Jerry Kill (4th season)
Coaching Record: 147-95 overall (20-22 at Minn)
Offensive Coordinator: Matt Limegrover (4th season)
Defensive Coordinator: Tracy Claeys (4th season)
Returning Starters: 14 (7 offense, 7 defense)
Last Season: 8-5 (4-4 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: Michigan 42 – Minnesota 13 (2013)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 73-24-3
Record at Mich Stadium Michigan leads 33-10-1
Last 10 Meetings: Michigan leads 9-1
Current Streak:  Michigan 6

Minnesota entered Jerry Kill’s fourth season on an upward swing, having gone from 3-9 to 6-7 to 8-5 the past three seasons. If they can improve their record again this fall — a tall order, to be sure — Kill will have done something that hasn’t been done since the 1940s — improve Minnesota’s record for three straight seasons. Minnesota’s legendary coach, Bernie Bierman, was the last to do it from 1945-48. Glen Mason had a chance to achieve the feat twice during his tenure, but each time fell back to earth. He did, however, reach 10 wins in 2003, and Kill will hope to parlay the momentum he has built into a similar outcome.

Kill got a nice vote of confidence in the offseason in the form of a new contract that bumps his salary up from $1 million per year to $2.3 million through 2018.

Minnesota enters Ann Arbor winners of three of their first four this season, the only loss a 30-7 defeat at the hands of TCU. The Gophers beat Eastern Illinois 42-20, Middle Tennessee 35-24, and San Jose State 24-7. Unlike Michigan, who has out-gained all four of its opponents offensively, Minnesota has actually been out-gained in three of its four games.

Michigan has had Minnesota’s number the last half century, winning the last six, 22 of the last 23, 30 of the last 32, and 41 of the last 46 since 1964. The Little Brown Jug basically lives in Ann Arbor these days, and even during Michigan’s 3-9 season in 2008, the Wolverines found a way to beat the Gophers. So how do the teams match up this season? Let’s take a look.

Michigan defense vs Minnesota offense: When Minnesota has the ball

Through the first four games, the Minnesota offense averages a field goal more per game than Michigan (27 points). The Gophers rank 104th in total offense (336 yards per game), 29th in rushing (236.2 yards per game), and 121st in passing (99.8 yards per game). The also rank 95th in third down conversions (37 percent) and 90th in red zone scores (10-of-13).

David Cobb is averaging 134.8 yards per game so far this season

David Cobb is averaging 134.8 yards per game so far this season

Senior David Cobb is one of the best running backs in the conference. Our former feature writer Drew Hallett ranked him seventh-best in his preseason Big Ten position rankings. He came out of nowhere to rush for 1,202 yards on 5.1 yards per carry in 2013, becoming the first Gopher to eclipse 1,000 yards since 2006. He was held to just 22 yards on seven carries against Michigan, but had six 100-yard games, including against Michigan State. So far this season, Cobb has been the Gopher offense, averaging 134.8 yards per game on the ground. But he has gained most of that yardage in just two of the four games — 220 yards against Middle Tennessee and 207 against San Jose State last week. TCU held him to just 41 yards on 15 carries in Week 3 and you can be sure Michigan will load the box to do the same.

Cobb is the workhorse with 92 carries, but three other running backs have double-digit carries. Berkley Edwards, the younger brother of former Michigan star receiver Braylon, has 16 carries for 92 yards and two touchdowns. Rodrick Williams and Donnell Kirkwood each have 10 carries for just 35 and 24 yards, respectively.

With last year’s starting quarterback, Phillip Nelson, gone the man who supplanted him by the end of 2013 was supposed to grab the reigns. Redshirt sophomore Mitch Leidner threw just 78 passes for 619 yards and three touchdowns last season. About a third of that came in the bowl game in which he completed 11-of-22 for 205 yards and two scores. He also saw extensive action against Michigan, completing 14-of-21 for 145 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. He was much more of a running quarterback last season, rushing 102 times for 407 yards and seven scores.

But after starting the first three games this season and completing just 48.1 percent of his passes for 362 yards, two touchdowns, and four interceptions, he missed last week’s game with turf toe. In his place was redshirt freshman Chris Streveler, who threw just seven passes and completed just one for seven yards. On the other hand, Streveler rushed 18 times for 161 yards and a touchdown. He’s likely to be the starter tomorrow.

The receiving corps is young, led by tight end Maxx WilliamsDrew’s second-best tight end in the conference this fall, who caught 25 passes for 417 yards and five touchdowns a year ago. Williams leads the team with six catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns so far, also missed last week’s game with an injury, but should play tomorrow. Last year’s leading wide receiver, Derrick Engel, is gone, leaving Donovahn Jones, K.J. Maye, and Drew Wolitarsky to step up. Jones has six catches for 92 yards and a score, while Maye has two for 65, and Wolitarsky has four for 31.

Experience isn’t an issue with the offensive line. Of the nine linemen that started a game last season, seven returned, and those seven started a combined 55 games in 2013 and 124 in their careers. Left guard Zac Epping is the most experienced of the bunch, having started 38 career games. While none of Minnesota’s linemen rank among the Big Ten’s best, and the line as a whole won’t be the best, it has paved the way for a powerful running game.

Michigan offense vs Minnesota defense: When Michigan has the ball

Defensively, Minnesota has allowed exactly the same number of points as Michigan has, 20.2 per game. The total defense ranks 66th nationally (383.8 yards per game), the rush defense ranks 51st (131.5 yards per game), and the pass defense ranks 82nd (252.2 yards per game). In addition, the Gophers are allowing opponents to convert 40 percent of their third downs, which ranks 72nd nationally. By comparison, Michigan allows 33 percent.

Linebacker Damien Wilson leads the team with 44 tackles

Linebacker Damien Wilson leads the team with 44 tackles

The main loss from last season is a big one in nose tackle Ra’Shede Hageman, who was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in the second round of the NFL Draft. He led Minnesota with 13 tackles-for-loss in 2013 and also recorded two sacks. Defensive tackle Roland Johnson, who added 5.5 tackles-for-loss, also departed, leaving a big hole in the middle of the defense.

Senior Cameron Botticelli is now the main man in the middle and leads the team with 3.5 tackles for loss. He also has one sack. Nose tackle Steven Richardson has started the last two games and has eight tackles, 2.5 for loss, and one sack. The ends are redshirt junior Theiren Cockran, who ranked third in the Big Ten last season with 7.5 sacks, and senior Michael Amaefula, who recorded 19 tackles for loss a year ago. The two have combined for 12 tackles, three for loss, and a sack so far this season. Sophomore Hendrick Ekpe started the first two games and has 10 tackles, three for loss, and 1.5 sacks.

Two of the top three linebackers from last season are gone, but middle linebacker, senior Damien Wilson, returns. He was Minnesota’s second-leading tackler last season with 78, and had the third-most tackles-for-loss with 5.5. He currently leads the team with 44 tackles and also has three tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, an interception, and a fumble recovery. Junior De’Vondre Campbell, who started three games last season, is the second leading tackler with 21 to go along with one tackle for loss. The Gophers have gone with more nickel the past two weeks, but when they use a third linebacker it is usually redshirt sophomore Jack Lynn, who is third on the team with 20 tackles and two for loss.

The strength of Minnesota’s defense was supposed to be the secondary, despite the loss of cornerback Brock Vereen, who was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the fourth round. The other starting corner from last season, Eric Murray, led the team with 10 pass breakups, which ranked sixth in the Big Ten. Just a junior this fall, Murray has 16 tackles, one interception, and two pass breakups so far. The other corners are junior Briean Boddy-Calhoun, who tore his ACL last season, and senior Derrick Wells, who was hampered most of 2013 with a shoulder injury. Boddy-Calhoun leads the team with two interceptions and five pass breakups so far.

The safety spots are filled by Cedric Thompson — last season’s leading tackler — junior Antonio Johnson, and junior Damarius Travis. Johnson and Travis each have a pick so far this season.

Special Teams: The other third

Redshirt freshman kicker Ryan Santoso was rated the seventh-best kicker in the 2013 class by ESPN and is replacing Chris Hawthorne, who made 14-of-18 last season. Santoso has made just 1-of-3 so far this season with a long of 38. Redshirt junior punter Peter Mortell is a nice weapon to have after ranking third in the Big Ten with a 43.3-yard average a year ago. He’s currently averaging 46.2 yards, which ranks second in the conference, behind only Nebraska’s Sam Foltz.

Defensive back Marcus Jones ranked sixth in the Big Ten in kick returns last season, averaging 24.9 yards per return. He’s currently right on pace, averaging 24.4 yards. He’s also handling most of the punt return duties with six returns for an average of eight yards.

Prediction:

Minnesota is going to try to run the ball, run the ball some more, and run the ball some more. The good news is that plays right into Michigan’s defensive strength. Expect Greg Mattison to load the box to stop the run and force Streveler to try to make big plays with his arm. He has completed just 4-of-11 passes for 37 yards in his career, so that’s a good thing for Michigan’s young corners, Jourdan Lewis and Jabrill Peppers.

Offensively, Michigan is also going to try to run the ball a lot with Derrick Green, but given the success teams have had passing on the Gophers so far, Michigan can have some success through the air. Could this be Shane Morris’ coming out party? I wouldn’t go that far, but I am looking forward to seeing what he can do as the (presumed) starter.

Expect a fairly low-scoring game with neither team able to pull away. Michigan will win, and while I don’t think it will be decisively, it won’t be too close for comfort either.

Michigan 24 – Minnesota 13

Minnesota Q&A with JDMill of The Daily Gopher

Thursday, September 25th, 2014


Minnesota Q-A_banner

Each Thursday throughout the season we collaborate with that week’s opponent blog to get some questions answered by the guys who know more about their team than we do. This week, we partnered with JDMill of the Minnesota SB Nation blog, The Daily Gopher. He was kind enough to answer questions about the stagnant Gopher passing game, whether Minnesota can run on Michigan’s defense, how Minnesota fans view the Michigan current state of affairs, and more. You can follow The Daily Gopher on Twitter at @TheDailyGopher and you can follow JDMill at @jdmill.

1. What’s up with the Minnesota passing game? Less than 100 yards a game? Only seven yards last week? What’s the deal?

What came first, the chicken or the egg? That’s kind of the deal with the Gophers. Do they not pass very often because the running game is so good, or do they not pass very often because the passing game is so bad?

If you ask the coaches, they will tell you that the running game has been working, so there hasn’t been a need to pass. I think the fans are a little bit more nervous. Take a look at the TCU game. The Gophers were forced to pass because they got behind early and the run game wasn’t as effective as needed. As such, Mitch Leidner threw 26 times, completing just 12 for 151 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions. Not. Pretty.

So while the coaches will tell you that if the running game is working there is no reason to pass, they have also admitted this week that they are going to need to be able to throw the ball more effectively to keep teams honest now that we’re hitting the conference schedule.

2. The running game on the other hand has been pretty good, especially David Cobb. Michigan’s rush defense has only allowed one of its four opponents (Appalachian State in Week 1) to rush for over 100 yards. Do you think Minnesota will be able to run on Michigan?

I do think we’ll be able to run a bit on Michigan, but we’ve been averaging over 230 yards rushing per game in the non-con, and I don’t think we’ll be able to do that against the Wolverines. The trump card, however, is quarterback Chris Streveler. With him behind center the Gophers have a true, fast addition that seems to be able to run the read-option pretty effectively. I could see a scenario where Minnesota puts up 150 yards rushing with at least half of that coming from the quarterback.

3. Minnesota also has a pretty good run defense, but three of the four opponents have thrown for over 250 yards. Michigan’s offense has had well-publicized problems against the only power-five teams it has played (Notre Dame and Utah). Do you think Minnesota’s defense can force Michigan’s offense into those same types of mistakes?

This is a defense that gives up a fair number of yards, but not a lot of points. The Gophers give up 122 yards per game more than Michigan, but we’ve allowed the exact same number of points. In fact, Minnesota has given up more yards than it has produced in three out of our four games this season so far.

The Gopher defense is opportunistic and that’s an important characteristic for a team that is going to struggle to throw the ball. The defense has given this team points and short fields, and I believe they will continue that trend and win the turnover battle with Michigan.

4. What’s your view on the current state of the Michigan program? Things are falling apart at the seams here, but what does it look like from the outside? And do Gopher fans enjoy seeing Michigan struggle like this?

Well, from the outside it looks like things are falling apart at the seams

I think the biggest eye-opener for everyone else in the conference was when Notre Dame took the Wolverines behind the wood shed. For me, anyway, that was just shocking. We expect Michigan to at least be competitive and they just didn’t even show up. And then to follow that up with the effort against Utah…well, you guys lived it so I won’t go on.

I’m hard pressed to say that Gopher fans enjoy it. I mean, I think schadenfreude is always alive and well in the B1G and Michigan has beaten the tar out of us for 45 years, so it certainly doesn’t hurt us to see this happening and I think Gopher fans smell blood in the water and a chance to get a trophy back. But the reality is that a competitive Michigan is good for the B1G, and I think deep down we know that.

The interesting piece of the puzzle here is that Brady Hoke is who many Gopher fans wanted as coach when Minnesota got Jerry Kill. The rumor is that Hoke turned down the job knowing that the Michigan job was probably in his grasp.

5. What’s your prediction, and why?

I REALLY want to predict a Gopher win here. I REALLY want to believe that Michigan is down on itself enough that Minnesota will be able to take advantage, dominate defensively, and do enough on offense to put up some points. In order for that to happen I think we’d be looking at a 17-10 type of game and one of the Gopher touchdowns would be from defense or special teams.

However, I’ve been around long enough to know that weird things happen to Minnesota when we play Michigan. Things fall apart for the Gophers. Michigan wakes up. Quarterbacks have career days against our defense. And knowing the history of this rivalry, my fragile psyche just won’t let me predict a Gopher win. To paraphrase the Gin Blossoms, if I don’t expect to much of the Gophers I might not be let down.

Michigan 24 – Minnesota 17.

First Look: Minnesota

Monday, September 22nd, 2014


FirstLook-Minnesota

The heat in Ann Arbor has nearly reached the fiery furnaces of hell and it seems most Michigan fans think that’s where the football program is at this point. But there are still eight games to play, beginning with a team Michigan has dominated the last 45 years. Minnesota comes to town looking to capture the Little Brown Jug for just the third time since 1968. The Gophers have beaten Western Michigan, Middle Tennessee, and San Jose State, and lost to TCU. Let’s take a look at how Michigan and Minnesota compare through four games.

Minnesota Statistics & Michigan Comparison
MinnesotaMichigan Rank Defense Rank
Points Per Game 27.0 | 24.0 82 | T91 20.2 | 20.2 T33T33
Rushing Yards 945 | 844 526 | 321
Rush Avg. Per Game 236.2 | 211.0 29 | 37 131.5 | 80.2 51 | 9
Avg. Per Rush 5.1 | 5.6
3.7 | 2.5
Passing Yards 399 | 773 1,009 | 723
Pass Avg. Per Game 99.8 | 193.2 121 | 98 252.2 | 180.8 82 | 27
Total Offense 1,3441,617 1,535 | 1,044
Total Off Avg. Per Game 336.0 | 404.2 104 | 78 383.8 | 261.0 66 | 8
Kick Return Average 24.4 | 19.0 30 | T88 18.3 | 19.2 30 | T48
Punt Return Average 9.7 | 9.8 54 | T51 10.4 | 14.6 87 | 105
Avg. Time of Possession 31:18 | 32:42 35 | 22
28:42 | 27:18
3rd Down Conversion Pct 37.0% | 45.0% 95 | 47
40.0% | 33.0% 72 | 39
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 4-26 | 8-53
T22 | T80
8-54 | 7-67
T62 | T78
Touchdowns Scored 15 | 12
10 | 9
Field Goals-Attempts 1-3 | 4-7 4-8 | 6-7
Red Zone Scores (10-13) 77% | (10-10) 100% 90 | T1
(9-11) 82%(10-11) 91% T57 | T91
Red Zone Touchdowns (10-13) 77% | (8-10) 80% (6-11) 55% | (6-11) 55%

Michigan’s offense isn’t exactly setting the world on fire, but believe it or not, Minnesota’s is even worse. Sure, the Gophers are averaging three points more, but they haven’t played a team near Notre Dame or Utah’s level yet. Okay, TCU may be about Utah’s level, but Western Michigan, Middle Tennessee, and San Jose State are nowhere close.

Even so, Minnesota’s offense ranks 104th nationally, averaging 68 fewer total yards per game than Michigan’s. The one positive for the Gophers is the running game, which ranks 29th nationally, averaging 236.2 yards per game — 25 more than Michigan. Running back David Cobb is one of the best in the Big Ten and is currently sixth nationally with 539 yards, averaging 135 yards a game and 5.9 yards per carry. By comparison, Derrick Green has 391 yards, but 28 fewer carries.

Schedule
Date Opponent Result
Aug. 28 Eastern Illinois W 42-20
Sept. 6 Middle Tennessee State W 35-24
Sept. 13 at TCU L 7-30
Sept. 20 San Jose State W 24-7
Sept. 27 at Michigan
Oct. 11 Northwestern
Oct. 18 Purdue
Oct. 25 at Illinois
Nov. 8 Iowa
Nov. 15 Ohio State
Nov. 22 at Nebraska
Nov. 29 at Wisconsin

Even with the gaudy rushing numbers, the Gophers running game is vulnerable. In Week 1 against Western Michigan, Minnesota rushed for 182 yards on 40 carries — a decent 4.6 yards per carry, but not great, though that can be excused in the first game of the season. Against Middle Tennessee in Week 2, the Gophers gained 284 yards on 50 carries, and last week against San Jose State, they exploded for 380 yards on 58 carries. But against the only good defense they faced, TCU in Week 3, Minnesota was held to just 99 yards on 39 carries — just 2.5 yards per carry. Cobb only managed 41 yards on 15 carries in that game.

While the running game has had some success this season, the passing game is a different story. Minnesota is averaging less than 100 passing yards per game, which ranks 121st nationally, better than only four teams — Navy, New Mexico, Eastern Michigan, and Army. In two of the four games, Minnesota hasn’t even managed 100 passing yards, and last week the Gophers pass for just seven (!) yards.

Defensively, Minnesota has fared slightly better, holding opponents to an average of 20.2 points per game, the exact same as Michigan. The rush defense ranks 51st, allowing 131.5 yards per game, while the pass defense ranks 82nd, allowing 252.2 yards per game. None of the four opponents has rushed for more than 200 yards on the Gophers — Middle Tennessee had the most with 190 — but three of the four have thrown for over 250 yards.

Special teams-wise, Minnesota has made just 1-of-3 field goal attempts and average 44.2 yards per punt. They average five yards per kick return more than Michigan and about the same as Michigan per punt return.

There’s a lot of pessimism surrounding the Michigan football program right now, but there’s no reason to believe the Little Brown Jug won’t be staying in Ann Arbor for another year. If Michigan stops the run, Michigan wins. It’s as simple as that.

Key Players
Passing Comp-Att Yards TD INT Average/Game
Mitch Leidner 26-54 362 2 4 120.7
Chris Streveler 4-11 37 1 1 9.2
Rushing Attempts Yards TD Long Average/Carry
David Cobb 92 539 4 48 5.9
Chris Streveler (QB) 31 219 1 30 7.0
Berkley Edwards 16 92 2 42 5.8
Mitch Leidner (QB) 21 77 2 10 2.4
Receiving Receptions Yards TD Long Average/Game
Maxx Williams (TE) 6 10 2 32 36.7
Donovahn Jones 6 92 1 35 23.0
Drew Wolitarsky 4 31 0 16 10.3
David Cobb (RB) 3 38 0 16 9.5
K.J. Maye 2 65 0 34 16.2
Defense Solo Assisted Total Tackles TFL-Yds Sacks-Yds
Damien Wilson (LB) 22 22 44 3.0-13 1.5-9 (1 INT, 1FR)
De’Vondre Campbell (LB) 15 6 21 1.0-6 0-0 (1 FR)
Cam Botticelli (DL) 8 4 12 3.5-13 1.0-8
Briean Boddy-Calhoun (DB) 8 8 16 1.0-2 0-0 (2 INT, 3PD)
Hendrick Ekpe (DL) 7 3 10 3.0-11 1.5-9
Kicking FG Made FG Att Long XP Made XP Att
Ryan Santoso 1 3 38 15 15
Punting Punts Yds Avg. In-20 50+
Peter Mortell 22 1,017 46.2 5 9
Full Stats

Stay tuned for more on Minnesota in the coming days.

Five-Spot Challenge 2014: Minnesota

Monday, September 22nd, 2014


Five-SpotChallenge_Banner1

Congratulations to freezer566 for an impressive win in this week’s Five-Spot Challenge despite an undesirable outcome on the field. His point differential of just 75 was the lowest of the season and 33 points better than second-place Boggie. Freezer566 wasn’t the closest in any single category, but was the most consistent across the board. He was just two short of Gardner’s first half passing total (100), nine short of Utah’s total yards (286), 12 over the minutes until Michigan’s first forced turnover (25), 18 short of Derrick Green’s rushing total (59), and 34 short of the longest kick or punt return (66). He wins a $20 gift card to The M Den.

Overall, there were a lot of close scores, as you can see in the weekly results. Second through sixth place were separated by just 17 points. KashKaav‘s prediction of 63 Derrick Green rushing yards was the closest to the correct answer for question one. BigHouseBrandon (66) was the only other contestant within single digits. Bluwolf77 was only one yard away from correctly predicting Utah’s total yards, while tooty_pops and kfarmer16 were both only six shy. Bigboyblue and Boggy were both the closest to guessing how many minutes into the game Michigan would record its first takeaway. Willie Henry’s pick-six occurred 25 minutes into the game and they were just four minutes off. MichiganMack correctly picked Gardner’s first half passing yards, while freezer566 and BigHouseBrandon were both only two away. Finally, JustJeepGear.com‘s prediction of 65 yards was the closest to the longest kick or punt return, which unfortunately, was Kaelyn Clay’s 66-yard punt return for touchdown in the second quarter.

No one correctly predicted the final score. In fact, no one was within two touchdowns of Michigan’s point total, as the closest guess was 24 points. Bigboyblue correctly predicted Utah’s total of 26. The average score prediction of the 22 contestants was Michigan 30 – Utah 24, while 19 of the 22 picked Michigan to win.

Kfarmer16 maintains his lead in the overall standings, though it shrunk to just two points over freezer566.

Michigan stays home to welcome Minnesota to town for the annual battle for the Little Brown Jug. Minnesota beat San Jose State 24-7 and is currently 3-1 with wins over Eastern Illinois (42-20) and Middle Tennessee (35-24) and a 30-7 loss to TCU.

Here are this week’s questions:

2014 opponent preview: Minnesota

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014


2014 Opponent Preview - Minnesota

We have already previewed the two easiest teams on Michigan’s schedule, Appalachian State and Miami (Ohio). On the docket today is the third-easiest, and the first Big Ten opponent on the schedule, the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Overview

Schedule
Date Opponent
Aug. 28 Eastern Illinois
Sept. 6 Middle Tennessee State
Sept. 13 at TCU
Sept. 20 San Jose State
Sept. 27 at Michigan
Oct. 11 Northwestern
Oct. 18 Purdue
Oct. 25 at Illinois
Nov. 8 Iowa
Nov. 15 Ohio State
Nov. 22 at Nebraska
Nov. 29 at Wisconsin

Minnesota is on an upward swing in Jerry Kill’s fourth season. The Gophers have gone from 3-9 to 6-7 to 8-5 the past three seasons, and if they can improve their record again this fall — a tall order, to be sure — Kill will have done something that hasn’t been done since the 1940s — improve Minnesota’s record for three straight seasons. Minnesota’s legendary coach, Bernie Bierman, was the last to do it from 1945-48. Glen Mason had a chance to achieve the feat twice during his tenure, but each time fell back to earth. He did, however, reach 10 wins in 2003, and Kill will hope to parlay the momentum he has built into a similar outcome.

Kill did get a nice vote of confidence in the form of a new contract that will bump his salary up from $1 million per year to $2.3 million through 2018. Now that he has begun the process of raising expectations, the schedule doesn’t do him any favors.

Minnesota faces both Michigan and Ohio State from the Big Ten East and a killer November that has the Gophers closing the season with Iowa, Ohio State, at Nebraska, and at Wisconsin. The non-conference slate is manageable with home games against Eastern Illinois, Middle Tennessee, and San Jose State, and a road trip to TCU.

Last season, the Gophers breezed through the non-conference portion of the schedule, topping UNLV, New Mexico State, Western Illinois, and San Jose State by an average of three touchdowns. But Iowa and Michigan outscored Minnesota 65-20 in back-to-back weeks. The Gophers then reeled off four straight over Northwestern, Nebraska, Indiana, and Penn State — their first four-game Big Ten winning streak in 40 years — before dropping their final three to Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Syracuse in the Texas Bowl. Aside from the Iowa and Michigan games, Minnesota held its own even in its losses. They trailed Wisconsin just 13-7 at halftime before losing 20-7 and trailed Michigan State just 7-3 at the half before falling 14-3. A last-minute touchdown surrendered to Syracuse kept the Gophers from reaching nine wins.

Offense

Projected Starters
Position Name, Yr. Ht, Wt 2013 Stats
QB Mitch Leidner 6’4″, 237 48-78 for 619 yds, 3 TD, 1 INT; 89 rush, 477 yds, 7 TD
RB David Cobb 5’11”, 229 1,202 yds (5.1 avg), 7 TD
WR Drew Wolitarsky 6’3″, 226 15 rec. for 259 yds, 1 TD
WR Donovahn Jones 6’3″, 200 10 rec. for 157 yds, 0 TD
WR Isaac Fruechte 6’3″, 202 13 rec. for 154 yds, 0 TD
TE Maxx Williams 6’4″, 250 25 rec. for 417 yds, 5 TD
LT Ben Lauer 6’7″, 315 4 starts (4 career starts)
LG Zac Epping 6’2″, 318 13 starts (34 career starts)
C Tommy Olson 6’4″, 306 4 starts (15 career starts)
RG Josh Campion 6’5″, 317 13 starts (26 career starts)
RT Jonah Pirsig 6’9″, 320

Minnesota’s offense ranked 85th nationally with an average of 25.7 points per game, 107th in total offense (343.3 yards per game), and 117th in passing (148.1 ypg). The bright spot was the running game which ranked 38th with an average of 195.2 rushing yards per game. With last year’s most-experienced quarterback, Phillip Nelson, gone, the running game will once again be Minnesota’s calling card on offense.

David Cobb rushed for over 1,200 yards last season (Nam Y. Huh, AP)

David Cobb rushed for over 1,200 yards last season (Nam Y. Huh, AP)

Senior David Cobb is one of the best running backs in the conference. Our very own Drew Hallett ranked him seventh-best in his Big Ten position rankings. He came out of nowhere to rush for 1,202 yards on 5.1 yards per carry in 2013, becoming the first Gopher to eclipse 1,000 yards since 2006. He was held to just 22 yards on seven carries against Michigan, but had six 100-yard games, including against Michigan State.

Cobb isn’t alone in the backfield as senior Donnell Kirkwood and junior Rodrick Williams return. Williams averaged 5.5 yards per carry a year ago. In addition, a pair of freshman look to make noise. The nation’s seventh-ranked running back in the 2014 class, Jeff Jones, and redshirt freshman, Berkley Edwards (Braylon’s brother), join the crowded group, though Jones may not be academically eligible this fall. Edwards, at 5’9″, 190, provides a change of pace to Cobb and Williams.

With Nelson gone, the man who supplanted him by the end of 2013 looks to grab the reigns. Redshirt sophomore Mitch Leidner threw just 78 passes for 619 yards and three touchdowns last season, about a third of that came in the bowl game in which he completed 11-of-22 for 205 yards and two scores. He also saw extensive action against Michigan, completing 14-of-21 for 145 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. He was much more of a running quarterback last season, rushing 102 times for 407 yards and seven scores.

The receiving corps is young, led by tight end Maxx Williams, Drew’s second-best tight end in the conference this fall, who caught 25 passes for 417 yards and five touchdowns a year ago. Last year’s leading wide receiver, Derrick Engel, is gone, but sophomores Drew Wolitarsky and Donovahn Jones and senior Isaac Fruechte will need to step up. The three will need to improve on last season’s combined total of just 38 receptions for 570 yards and one touchdown. The Gophers do have 6’3″, 190-pound freshman Melvin Holland coming in who could see some early playing time.

Experience isn’t an issue with the offensive line. Of the nine linemen that started a game last season, seven return, and those seven started a combined 55 games in 2013 and 124 in their careers. Left guard Zac Epping is the most experienced of the bunch, having started 34 games over the last three years. While none of Minnesota’s linemen rank among the Big Ten’s best, and the line as a whole won’t be the best, it should be

Defense

Projected Starters
Position Name, Yr. Ht, Wt 2013 Stats
DE Theiren Cockran 6’6″, 255 30 tackles, 10.0 TFL, 7.5 sacks
DT Cameron Botticelli 6’5″, 281 23 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 1.0 sacks
DT Scott Ekpe 6’4″, 293 19 tackles, 1.0 TFL
DE Michael Amaefula 6’2″, 249 19 tackles, 1.0 TFL
OLB De’Vondre Campbell 6’5″, 238 41 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1 FF
MLB Damien Wilson 6’2″, 249 78 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 1 sack
OLB Jack Lynn 6’3″, 238 5 tackles, 1.0 TFL
CB Eric Murray 6’0″, 195 52 tackles, 1 TFL, 10 PBU, 1 FR
CB Derrick Wells 6’0″, 201 17 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 3 PBU
FS Cedric Thompson 6’0″, 208 79 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 INT, 2 FR
SS Antonio Johnson 6’0″, 209 69 tackles, 1 TFL, 0.5 sacks, 1 INT

Minnesota’s defense was a halfway decent unit last season, ranking fourth in the Big Ten and 25th nationally in scoring defense (22.2 points per game), sixth in the Big Ten and 43rd nationally in total defense (373.2 yards per game), and fifth in the Big Ten and 35th nationally in pass defense (215.1 yards per game). The Gophers also led the Big Ten and ranked 15th nationally in red zone defense, allowing opponents to score just 74 percent of the time. With seven starters returning, that’s a good defense to build on.

Theiren Cockran had the third-most sacks in the Big Ten last season (Kevin Tanaka, AP)

Theiren Cockran had the third-most sacks in the Big Ten last season (Kevin Tanaka, AP)

However, the main loss is a big one in nose tackle Ra’Shede Hageman, who was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in the second round of the NFL Draft. He led Minnesota with 13 tackles-for-loss in 2013 and also recorded two sacks. Defensive tackle Roland Johnson, who added 5.5 tackles-for-loss, has also departed, leaving a big hole in the middle of the defense. Senior Cameron Botticelli is a lock to start at one position after recording 5.5 tackles-for-loss and one sack a year ago, while junior Scott Ekpe should get the nod at nose tackle.

Both defensive ends return, most notably junior Theiren Cockran, who led the Gophers and ranked third in the conference with 7.5 sacks in 2013. The other is senior Michael Amaefula, who had 19 tackles and one for loss while starting all 13 games.

Two of the top three linebackers are gone, but middle linebacker, senior Damien Wilson, returns. He was Minnesota’s second-leading tackler last season with 78, and had the third-most tackles-for-loss with 5.5. Junior De’Vondre Campbell is in line to start at weakside after starting three games last season. The SAM linebacker will likely be redshirt sophomore Jack Lynn, who played in just three games and notched five tackles a year ago.

The strength of Minnesota’s defense this fall should be its secondary, despite the loss of cornerback Brock Vereen, who was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the fourth round. The other starting corner from last season, Eric Murray, led the team with 10 pass breakups, which ranked sixth in the Big Ten. Just a junior this fall, Murray could be poised for a breakout year. On the other side will be a battle between a pair of players who suffered injuries last season, junior Briean Boddy-Calhoun, who tore his ACL in Week 2, and senior Derrick Wells, who was hampered most of the season with a shoulder injury.

Both safeties are back, senior Cedric Thompson and junior Antonio Johnson. Thompson led the team with 79 tackles last season while picking off one pass and recovering two fumbles. Johnson was fourth with 69 tackles and notched half a sack and one pick. Junior Damarius Travis also has experience, having started two games last season and recording 28 tackles and four pass breakups.

Special Teams

Projected Starters
Position Name, Yr. Ht, Wt 2013 Stats
PK Ryan Santoso 6’6″, 245
P Peter Mortell 6’2″, 192 43.3 avg, 21 in-20
KR Marcus Jones 5’8″, 173 25 ret, 24.9 avg., 1 TD
PR Marcus Jones 5’8″, 173 11 ret, 10.5 avg., 1 TD

Kill has to replace kicker Chris Hawthorne, who made 14-of-18 field goals. The leading candidate is redshirt freshman Ryan Santoso, who was the seventh-best kicker in the 2013 class per ESPN. Punter Peter Mortell is a nice weapon to have back after ranking third in the Big Ten with a 43.3-yard average last season. The former walk-on earned a scholarship following that performance. Defensive back Marcus Jones and safety Antonio Johnson will handle the return duties. Jones ranked sixth in the Big Ten in kick returns last season, averaging 24.9 yards per return.

Outlook

Kill has built the team with the kind of strengths that work in the Big Ten — a good running game and stout defense — but he’ll be hard-pressed to improve on last year’s record. The move to the Big Ten West means battling with Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Iowa for the division title, two of which they lost to last season. But just how good this team is will depend on how Leidner develops as a passer and whether he can get production out of his unproven receiving corps. The first two months of the season are where the Gophers will have to rack up wins because if not, once November hits, they might need to steal one or two to become bowl eligible.

What it means for Michigan

Not to overlook Utah, but Michigan should be either 4-0 or 3-1 heading into the start of conference play, depending on the outcome of the Notre Dame game, and Minnesota very well could be as well. That didn’t mean much for the Gophers last season, as they cruised through non-conference play before losing to Iowa 23-7 and then Michigan 42-13. In all fairness, they were playing with heavy hearts after Kill suffered a seizure and couldn’t travel with the team to Ann Arbor, leaving defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys to fill in. Maybe that affected the team’s performance, or maybe not, but hopefully Kill will be able to make the trip this season. Michigan has owned the series, winning the last six and 22 of the last 23, and this shouldn’t be any different.

2014 Big Ten football position rankings: Running backs (part one)

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014


Big Ten position rankings header-RB

Last week, we introduced Maize and Go Blue’s series that will rank the best Big Ten football players at each position in 2014. Each week until Michigan’s season opener in late August, one position will be previewed. The analysis provided will be thorough and in-depth, not just a brief summary, so each position preview will be split into two parts. I kicked off the series last week by ranking the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten. If you missed it, you can catch up with Part One and Two here. This week, I take a look at the quarterbacks’ buddies in the backfield: the running backs.

10. Mark Weisman, Iowa | 5th-yr Senior – 6’0”, 240 lbs
Rushing Yds YPC Rush TDs YPG Rec Yds Rec TD
2013 975 4.3 8 75.0 41 0
2012 815 5.1 8 81.5 90 1
2011 0 0 0 NA 0 0
Career Totals 1,790 4.6 16 77.8 131 1
(Iowa Athletic Communications)

(Iowa Athletic Communications)

The Big Ten will have a deep stable of running backs this upcoming season, making the cuts for this list particularly difficult. One running back that was a candidate for this spot was Rutgers’ Paul James. In 10 games last year, James earned 156 carries for 881 yards, an above average 5.65 yards per carry, and nine touchdowns. James actually was well on his way to a much better season, rushing for 573 yards and six touchdowns in his first four games, before missing several weeks with a leg injury. James is a back who can raise eyebrows in his Big Ten debut, but health concerns and a lackluster Rutgers offensive line kept him off the list.

This created a duel for the final spot between Iowa’s Mark Weisman and Penn State’s Zach Zwinak. Weisman and Zwinak had very similar numbers last season. Weisman posted 226 carries for 974 yards—4.31 yards per carry—and eight touchdowns, while Zwinak had 210 carries for 989 yards—4.71 yards per carry—and eight touchdowns. Not only were their statistics similar, their running styles are similar, too. Both are built like fullbacks, listed at 6’0” or 6’1” and 240 pounds. Both compensate for their lack of agility and lateral quickness with their strength and ability to push the pile forward consistently. Neither has the breakaway speed to be a touchdown threat on any given play, but they are scoring machines once they are in the red zone. All 20 of their combined touchdown runs last year were no longer than 12 yards. They are bulldozers. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Despite having fewer rushing yards, yards per carry, and touchdowns than Zwinak in 2013, Weisman has the edge here in 2014. Weisman always starts the season on a strong note. In 2012, he totaled 98 carries for 623 yards, 6.36 yards per carry, and eight touchdowns in his first four games of extensive action. The next year, in the first five contests of the season, he recorded 119 carries for 615 yards, 5.17 yards per carry, and three touchdowns. Early in the season, Weisman is at full strength and uses his power to punish defenses.

However, Weisman was unable to maintain his power throughout the course of the 2012 and 2013 seasons. After the first four to five games of each season, his carries began to have diminishing returns. In 2012, Weisman produced only 3.12 yards per carry in Iowa’s final six games, two of which he missed due to an ankle injury. In 2013, Weisman managed only 3.36 yards per carry in the Hawkeyes’ final eight contests. His body could not handle the sustained beatings he took week in and week out, and wore out by the end of the year. For Weisman to remain effective for an entire season, he must share the load.

Weisman finally will have that opportunity. For the first time in what feels like an eternity, Iowa has a talented and, most importantly, healthy corps of running backs. Fellow Iowa backs Jordan Canzeri and Damon Bullock will take much of the pressure off of Weisman. This may mean fewer carries for Weisman, but he will be as much of an effective bruiser at the end of the season as he generally is at the start. This will not drop Weisman below Zwinak on this list either because Zwinak also shares carries with two other running backs at Penn State. Additionally, Zwinak will be lined up behind an offensive line with only one returning starter, while Weisman will be lined up behind arguably the Big Ten’s best offensive lineman in Brandon Scherff. Then, once Iowa’s commitment to pounding the rock under head coach Kirk Ferentz is considered, all signs point to Weisman having his best season yet in Iowa City.

9. Corey Clement, Wisconsin | Sophomore – 5’11”, 210 lbs
Rushing Yds YPC Rush TDs YPG Rec Yds Rec TD
2013 547 8.2 7 68.4 9 0
Career Totals 547 8.2 7 68.4 9 0
(Jeff Hanisch, USA Today Sports)

(Jeff Hanisch, USA Today Sports)

There are very few places in the nation where a second-string running back can produce a 1,000-rushing-yard season, but one of those places certainly is Wisconsin. Since 2009, only four times has a school had two running backs each gain 1,000 yards on the ground. To be clear, this is not two 1,000-yard rushers, but two 1,000-yard running backs. Quarterbacks are excluded. Of those four times, Wisconsin is the only school to achieve the feat twice, doing it in 2010 and 2013, while Alabama and Kent State both accomplished it in 2012. Further, in 2010, Wisconsin was only four yards away from having a third running back top 1,000 yards. Absurd. With the evolution of the read-option and advanced passing schemes, this type of production from the depths of the running back position nearly is extinct in this day and age. Currently, there are only two locations where it remains alive and well. One is Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The other is Madison, Wisconsin.

In the offseason, last year’s starting running back, James White, graduated, taking his 221 carries, 1,444 rushing yards, and 13 rushing touchdowns with him. Accordingly, Melvin Gordon, whom we will discuss a bit later on this list, was promoted from second string to the top of the depth chart. Given Wisconsin’s inclination to run the football and even feed the backup tailbacks, there are about 125 to 175 carries available for the Badgers’ second-string running back this fall. Enter: Corey Clement.

Last season, as a true freshman, Clement capitalized on the few touches he received as Wisconsin’s third-string running back by showcasing his speed and big-play ability. Despite toting the rock only 67 times in 11 games, he still gained 547 yards. In fact, Clement’s 8.16 yards per carry were the best in the Big Ten among players who averaged a minimum of four rush attempts per game played. Additionally, Clement crossed the goal line seven times for touchdowns. His touchdown rate of 10.45 percent was the second-best in the conference among those who averaged four carries per game played, behind only Nebraska’s Imani Cross. Do not forget that Clement did all of this with only 67 carries. Imagine what he can do with 100 more carries behind an offensive line that returns four starters.

Yet, despite this glowing report and the situation Clement will enter in 2014, he is only No. 9 in these rankings. Why? His 547 rushing yards and 8.16 yards per carry are a mirage to a certain extent. He received almost all of his carries when Wisconsin already had secured a victory. Of Clement’s 67 carries last season, 65 were in the second half and 64 were when Wisconsin led by no less than 15 points. At that point, the opposing defense had either little left to fight for or had substituted in the second-stringers. Clement has yet to prove he can be effective against a first-string defense in a competitive contest. If he cannot, Wisconsin will not feel pressured to continue to feed him the ball regularly. Instead, those carries will be allocated to Gordon. This is why Clement sits so low on this list, even though he likely will be part of the third Wisconsin running back duo in the past five seasons to have each member rush for 1,000 yards in the same year.

8. Josh Ferguson, Illinois | RS Junior – 5’10”, 195 lbs
Rushing Yds YPC Rush TDs YPG Rec Yds Rec TD
2013 779 5.5 7 64.9 535 4
2012 312 4.2 0 31.2 251 0
2011 52 3.7 0 17.3 14 0
Career Totals 1,143 5.0 7 45.7 800 4
(Pat Lovell, USA Today Sports)

(Pat Lovell, USA Today Sports)

If there is one running back that has been unfairly left off of multiple preseason All-Big Ten lists or Big Ten running back rankings, it is Illinois’ Josh Ferguson. He is one of the best all-around running backs in the conference, and, yet, no one seems to notice. The reasons for his exclusion are not difficult to decipher. Illinois had the third-worst rushing offense in the Big Ten last season, averaging only 139 yards per game and 4.06 yards per carry. Naturally, as the starting running back, much of the blame for these woes is shifted to Ferguson. His 779 rushing yards and seven rushing touchdowns are viewed as not being enough for Illinois to have a successful ground game. Fans and media alike want to see Ferguson up those rushing statistics before they consider him to be one of the better Big Ten running backs.

However, Ferguson’s rushing totals are down not because he was ineffective, but because he had so few opportunities to run the football. Last year, Illinois was one of only three Big Ten teams that attempted more passes than runs. Naturally, Ferguson did not have as many carries as the other starting tailbacks in the Big Ten. In fact, Ferguson’s average of 11.75 carries per game was the second-fewest among starting running backs in the conference. Yet, he performed very well when given the opportunity. Ferguson’s 5.52 yards per carry was more than solid and the eighth-best among Big Ten players with a minimum of 100 carries last year. Ferguson actually was the one bright spot in Illinois’ ground game in 2013. The reasons why Illinois struggled running the ball were its reliance on the pass and then-starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase earning the second-most carries on the team despite averaging only 2.40 yards per carry. Ferguson does not deserve the blame here.

Further, not only is Ferguson much better at running the football than a quick glance at his numbers would indicate, he is by far the best receiving tailback in the conference. Last season, in offensive coordinator Bill Cubit’s first year at Illinois, Ferguson led all Big Ten running backs in receptions (50), receiving yards (535), and receiving touchdowns (four). No other Big Ten running back approached those totals. The second-most catches by a Big Ten running back was 39; the second-most receiving yards by a Big Ten running back was 382. Ferguson is a completely different breed of running back.

Ferguson’s ability to make plays with both his feet and his hands propelled him to 1,314 yards from scrimmage, 6.88 yards per carry or reception, and 11 total touchdowns last season. These are the statistics that one of the best running backs in the Big Ten produces. Expect him to do it again in Year 2 of Cubit’s passing spread offense. Not only will Ferguson continue to catch three to six passes out of the backfield every week, he will see more carries, too. No longer will Ferguson need to worry about his quarterback cannibalizing his rush attempts. With pocket passer Wes Lunt replacing the graduated Scheelhaase, Scheelhaase’s carries will be given to Ferguson, not Lunt. These additional carries will give Ferguson the chance to generate 1,500 yards from scrimmage next season. Ferguson would be one of the best playmakers in the Big Ten, even if he does it a bit differently than his running back-brethren.

7. David Cobb, Minnesota | Senior – 5’11”, 225 lbs
Rushing Yds YPC Rush TDs YPG Rec Yds Rec TD
2013 1,202 5.1 7 92.5 174 0
2012 8 8.0 0 8.0 3 0
2011 57 5.7 0 19.0 0 0
Career Totals 1,267 5.1 7 74.5 177 0
(Hannah Foslien, Getty Images)

(Hannah Foslien, Getty Images)

Entering the 2013 season, David Cobb was an unknown commodity. In high school, Cobb was an unheralded recruit to say the least. According to 247’s Composite Rankings for the 2011 class, he was ranked outside the top 1,000 nationally and the No. 72 running back. With these (lack of) recruiting accolades, very little was expected of Cobb once he arrived on campus at Minnesota. And Cobb produced very little in his first two seasons, running the ball only 11 times for 65 yards and zero touchdowns. Cobb seemed to be a running back who would ride the pine most of his career except during garbage time.

However, when Minnesota’s starting running back  Donnell Kirkwood went down with an ankle injury in the season opener, it gave Cobb the opportunity to share meaningful snaps with second-string running back Rodrick Williams, Jr. Cobb capitalized on the opportunity and slowly began to assert himself as the best tailback on the roster. By the second half of the season, Cobb was Minnesota’s go-to back, earning no less than 17 carries in each of the Gophers’ final seven games. During that seven-game stretch, he had 169 carries for 828 yards, 4.90 yards per carry, and two touchdowns, and posted five games with 100 yards rushing. Cobb did not do it with speed, but with a physical running style that slammed away three to six yards at a time. By the later stages of games, defenses were worn out, as his yards per carry jumped from 4.40 in the first half to 5.69 in the second half. With this surge in the second half of the season, Cobb finished with 237 carries, 1,202 rushing yards, and seven touchdowns, and became Minnesota’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Amir Pinnix in 2006.

Cobb is no longer an unknown commodity. He now is one of the better tailbacks in the Big Ten and will have a splendid chance to duplicate last season’s performance. Minnesota has established an offensive identity under head coach Jerry Kill that it will pound the football, pound the football, and pound it some more. This will not change next year. In the offseason, quarterback Philip Nelson transferred to Rutgers, where he then was dismissed from the program due to legal troubles, thrusting Mitch Leidner into the starting role. Leidner is a rudimentary passer, but a skilled runner for a quarterback. Working behind an offensive line that loses only one starter from last year, the Gophers will once again rely on Cobb and Leidner to carry the offense each week. Although there is the possibility that Cobb will have less room to work with because defenses will stack the box against Minnesota, Cobb’s running style still likely will allow him to churn out four to five yards each play en route to another 1,000-yard season.

6. Venric Mark, Northwestern | 5th-Yr Senior – 5’8”, 175 lbs
Rushing Yds YPC Rush TDs YPG Rec Yds Rec TD
2013 97 3.1 0 32.3 48 0
2012 1,366 6.0 12 105.1 104 1
2011 104 6.9 1 8.0 4 0
2010 63 7.9 0 4.8 43 0
Career Totals 1,630 5.8 13 38.8 199 1
(Dave Stephenson, Icon SMI)

(Dave Stephenson, Icon SMI)

There is no Big Ten running back more difficult to rank on this list than Venric Mark. There are rational arguments for him to be the second-best running back in the conference. There are also rational arguments for him not to even be in the top 10. Let me explain. In 2012, Mark put together a wonderful season. In 13 games played, he accumulated 226 carries for 1,366 yards, 6.04 yards per carry, and 12 rushing touchdowns. His 1,366 rushing yards were the third-most in the Big Ten that season. He also added 104 yards through the air and a receiving touchdown. Mark was a scatback that thrived in the read-option offense with Kain Colter and used his elusive speed to gain yards in a flash. Mark has proven that he has the ability to be an elite running back not only in the Big Ten, but also the nation.

However, it is unknown if we will ever see the 2012 version of Mark again. He was plagued with injuries all of last season that rendered him ineffective. A hamstring injury limited Mark in Northwestern’s season opener against California and forced him to miss the next three non-conference games. Mark then returned for the conference opener against Ohio State. But, one week later, he suffered a broken ankle against Wisconsin which sidelined him for the remainder of the 2013 season. Mark finished with only 97 rushing yards and lots of questions about his health for 2014. Because Mark sat out Northwestern’s spring practice to continue rehabbing his ankle, very few of those questions have been answered.

So where to rank Mark for 2014? Will he return from his injuries with a vengeance and take the Big Ten by storm like he did in 2012? Or will he still be hampered by the lower-body injuries he suffered in 2013? The odds are in Mark’s favor that he will be ready to go for Northwestern’s opener in Week 1. Yet, even if so, Mark will be splitting carries with Treyvon Green, who filled in for Mark last year with 736 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. Green will not be relegated to the bench just because Mark is back. Plus, there will be less read-option for Mark with Trevor Siemian at quarterback. Mark will not have the same space to operate without the speedy Colter by his side and may see his production suffer consequently. All scenarios are realistic, so I split the difference and listed Mark at No. 6. Although it is hard to discount a player who was on the All-Big Ten second team in 2012, no player recovering from a serious ankle injury can be considered one of the top five tailbacks in this year’s Big Ten.

Part Two of Maize and Go Blue’s preview of the best Big Ten running backs in 2014 will be posted tomorrow. We will unveil the five top running backs in the conference. Which running back do you think will be No. 1? Do you agree or disagree with the ranks of the five running backs listed in Part One? Do you think a Michigan running back will be in the top five? Do you think a Michigan running back should be in the top 10? Please let us know in the comments.

Michigan-Minnesota game preview

Friday, October 4th, 2013


One hundred and ten years ago, Michigan traveled to Minneapolis and played the Gophers to a 6-6 tie. In the controversy that surrounded the end of the game – it was called early because the fans rushed the field – Fielding Yost’s squad forgot to grab its water jug before catching a train home. Minnesota equipment manager Oscar Munson found it and along with Director of Athletics LJ Cooke painted the final score, “Minnesota 6, Michigan 6”. Cooke then hung it from the ceiling of his office in the Minnesota Armory for the next six years. When Michigan returned to Minneapolis in 1909, Yost and Cooke agreed to play for it and thus, a tradition was born.

Tomorrow marks the 100th all-time meeting between the two schools, and while Michigan has enjoyed a 72-24-3 advantage, the jug remains a coveted piece of rivalry lore. The Wolverines have retained it for 21 of the last 22 years and 29 of the last 31. In fact, dating back to Bump Elliott’s final year, the year before Bo Schembechler was hired, Michigan has lost the jug just three times. The last two times Minnesota has taken it home, however, have come at Michigan Stadium in 1986 and 2005.

Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 3:30pm EST – ABC
Minnesota Head Coach: Jerry Kill (3rd season)
Coaching Record: 136-89 (13-17 at Minnesota)
Offensive Coordinator: Matt Limegrover (3rd season)
Defensive Coordinator: Tracy Claeys (3rd season)
Returning Starters: 17 (10 offense, 7 defense)
Last Season: 6-7
Last Meeting: UM 35 – Minnesota 13 (2012)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 72-24-3
Record in Ann Arbor: Michigan leads 38-12-1
Current Michigan Streak: Won 5
Last Minnesota Win: 2005

Despite getting pounded by Iowa last week, Minnesota isn’t lacking for confidence. Earlier in the week, defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman stated, “Just the fact they almost lost to Akron, they’re human. You know what I mean? Everybody praises them to be elite, and I just feel like they’re a regular football team.”

Safety Cedric Thompson also had a gem when talking about Devin Gardner: “I think he just kind of panics a lot. I think that when he scrambles, he just kind of throws the ball.”

Call it confidence. Call it trash talk. Call it whatever you want. But until Michigan plays to its full potential as opposed to the past two games, one can’t blame them for saying it. Whether or not it will translate to the field remains to be seen.

Minnesota opened the season 4-0 with wins over UNLV, New Mexico State, Western Illinois, and San Jose State, averaging nearly 42 points per game in the process. But then Iowa came to visit and outgained the Gophers 464-165 in a 23-7 victory. Was it simply a letdown in a rivalry game? Or was Minnesota exposed by a better-than-we-thought Iowa squad? Let’s take a look at tomorrow’s matchups.

Michigan defense vs Minnesota offense: When Minnesota has the ball

In the first four games, the Minnesota running game was firing on all cylinders, averaging 282 yards per game on the ground, which would currently rank 13th nationally, right behind Ohio State. But Iowa held the Gophers to just 30 yards on 27 attempts. Even with that abysmal performance, Minnesota’s rush offense still ranks 23rd nationally.

Jerry Kill’s squad gets it done with a pair of talented backs, junior David Cobb and sophomore Rodrick Williams Jr. Cobb leads the team with 352 yards and five touchdowns on 5.8 yards per carry. He had a 125-yard performance against San Jose State, but gained just 20 against Iowa on eight carries. Williams has 299 yards and three touchdowns, also on 5.8 yards per carry. He broke out for 148 yards on just 16 carries in Week 2 against New Mexico State but gained just 22 yards on seven carries last week. Williams is the bigger back, built similarly to Derrick Green.

The Week 1 starter, Donnell Kirkwood, led the Gophers with 926 yards last season, but injured an ankle in the season opener and has missed most of the last four weeks. He did get three carries last Saturday, but his status for tomorrow’s game remains up in the air.

Philip Nelson has thrown just 65 passes this season and completed barely over 50 percent (Jesse Johnson, USA Today Sports)

Like the backfield, the quarterback position is a two-pronged attack. Sophomore Philip Nelson has gotten the majority of the action, but a strained hamstring held him out of the SJSU game. He has completed 33-of-65 passes for 380 yards, two touchdowns, and four interceptions this season. He returned from injury to start against Iowa and completed 12-of-24 for 135 yards, a touchdown, and two picks. The other signal caller is freshman Mitch Leidner who filled in while Nelson was out and completed 12-of-20 for 176 yards. He’s a bit more mobile than Nelson and carried the ball 41 times in the two games he has seen significant action, 5.2 yards per carry. In fact, against SJSU, he rushed 24 times for 151 yards and four touchdowns.

Regardless of who starts tomorrow, it’s a passing game that is in trouble, averaging only 111 yards per game, which ranks 118th nationally. Some of that has to do with not needing to throw early in the season because of the success of the running game  – the Gophers have attempted just 86 passes through five games – and some has to do with a pair of young quarterbacks.

The wideouts are led by senior Derrick Engel, the only guy with double-digit catches (12) and the only one over 100 yards (160). He has caught more than three passes just once this season and that was a five-catch, 67-yards, one touchdown performance last week. The second leading receiver in terms of yards is tight end Maxx Williams who has caught five passes for 99 yards and a touchdown. Last week, he played fullback and was targeted just once. Sophomore KJ Maye ranks second on the team in receptions with six for 70 yards, but the ball wasn’t even thrown his way last Saturday.

The offensive line has given up nine sacks through five games and has done a good job of opening up holes for the running game, with the exception of last Saturday. It’s painfully obvious that Jerry Kill wants to run the ball whether with one of his many running backs or with a quarterback. They pass only when the have to. Expect Greg Mattison to completely sell out to stop the run, forcing Nelson to pass the ball and try to beat the Wolverines through the air. He’ll take that matchup any day.

Michigan offense vs Minnesota defense: When Michigan has the ball

The Minnesota defense starts up front with tackle Ra’Shede Hageman, a 6-6, 311-pound senior who has a team-high 5.5 tackles for loss to go along with a sack and 20 tackles. Alongside Hageman is Cameron Botticelli, a 6-5, 290-pound redshirt junior who has three TFLs and 11 tackles. The ends Theiran Cockran and Michael Amaefula are somewhat undersized and fly upfield. This could become an issue if Devin Gardner continues to try to spin out of pressure instead of stepping up into the pocket, but if he steps up he’ll have plenty of room to run. Cockran does have 5.5 tackles for loss and a team-high three sacks. The main issue for the line comes when Hageman is out. Expect Michigan to run it up the middle nearly every time.

Ra'Shede Hageman is a legit NFL prospect and a force in the middle (GopherSports.com)

The linebackers are your traditional, run of the mill variety. Not bad but not good. Junior college transfer Damien Wilson leads the team with 33 tackles, three have been for loss, and also has one sack. Redshirt senior Aaron Hill had 15 starts entering the season and ranks third on the team in tackles with 29. He also leads the team in takeaways with an interception and a fumble recovery. Redshirt sophomore De’Vondre Campbell has 24 tackles and two for loss.

The secondary is led by senior safety Brock Vereen, a 28-game starter who ranks second on the team with 30 tackles in addition to a tackle for loss and a pick. However, he has been banged up and may not be 100 percent tomorrow. The other safety is Cedric Thompson. Yes, the guy who called out Gardner earlier this week. He has 24 tackles and an interception on the season and he also picked off Denard Robinson last season. The corners are sophomore Eric Murray and junior Derrick Wells. The latter has been hampered with a shoulder injury but Kill said he will play. Neither has an interception yet this season, but they did pretty well in man coverage against Iowa.

This is not a defense that should scare anybody. But then again, neither was Akron or UConn and we all saw what happened in those games. Expect to see a heavy dose of Fitz Toussaint and Derrick Green. Yes, five weeks into the season we’re going to start seeing Green in the mix, not to replace Toussaint, but to take the load off. Iowa was successful running the ball right up the gut, especially towards the left side of the line. With Chris Bryant taking over at left guard, look for a lot of runs behind Bryant and Taylor Lewan. The Gophers were also susceptible to play-action as the ends couldn’t hold contain, so look for some plays designed to get Gardner out in space. The middle of the field was also wide open for Iowa receivers, so expect a lot of Devin Funchess and others over the middle.

The other third: Special Teams

If there’s one area to be worried about this is it. Marcus Jones has already returned a kick and and punt for touchdowns this season and was the lone bright spot of the game last week with a 66-yard kick return to set up the Gophers’ only touchdown. The Gophers rank in the top 20 nationally in both kick and punt returns and Michigan has struggled defending them. A big return tomorrow could help keep Minnesota in the game.

Kicker Chris Hawthorne has made 5-of-7 field goal attempts with a long of 45, while punter Peter Mortell ranks second in the Big Ten with an average of 44 yards per punt.

Prediction

I predicted blowouts each of the past two games and Michigan barely survived both, so I would be crazy to pick anything other than a close game in this one, right? The thing is this Michigan team has the pieces to be very good this season, and because of that it should be expected to win big against a team like this despite what happened in the past two. Swapping out Jack Miller for Chris Bryant on the offensive line won’t cure all of the problems, but it should at the very least be a boost to the running game that has been inconsistent so far. It will allow Hoke and Al B0rges to run more power plays, which is what they have wanted to run all season, and with Green in line for some more carries we could start to see a glimpse of what the offense will look like going forward.

Defensively, Michigan will load the box and force Nelson to throw the ball. As opposed to the first few games when Greg Mattison sat the defense back to avoid giving up big plays, the safeties will come up in run support. Don’t be surprised to see Nelson hit a couple of big plays over the top, but that won’t take away from the larger gameplan of stopping the run.

With the past couple of weeks to refocus, Gardner will play more under control and avoid the big mistakes that plagued him the past two games. And if he does so, Michigan will win convincingly.

Michigan 35 – Minnesota 13

First Look: Minnesota

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013


Fresh off a bye week, Michigan returns to action this Saturday with two weeks of practice time to fix the mistakes from the first four weeks of the season. Minnesota will come to town – the 33rd time the Gophers have visited Ann Arbor on Homecoming. It marks the 100th all-time meeting between the two schools and the 110-year anniversary of the college football’s most storied rivalry trophy, the Little Brown Jug.

Michigan has dominated the rivalry, owning a 72-24-3 all-time record including wins in 38 of the last 41. But the Wolverines have struggled to beat lowly Akron and UConn the past two games and after Minnesota’s loss to Iowa on Saturday the Gophers figure to be slightly better than both of those teams. Is Minnesota capable of coming into Ann Arbor and taking home the Jug for the first time since 2005? After all, the last two times the Gophers beat Michigan were in Ann Arbor (2005 and 1986). Let’s take a look at how they stack up so far this season.

Minnesota Statistics & Michigan Comparison
MinnesotaMichigan Rank Opponent Rank
Points Per Game 34.8 | 38.0 43 | 32 20.6 | 21.0 T-38 | 40
Rushing Yards 1,159777 657 | 316
Rush Avg. Per Game 231.8 | 194.2 23 | T-51 131.4 | 79.0 42 | 6
Avg. Per Rush 5.2 | 4.7 3.9 | 3.1
Passing Yards 556860 1,298 | 928
Pass Avg. Per Game 111.2215.0 118 | 83 259.6 | 232.0 9169
Total Offense 1,7151,637 1,955 | 1,244
Total Off Avg. Per Game 343.0409.2 102 | 65 391.0 | 311.0 62 | 21
Kick Return Average 27.5 | 22.5 11 | 47 17.3 | 24.5 11 | 105
Punt Return Average 14.8 | 7.1 17| 71 8.0 | 5.9 70 | 43
Avg. Time of Possession 31:0832:43 43 | 23 28:52| 27:17
3rd Down Conversion Pct 43% | 48% 51 | 33 37% | 38% T-48 | 61
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 9-52 | 6-45 T-68 | T-51 6-42 | 9-62 T-108 | T-33
Touchdowns Scored 23 | 20 13 | 9
Field Goals-Attempts 5-7 | 4-5 5-8 | 7-10
Red Zone Scores (19-20)95% | (15-17)88% T-11 | T-35 (10-16)63% | (9-13)69% T-8 | T-19
Red Zone Touchdowns (15-20)75% | (13-17)76% (7-16)44% | (5-13)38%

Through the first four weeks of the season, Minnesota looked like a team that could at the very least put a scare into some of the Legends division heavyweights come Big Ten play. The Gophers were scoring a lot of points, running the ball well, and most importantly winning games. But then they hosted Iowa on Saturday and got manhandled, being held to just seven points, 165 total yards, and 11 first downs.

What does this mean? It means that based on the way Michigan’s season has gone so far, the Gophers are probably more of a threat than they were had they beaten the Hawkeyes. In all seriousness, while Minnesota was exposed on Saturday, they do have pieces in place that can beat Michigan if a considerable improvement hasn’t been made during the bye week.

Marcus Jones may be the most dangerous player Michigan faces on Saturday (Tim Fuller, US Presswire)

First, the Gophers put up just under 42 points per game through the first four and has allowed fewer points in per game than Michigan has. Yes, strength of schedule disclaimer applies, but they still scored more points in each game than Michigan did against Akron or UConn. In fact, the combined record for the four teams Minnesota has beaten (7-12) is better than the combined record of Michigan’s four opponents (5-14), so one could argue that, prior to the  Iowa debacle, Minnesota’s resume was stronger.

The Gopher running game was moving well until last Saturday when Iowa held Minnesota to just 30 rushing yards on 27 carries. Even so, it ranks 23rd nationally with a 231.8-yard per game average, a little under 40 yards per game better than Michigan. Minnesota gets it done on the ground with four different players. Running backs David Cobb and Rodrick Williams Jr. have a combined 651 yards, which is more than Fitz Toussaint and Devin Gardner have combined for – and eight touchdowns. Meanwhile, quarterbacks Mitch Leidner and Phillip Nelson have combined for 454 more rushing yards and eight more touchdowns.

On the flip side, the passing game leaves a lot to be desired, ranking 118th nationally with an average of just 111.2 yards per game. They haven’t thrown for more than 135 yards in a single game this season, have completed only two touchdown passes in five games, and are completing barely over 50 percent of their passes.

Defensively, Minnesota is above average at stopping the run and well below average at pass defense, ranking 42nd and 91st, respectively. Iowa used a balanced attack to pile up yards last Saturday, 218 through the air and 246 on the ground. Iowa running back Mark Weisman gashed the Gopher defense to the tune of 147 yards on 6.1 yards per carry. San Jose State, however, torched the Gopher defense through the air, throwing for 439 yards on just 35 attempts. Minnesota has also only sacked the quarterback six times through five games, which ranks 108th nationally.

One area where Minnesota might have an advantage is on special teams. The Gophers average 27.5 yards per kick return (11th nationally) and 14.8 yards per punt return (17th nationally). Michigan has given up some big returns this season, which is worrisome with a returner as talented as Marcus Jones, who has already returned two for touchdowns – one kick and one punt – averaging 30.6 yards on 10 kick returns and 13.1 yards on seven punt returns.

As for intangibles, the Gophers convert third downs at 43 percent, which is five percent worse than Michigan, and hold opponents to 37 percent third down conversions. They have scored on 19-of-20 red zone trips, 15 of those being touchdowns, which is roughly equal to Michigan’s production.

If Michigan plays the way it did the last two games this could be a battle, but like those two games this is one Michigan should win convincingly. The Wolverines are far more talented, but if the turnover woes haven’t been fixed Minnesota is certainly capable of keeping it close. Stay tuned for more analysis in the days to come.

Key Players
Passing Comp-Att Yards TD INT Long
Phillip Nelson 21-41 245 1 2 48
Mitch Leidner 12-20 176 0 0 37
Rushing Attempts Yards TD Long Avg/Carry
David Cobb 53 332 5 60 6.3
Rodrick Williams Jr. 45 277 3 54 6.2
Mitch Leidner (QB) 46 251 5 27 5.5
Phillip Nelson (QB) 33 221 3 48 6.7
Receiving Receptions Yards TD Long Avg/Game
Maxx Williams (TE) 5 99 1 33 19.8
Derrick Engel 7 93 0 48 18.6
KJ Maye 6 70 0 37 14.0
Defense Solo Assisted Total Tackles TFL-Yds Sacks-Yds
Damien Wilson (LB) 17 16 33 3-13 1-10
Brock Vereen (DB) 19 11 30 1-1 0-0 (1 INT)
Ra’Shede Hageman (DL) 10 10 20 5.5-25 1-11
Theiren Cockran (DL) 8 7 15 5.5-16 3-11
Kicking FGA FGM Long XPA XPM
Chris Hawthorne 7 5 45 21 18
Full Stats