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First Look: Minnesota

Monday, October 26th, 2015


Jerry Kill(GopherSports.com)

Michigan got a week to think about — or get over — one of the most heartbreaking losses in program history. When the Wolverines return to the field Saturday in Minneapolis, they still have the Big Ten title to play for, with a little help. It’s now a five game season and it begins with the Golden Gophers, a team that has underperformed this season after embarrassing Michigan in Ann Arbor in 2014.

Minnesota team stats & Michigan comparison
Minnesota | Michigan Rank Defense Rank
Points Per Game 20.4 | 28.6 110 | 70
23.1 | 9.3 45 | 1
Rushing Yards 1,097 1,270 1,060 453
Rush Avg. Per Game 156.7 181.4 94 49
151.4 64.7 52 2
Avg. Per Rush 4.1 | 4.4
3.9 2.1
Passing Yards 1,360 1,303 1,241 1,021
Pass Avg. Per Game 194.3 186.1 95 98 177.3 145.9 18 4
Total Offense 2,457 2,573 2,301 1,474
Total Off Avg. Per Game 351.0 367.6 101 90 328.7 210.6 28 1
Kick Return Average 18.4 33.4 103 2 21.4 18.8 73 | 27
Punt Return Average 2.3 10.3 122 48 9.9 6.1 89 | 27
Avg. Time of Possession 30:06 | 34:05 63 | 5
29:54 | 25:55
3rd Down Conversion Pct 37.0% | 41.0% 89 | 58
36.0% | 20.0% 47 | 1
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 12-60 | 11-57
T51 | T39
10-53 | 18-135
T103 | 34
Touchdowns Scored 16 24
19 | 9
Field Goals-Attempts 10-13 | 10-12
10-13 | 1-4
Red Zone Scores (16-20) 80%|(24-25) 96% T93 | T4
(19-22) 86%|(7-8) 88% 87 T92
Red Zone Touchdowns (9-20) 45%|(17-25) 68% (12-22) 55%|(6-8) 75%

After setting high expectations with back to back 8-5 seasons in 2013 and ’14, Jerry Kill’s squad has been a letdown through the first seven weeks of 2015. It opened in promising fashion hard-fought six point loss to then-No. 2 TCU, but over the next six weeks, the Gophers have produced exactly one convincing win and that came by way of Big Ten doormat Purdue. A 23-20 overtime win over Colorado State, a 10-7 win over Kent State, and a 27-24 win over Ohio university don’t exactly look great on the resume even though they do go down in the ‘W’ column.

Minnesota was shut out 27-0 by Northwestern a week before Michigan turned around and spanked the Wildcats 38-0. In their last time out — Minnesota had a bye last weekend just like Michigan — the Gophers were dismantled by a 3-4 Nebraska squad, 48-25.

So what has gone wrong? Minnesota’s offense has struggled to move the ball and put up points against anybody not named Purdue. They’ve been shut out once, held to 17 points or fewer in three of seven games, and 27 or fewer in six. Their 20.4-point scoring average ranks 110th nationally and dead last in the Big Ten. Their total offense ranks 101st nationally and 10th in the Big Ten, ahead of Purdue, Penn State, and Northwestern. Northwestern’s offense is lower only because it has already faced Michigan’s defense.

Minnesota’s rushing offense ranks 94th nationally and ninth in the conference, but did get a spark from freshman Shannon Brooks with 17 carries for 176 yards and a touchdown against Purdue. But then again, it was Purdue. The passing offense ranks 95th nationally and 11th in the conference, one spot ahead of Michigan with about eight more passing yards per game.

Defensively, Minnesota is still pretty stout, ranking among the middle of the pack in the Big Ten in most categories, 28th nationally in total defense, and 18th in pass defense. It held TCU’s high powered offense to a season low 23 points — 22 fewer than the Horned Frogs’ next lowest point total of 45 against Iowa State last weekend. But on the other side of the coin, Minnesota allowed a Nebraska offense that averages 31.6 points per game to score a season high 48 two weeks ago.

Nebraska rushed for 203 yards, averaging 5.2 yards per attempt, against the Gophers’ rush defense, which is where Michigan’s offense can take advantage. Minnesota ranks 52nd nationally and ninth in the Big Ten against the run.

Special teams could also play a big factor this Saturday, although hopefully not nearly as dramatically as it did last time out. Minnesota ranks 122nd nationally in punt returns, 103rd in kick returns, 89th in punt return defense, and 73rd in kick return defense. Michigan, on the other hand, ranks 48th in punt returns, second in kick returns, and 27th in both kick and punt return defense. The Wolverines have used special teams to make up for its work-in-progress offense by averaging good starting field position.

So what can we expect on Saturday night? A Minnesota student section full of costumes is a given, but aside from any Halloween trickery, Michigan should come home with win number six. The main question will be can Michigan’s defense start a new shutout streak?