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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.

Champs again: Michigan 66 – Minnesota 56

Sunday, March 2nd, 2014


Big Ten Champions(MGoBlue.com)

A few minutes before Michigan tipped off their second-to-last home game of the season versus Minnesota, a stunned crowd started to quietly file out of the Breslin Center an hour to the northwest after watching their Michigan State Spartans fall in defeat to Illinois. With that result in the books, Michigan would be guaranteed at least a share of the Big Ten title with a win over the Golden Gophers.

But the young Wolverines didn’t know about that help they were given right away.

“Jon Horford mentioned it at halftime,” said Glenn Robinson III after the game. “I don’t know how he found out, but we all said that we were gonna stay focused and win this game and that gave us more motivation.”

And win the game they did. After coming out of the gates a little bit slow, which has become the norm of late, Michigan ended the first half on a 22-5 run to take an 11-point lead into the locker room. With the added motivation in the second stanza, the Wolverines staved off a feisty Gopher squad and clinched the Big Ten championship with a 66-56 win.

Glenn Robinson III made the highlight of the game with an alley-oop dunk over two Gophers (MGoBlue.com)

Glenn Robinson III made the highlight of the game with an alley-oop dunk over two Gophers (MGoBlue.com)

The star of the show was once again sophomore Nik Stauskas, whose five threes matched a conference high for him this year and whose 21 points led all scorers, but it took a while to get Michigan going.

A wide open corner three from the Canadian opened the scoring for Michigan 1:15 into the game and a Derrick Walton, Jr. midrange jumper two minutes later gave the Wolverines a one-point lead, but then things got a little worrisome.

Over the next 4:19 of game time, Michigan went scoreless and let Minnesota creep out to a 6-point advantage at the 10:53 mark of the first half. Luckily, however, the Maize and Blue’s defensive effort was about as good as it’s been all season, and they did an excellent job in limiting the Golden Gophers to just five points after a Maurice Walker bucket exactly halfway into the opening half.

In that 10-minute span, Michigan showed why they have been so difficult for any team to defend them this year with great pizzazz. Stauskas, who quipped after the game that he had made 48-of-50 threes in a drill after practice on Friday, nailed two more threes and a layup to give him 11 at the break. Caris LeVert and Walton each added one three apiece, while Robinson III showed why he had so many NBA scouts drooling over his potential going into this season.

Robinson, perhaps the most polarizing player on the team – but not for his quiet and kind personality – pulled up from 18-feet with 9:44 on the clock in the first half and drained a shot that is quickly becoming a favorite for him. A few minutes later, the sophomore conjured images of his dad’s past play with a strong move and bucket from five feet away. Then Robinson threw down an alley-oop from Stauskas that may have been the dunk of the season in the Big Ten. When Stauskas threw the ball up, Robinson had two defenders between himself and the hoop, but instead of running around them, he simply jumped over both, rose gracefully through the air, and hammered home the lob to give the home team a six-point lead.

After a Stauskas three on Michigan’s next possession, Robinson received another lob from the same teammate and this time had to contort his body slightly to convert a mid-air lay-in.

In the second half, Minnesota made things interesting behind 14 points from Austin Hollins, and even cut Michigan’s lead to two points with 4:31 to go, but the Wolverines were able to hold on with some strong rebounding and toughness from fifth-year senior captain Jordan Morgan, who grabbed 10 boards for the second time this season.

Stauskas made five threes for the fourth time this season (MGoBlue.com)

Stauskas made five threes for the fourth time this season (MGoBlue.com)

Morgan, who has never been a star on either end of the floor but has been a stalwart for four John Beilein teams, simply outmuscled Minnesota a couple of times for rebounds and made perhaps the biggest play of the game by drawing a held ball with 4:06 to go when a Gopher seemed to have secured a rebound while trailing by just two points. Instead of having a chance to knot it up or even take the lead, Minnesota lost the possession and saw Michigan score five straight to seal the deal.

After the game, both Richard Pitino and John Beilein called Morgan’s hustle play “huge”.

“I thought we did a good job of fighting back in the second half there,” Pitino said. “(But that play was) huge, huge, huge. That was the play of the game, in my opinion. We had a chance to get it, they had a chance to get it, two-point game. I thought that changed the game. Simple as (a) 50-50 ball. They got it, we didn’t.”

Beilein shared similar thoughts: ”I mean, it was huge, because you could see that one was gonna come down to somebody was gonna make big shots for us or them, and whoever did was gonna win the game. When you can keep possession, you keep them from hitting that big shot.”

In the overall picture, it is quite amazing what these Wolverines have already accomplished this season, having won 75 percent of their 28 games so far and 81 percent of their Big Ten games with two remaining. Almost all of this success has come without the services of preseason All-America center Mitch McGary and after a season in which two Wolverines from last year’s team are making splashes in the NBA. Few thought Michigan would compete for a Big Ten championship before McGary went down with a back injury, and some questioned whether the Wolverines would even earn a berth to the NCAA Tournament starting later this month.

Now, those pundits look foolish as Michigan has all but guaranteed their first outright conference championship in 28 years, a top-3 seed in the Big Dance, and a whole lot of respect.

Then again, these Wolverines are making a lot of teams and coaches look foolish too.

Three Stars:

***Nik Stauskas***
21 points (7-of-13 FG, 5-of-8 3PT, 2-of-2 FT), four assists, three rebounds, two turnovers in 37 minutes

**Glenn Robinson III**
12 points (6-of-10 FG, 0-of-1 3PT), four rebounds (one offensive), three assists, one block, three turnovers in 35 minutes

*Austin Hollins*
16 points (6-of-12 FG, 2-of-6 3PT, 2-of-2 FT), three rebounds, two steals, one block, three turnovers in 35 minutes

Quick Hitters:

 As each game passes, it becomes more and more clear how much Nik Stauskas’s success correlates to the team’s overall success. In games in which Stauskas has scored at least 12 points, the Wolverines are 18-3. When he scores 11 or fewer, Michigan is just 2-4 (he missed one game).

Moving forward, opposing teams will see this and do their best to shut Stauskas down, but if he continues to be as aggressive as he has been lately, he will be tough to stop. Beilein noted after the game that he has been pleased to see Stauskas start to shoot more even when he’s not wide open and has encouraged him to keep firing even more.

 Glenn Robinson III continues to struggle from beyond the three-point line, but he has seemed to figure things out inside recently. The sophomore has scored double-digit points in four straight games and has made 60 percent or more of his shots in Michigan’s past two contests. When asked after the game what, if anything, has changed for him, Robinson III gave an interesting response: “I’ve been listening to slower music before the games. I read that it kinda calms you, doesn’t put as much pressure on you, (so) that’s something I’ve been doing.”

When prompted to rattle off some names, Robinson obliged.

“My mom used to always listen to Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, those type of lady singers, slow singers, I like that,” Robinson said. “It calms me, makes me think of my mom, grandma, and all those people that have been with me throughout the game.”

 Michigan has now swept four of the seven Big Ten teams they will face twice this year for the first time since the 2011-12 season, but unlike that year, they won’t be swept by any conference foe.

 With a win in either of their two remaining games or a single loss by Wisconsin and Michigan State in their last two games, Michigan will clinch an outright Big Ten championship for the first time since the 1986 season.

Final Game Stats
# Name FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA FT-FTA OR DR TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN
01 Glenn Robinson III* 6-10 0-1 0-0 1 3 4 1 12 3 3 1 0 35
10 Derrick Walton Jr.* 3-5 2-4 0-0 0 3 3 3 8 0 0 0 0 18
11 Nik Stauskas* 7-13 5-8 2-2 0 3 3 1 21 4 2 0 0 37
52 Jordan Morgan* 2-3 0-0 1-3 2 8 10 3 5 0 2 0 0 32
23 Caris LeVert* 5-13 1-5 2-2 0 3 3 1 13 5 1 0 2 37
02 Spike Albrecht 2-3 1-2 2-2 1 1 2 2 7 2 0 0 0 24
15 Jon Horford 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 2 2 2 0 0 1 0 0 8
21 Zak Irvin 0-3 0-3 0-0 1 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 9
Totals 25-50 9-23 7-9 5 23 28 14 66 14 10 1 2 200
Minnesota 22-48 5-18 7-11 5 22 27 15 56 10 11 1 5 200
Full Stats

Derick’s 3 thoughts: Minnesota

Saturday, March 1st, 2014


Michigan-Minnesota header

After a miracle victory over Purdue in West Lafayette on Wednesday, Michigan remained atop the Big Ten standings despite never leading during the 40 minutes of regulation. Now, the Wolverines set their sights on a Minnesota team that’s fighting for its NCAA Tournament life as the calendar flips into March and conference play winds down.

Michigan’s surprising dominance during Big Ten play started against these very same Golden Gophers in Minneapolis on Jan. 2. Minnesota rode a six-game winning streak into that matchup while Michigan reeked of an 8-4 non-conference performance. The teams switched roles during the heart of Big Ten play, as the Wolverines look to inch closer to a regular season championship with just three games remaining.

Jon Horford breakout, part two: Jon Horford played perhaps his best game of the season in the first meeting, scoring 14 points and grabbing nine rebounds against the Gophers. Horford shot 6-of-8 from the field and Coach John Beilein rewarded him with 30 minutes of playing time, by far his most this season.

The redshirt junior virtually disappeared during the overtime game against Purdue on Wednesday, picking up three fouls and just two rebounds in a scoreless effort. To be fair, Horford’s lack of offense often stems from unwillingness to enter the ball into the post on the part of his teammates. Ball reversals around the outside often give Horford one-on-one matchups inside, but the pass rarely goes in to the big man, and he’s regularly left with a visible look of frustration painted on his face.

When Michigan involves Horford in the offense, it usually wins. In each of its seven losses, he scored less than five points (with an average of 2.1 points per game). Horford plays efficiently, albeit in small doses, on offense when given the opportunity. Minnesota’s Elliott Eliason struggled to defend Horford in the last meeting, and Michigan needed every one of his 14 points in the three-point victory.

Shut down Deandre Mathieu: The Hollins duo — Austin and Andre — receives much of the offensive attention for Richard Pitino’s team, but probably the most deadly weapon in its arsenal is junior Deandre Mathieu. The 5’9″ transfer from Morehead State averages 11.9 points and 4.3 assists per game, but his value comes in the percentages.

Through 29 games this season Mathieu, converted over half of his attempts from the floor and shot 44.8 percent from beyond the arc. His shooting percentage dwarfs those of Andre and Austin Hollins, and despite taking less shot attempts, ranks second on the team in scoring ahead of Austin.

Minnesota relies heavily on its top three scorers, and the roster thins out considerably behind them. If Michigan can limit Mathieu, clearly the most efficient player on the team, then it leaves the Golden Gophers with just two volume scorers to run the offense.

Beilein owns multiple options when attempting to defend a talented opposing guard. Derrick Walton Jr.’s dominance over Keith Appling in both matchups with Michigan State lands him on the short list to guard Mathieu. Caris LeVert may also earn the honor as the best all-around perimeter defender on the team.

No matter who receives the assignment, he needs to be ready from the tip to avoid allowing Mathieu to catch fire like Yogi Ferrell and Aaron White did in the past few weeks against the Wolverines.

When the clock starts, play Michigan basketball: Slow starts have haunted Michigan in its past five games, two of which it could never recover from. Since Iowa jumped on the Wolverines 29-13 in the first half of the game in Iowa City, Beilein’s team has struggled to match the opponent’s first half intensity each game.

Though Michigan never climbed out of the hole it dug against the Hawkeyes, a similar slow start hampered the starting lineup three days later in Columbus. The Buckeyes jumped out to a nine-point lead just a few minutes into the game, and only a furious charge in the waning minutes of the first half brought Michigan back within four at the break.

A strong second half erased the struggles from fans’ collective memory, but the opening woes struck again in Ann Arbor. Wisconsin absolutely waxed the first place Wolverines during the first half on Feb. 16, building an 18-point lead before entering the break leading 34-19. LeVert did bring his team back within a few points, but the massive Badger lead proved insurmountable in the end.

Even in its two most recent wins Michigan came out of the locker room sluggish. Adreian Payne and Denzel Valentine vaulted Michigan State up 22-11 early in the biggest Big Ten game of the season. And Purdue built an even larger lead Wednesday after a Terone Johnson three-pointer put his Boilermakers up 27-8 with 7:42 remaining in the first half. Fortunately, Michigan was able to overcome both of those.

Michigan’s 3-2 record despite slow starts in each of the last five games proves just how talented the 2013-14 team can be. If the Wolverines learn to put 40 strong minutes together before March, they represent a real threat to make anther deep tournament run. That process begins today against Minnesota.

Prediction: Minnesota comes to Ann Arbor desperate for another marquee victory. Michigan, despite leading the Big Ten, struggled to play consistently throughout the month of February. Now that slow starts became a noticeable trend for his team, Beilein will have it fixed for March and Michigan can kick off the most important month of the season in style with a 76-68 win over Minnesota.

Stepping Up: Michigan 63 – Minnesota 60

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014


(Marilyn Indahl, USA Today Sports)

If there was any question as to whether or not Mitch McGary’s long-term absence would hurt this Michigan team, Minnesota big man Elliott Eliason answered it early. The 6’11″ junior center, who is averaging fewer than six points per game on the season, was dominant inside early on tonight, grabbing offensive rebounds all over the floor and getting excellent position on Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford in the paint on his way to recording a 10-point, 10-rebound (five offensive) double-double.

Luckily for the Wolverines, Eliason got himself into foul trouble in the second half, limiting himself to 24 minutes, and Michigan was able to overcome an ankle injury that kept Glenn Robinson III on the bench for the last 17 minutes of the second stanza to escape Minneapolis with a crucial 63-60 win.

In a game that never saw a lead bigger than eight points on either side and had too many ties and lead changes to count, Michigan somehow overcame a quasi worst-case scenario on the shoulders of two unlikely heroes.

With McGary out, Beilein decided to give the starting nod to fifth-year senior Jordan Morgan once again, but Morgan was ineffective overall, scoring only three points and grabbing two rebounds while also picking up three fouls in nine minutes of play.

Jon Horford scored a career high 14 points to give Michigan a huge boost down low (Marilyn Indahl, USA Today Sports)

Insert redshirt junior Jon Horford, a player who has shown great potential but has never produced consistently and has been battered throughout his career, and you have hero number one. Horford, who certainly had some defensive struggles trying to cover the much wider Eliason, put forth an incredible effort on both sides of the floor to help make up for Michigan’s injuries and showed great leadership throughout the night – something that would have been unheard of a few years ago.

With the game going back and forth, Horford was the one fighting for rebounds inside and finishing some nifty plays on offense to end up with a career-high 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting, nine rebounds, two steals, one block, and just one foul in 30 efficient minutes (also a career high). Many think of Horford as a slow big man who is able to alter some shots defensively, but the younger brother of NBA All-Star Al Horford showed why Michigan may be able to compete in the Big Ten after all. The Grand Ledge native showed off a beautiful turnaround jumper on one back-to-the-basket move, converted an often-overlooked 10-foot spot-up on another trip, and finished off two dunks, one a monster slam over two defenders, in a night’s work that most will call his best career game.

The second unlikely hero on the night was Zak Irvin, a freshman who has been coming on of late and shone brightly tonight. With GRIII on the bench and sophomore starter Caris LeVert struggling mightily, Irvin came in firing and made five of his eight threes for a game-high 15 points while also grabbing three rebounds and recording one block in a career-high 27 minutes.

Tonight’s win was certainly not pretty for the Maize and Blue, but John Beilein will take any road win, especially against a quality 11-2 opponent in the first game of the Big Ten season. McGary’s absence was felt throughout, as Minnesota posted a 44.1 percent offensive rebounding rate, but Michigan fought defensively and won the shooting, free throw, and turnover battles – all of which are Beilein staples.

Shortly after the tip, it looked to be the Glenn Robinson III show again, continuing a marvelous five-game stretch for the outstanding sophomore, as Little Dog scored six early points and swatted four shot attempts by 5’9″ Minnesota guard Deandre Mathieu, but the fourth block saw Robinson land awkwardly on his ankle and exit for the evening.

Minnesota, however, could not take full advantage of Robinson’s absence and gave up a number of easy back-door looks to a Michigan offense that ran some crisp offensive and out-of-bounds sets. The Gophers were led by junior guard Andre Hollins and senior FIU-transfer Malik Smith with 12 points apiece, but Richard Pitino’s squad was unable to generate any consistent offense and finished shooting under 40 percent from the field and 26.3 percent from downtown.

With a raucous crowd of 12,225 at their backs, the Gophers couldn’t maintain an early 15-7 lead and ended up fading down the stretch in yet another heart-pounding finish for Michigan.

Derrick Walton Jr handled the Minnesota pressure nicely, tallying four assists, seven points, and just one turnover (Marilyn Indahl, USA Today Sports)

Following a monster dunk with 1:53 remaining by Jon Horford and assisted by Nik Stauskas out of a timeout, Mathieu threw the ball away under pressure on the other end and then fouled Derrick Walton, who converted two free throws at the 1:18 mark to give the Wolverines a 59-54 lead.

On the next possession, Mathieu rebounded his own miss but then had it stolen by LeVert before Nik Stauskas made one of his two freebies to bump the lead to six with just 36 seconds on the clock to apparently seal the deal. Minnesota, however, had other plans, as Mathieu quickly came down the floor and found Smith wide open for a corner three to halve the lead and make it a one-possession game.

Then came perhaps the most interesting play of the game, as Nik Stauskas received the inbounds pass and appeared to be fouled more than once before getting the ball poked away out of bounds; the refs, however, egregiously swallowed their whistles and awarded possession to Minnesota before conferring around the video screen for what seemed like an eternity to the Wolverines and correctly giving the ball to Michigan (taking advantage of a new rule that allows late out of bounds calls to be reviewed for accuracy).

With a three-point lead and 20 seconds on the clock, Walton came open for the next inbounds play and proceeded to miss both free throws, again giving Minnesota a chance to tie it late. Andre Hollins raced down the floor to go for an easy layup but ended up with an awkward shot, which Jon Horford rebounded. Horford then went to the line and split a pair to go up 61-57, surely enough to let Michigan ride it out comfortably.

Yet again, though, Minnesota inexplicably stayed in it, this time by way of three Malik Smith free throws on a Stauskas three-point foul. Stauskas made up for his error the next time down, however, calmly sinking both free throws before Mathieu’s deep three clanged off the rim to mercifully end the game.

There is no doubt that this game was enormous for Michigan if the Maize and Blue are to compete in the Big Ten and find their way into the Big Dance in March, and a first true road win on the year should provide a huge confidence boost for the young and battered Wolverines.

Michigan knows by now that wins don’t come easy, but it’s a lesson learned much easier when leaving an opponent’s home floor with a mark in the left column in the paper.

Three Stars

***Jon Horford***
Career-high 14 points (6-of-8 FG, 2-of-4 FT), nine rebounds (two offensive), one block, two steals, one turnover in career-high 30 minutes

**Zak Irvin**
15 points (5-of-8 FG, 5-of-8 3PT), three rebounds (one offensive), one block in career-high 27 minutes

*Nik Stauskas*
14 points (3-of-7 FG, 1-of-4 3PT, 7-of-8 FT), seven assists, one rebound, two steals, two turnovers in 36 minutes

Quick Hitters

Tonight might have been the worst game of the season for Caris LeVert (Marilyn Indahl, USA Today Sports)

The Big Ten-opening win is Michigan’s third straight to open conference play, but this one probably couldn’t come at a better time. With McGary’s loss still stinging for a team that seemed primed to make another deep run, a softer start to this season’s Big Ten season should boost spirits and get Michigan rolling when it counts.

Now sitting pretty at 1-0, the Wolverines next three games are versus Northwestern, at Nebraska, and versus Penn State. A potential 4-0 start would be massive, as the three games after that are at #4 Wisconsin, versus #23 Iowa, and at #5 Michigan State before another four-game stretch in February that includes games at Iowa and #3 Ohio State and home versus Wisconsin and Michigan State.

Tonight’s victory at The Barn marks Michigan’s fifth straight on Minnesota’s home floor, going all the way back to the 2008-09 season. The two teams only squared up in Ann Arbor in the 2010-11 campaign, but Beilein’s teams have, for whatever reason, experienced great success against some quality Golden Gopher outfits.

In the 2008-09 win, Michigan got a huge game out of Laval Lucas-Perry and punched their tickets to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 10 years. The Wolverines’ win late in the 2011-12 season was also critical for them to get into the Big Dance.

Caris LeVert played perhaps his worst game of what has become an incredibly inconsistent season for the gangly sophomore. With Robinson III on the bench and Michigan desperately needing someone to step up, LeVert picked a bad time for his line of four points (2-of-7 FG), two rebounds (one offensive), three assists, three steals, and four turnovers. While LeVert did a few little things tonight, his turnovers were cough-ups that are unacceptable at this point in the season and his head-scratching play throughout the season has left much to be desired after a great start to the season.

In the 11 games since Michigan blew out South Carolina State, LeVert is averaging 10.9 points but has scored double-digits in back-to-back games just twice – a three-game stretch that included a loss to Charlotte, a win over Coppin State, and a loss at Duke – and has scored five or fewer points five times. Over the past three games, LeVert has managed just 21 points, 16 of which came against Holy Cross, and is shooting a dreadful 36.4 percent (8-of-22) from the field.

Final Game Stats
# Name FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA FT-FTA OR DR TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN
01 Glenn Robinson III* 2-5 0-1 2-2 0 1 1 1 6 0 2 4 0 20
10 Derrick Walton Jr.* 1-4 1-1 4-6 0 4 4 3 7 4 1 0 1 30
11 Nik Stauskas* 3-7 1-4 7-8 0 1 1 3 14 7 2 0 2 36
52 Jordan Morgan* 1-2 0-0 1-2 1 1 2 3 3 0 0 0 0 9
23 Caris LeVert* 2-7 0-0 0-0 1 1 2 3 4 3 4 0 3 31
02 Spike Albrecht 0-2 0-2 0-0 0 1 1 1 0 2 0 0 0 16
15 Jon Horford 6-8 0-0 2-4 2 7 9 1 14 0 1 1 2 30
21 Zak Irvin 5-8 5-8 0-0 1 2 3 2 15 0 0 1 0 27
44 Max Bielfeldt 0-1 0-1 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
Totals 20-44 7-17 16-22 5 19 24 17 63 16 10 6 8 200
Minnesota 21-53 5-19 13-19 15 23 38 18 60 16 15 4 9 200
Full Stats

Sam’s 3 thoughts: Minnesota

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014


The first semester of the 2013-14 Michigan basketball campaign brought a roller coaster in Ann Arbor that took many by surprise. With a top-10 preseason team again, the Wolverines were expected to dominate most opponents before duking it out for a Big Ten title. Instead, Michigan finds itself heading into Big Ten season tonight at Minnesota (7pm on BTN) with an 8-4 record and plenty of question marks.

John Beilein’s preseason All-American, Mitch McGary, is likely lost for the year and inconsistency on both ends of the court have plagued the team so far, but there can be no excuses now that conference play has arrived. If Michigan is to compete in the Big Ten once again, they must take advantage of a relatively easy start to the 2014 schedule.

Here are my keys for tonight’s game.

Break the Zone: New head coach Richard Pitino has brought about a new mentality in Minneapolis centered on aggressiveness. Offensively, Minnesota will try to run often and will shoot from anywhere on the floor while defensively the Golden Gophers sport a 2-3 zone that will look to maximize turnovers.

For John Beilein’s squad, the opening Big Ten game is probably as good a matchup as possible, as Michigan can certainly shoot down any zone and will protect the ball with the best of teams, but road games have been anything but a relief for this year’s squad. To compete tonight, Michigan must come out of the gates with a calm and focused approach and run their offense perfectly. Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert need to find the openings in the zone and make shots from the wings and corners while Jon Horford, Glenn Robinson III, and Jordan Morgan sit in the middle of the zone and make quick, smart decisions.

Andre Hollins leads Minnesota with 16 points per game (AP photo)

Michigan cannot play into Minnesota’s teeth and pass poorly, letting the Gophers get comfortable at home, but rather slow the game down, shoot with confidence, and find the openings down low. In Minnesota’s home win over Florida State earlier this season, the Gophers were outshot from the field by 12.5 percent but finished plus-11 in turnover margin, resulting in 10 more shots and two more buckets than the Seminoles.

Cage Mathieu: Deandre Mathieu, a junior transfer from Morehead State, was absolutely lauded by Beilein earlier this week in his press conference previewing Minnesota, being called “the difference” in Minnesota’s impressive 11-2 start. Beilein said that Mathieu makes both Andre and Austin Hollins better in the backcourt while also praising his excellent shot selection and an outstanding 2.4:1.0 assist-to-turnover ratio so far.

Standing at just 5’9″, Mathieu does most of his damage inside the arc and doesn’t get to the free throw line incredibly often, but he has made eight of his 14 three-pointers and is shooting 80.9 percent from the charity stripe on the season while also averaging a little over two steals per game. Perhaps most important for Pitino is Mathieu’s ability to handle the ball and let junior Andre Hollins play off the ball more and get more shots up.

This evening, look for Derrick Walton to draw Mathieu on defense and win the lion’s share of minutes at the point guard. Spike Albrecht continues to play well, but his defense will not be desirable against a quicker guard.

Win the Free Throw Battle: The Hollins brothers, who are actually not related, are without a doubt the guys who will do most of the damage for the Gophers, as they take 38.4 percent of Minnesota’s shots overall and nearly half of the team’s threes, but they are most dangerous when driving to the lane and getting to the free throw line. In addition to Mathieu’s 80.9 percent mark from the line, Austin and Andre Hollins make 84.5 percent and 73.2 percent of their free throws, respectively, but they combine to take just 36 percent of the team’s free throws on the year.

With an incredible 40 percent FTR, this Minnesota squad’s biggest strength has been in getting to the line. Mathieu and both Hollinses have taken more than 40 attempts at the line while six other Gophers have been to the stripe at least 16 times, and five of those have attempted more than 20 freebies, where as a team Minnesota leads the Big Ten at 76 percent. In their win over Florida State, Minnesota made a whopping 28-of-38 free throws, while the Gophers attempted an average of just 17 freebies in their two losses, against Syracuse and Arkansas.

Again, though, this is a strength that actually bodes well for a Michigan team that rarely fouls and shoots a respectable 74 percent from the free throw line themselves. Either way, however, the Wolverines need to keep their counterparts from getting too many free points and most definitely need to stay out of foul trouble with a squad already short in depth.

Prediction: Michigan has the talent to beat Minnesota tonight and matches up well with these opponents, but the road has been less than kind to Beilein teams in his Michigan tenure and The Barn will certainly provide a difficult environment for this young Wolverine team to kick off the conference stanza. If Glenn Robinson III is aggressive in getting to the basket again, the Maize and Blue can come away with a win at the free throw line and in the record books, but if the Hollinses are living at the stripe, it will be a tough day. In the end, I like Minnesota to close out a tough battle with a 78-75 win.

Michigan hoops preview: Minnesota

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014


#NR/NR Michigan (8-4, 0-0) vs #NR/NR Minnesota (11-2, 0-0) – Minneapolis, MN – 7pm EST – BTN
Offense
79.1 Points/gm 78.4
(329-700) 47.0 Field Goal % 43.9 (311-709)
(109-282) 38.7 3-pt FG % 35.0 (97-277)
(182-246) 74.0 Free Throw % 77.6 (222-286)
15.2 FT Made/gm 17.1
36.2 Reb/gm 37.3
15.8 Assists/gm 13.6
9.2 Turnovers/gm 9.8
Defense
63.5 Points/gm 66.8
(285-676) 42.2 Field Goal % 42.3 (281-665)
(54-165) 34.3 3-pt FG % 30.8 (72-234)
32.1 Opp. Reb/gm 33.5
6.0 Steals/gm 8.1
2.8 Blocks/gm 4.3
Individual Leaders
Nik Stauskas (18.2), Glenn Robinson III (14.2) Points/gm Andre Hollins (16.0), Austin Hollins (13.5)
Mitch McGary (8.3), Glenn Robinson III (5.0) Reb/gm Elliott Eliason (8.4), Austin Hollins (7.1)

______________________________________________________________________________________________

The football season mercifully ended last Saturday which means we can all officially turn our attention to basketball in time for the conference slate to begin. Michigan finished the non-conference schedule 8-4 with good wins against Stanford and Florida State, three losses that won’t hurt them against Iowa State, Duke, and Arizona, and one bad loss to Charlotte.

Three Big Ten foes stand in the top five of the national rankings and Michigan isn’t one of them. One other is in the top 25 and it’s not Michigan. It’s certainly not the position Michigan expected to be in entering Big Ten play, but the Wolverines have been battle tested as much as any team in the conference over the first nine weeks of the season.

The real season begins tonight on the road at Minnesota, which stands 11-2. Winning on the road in the Big Ten is never easy, but it is imperative that Michigan get off to a good start and win the games it should win. The Wolverines get Northwestern, Nebraska, and Penn State after this one, so they have a great chance to start out 4-0 before traveling to Madison on Jan. 18.

Minnesota is led by first year head coach Richard Pitino, the son of Louisville head coach Rick Pitino. The younger Pitino spent one season as the head man at Florida International, guiding the Panthers to 18 wins and the first winning season since 1999-2000. He spent three years on his father’s staff at Louisville before taking over at FIU last season. At age 31, he’s the youngest coach in the Big Ten, and when John Beilein turns 62 on Feb. 5, Pitino will be exactly half his age.

So what can we expect from this revamped version of the Gophers? Let’s take a look:

The Starters
Minutes Points FG% 3FG% FT% Reb Ast TO Blk Stl
Andre Hollins (G) 30.8 16.0 40.3 32.9 83.8 4.1 3.2 1.9 0.1 1.3
Austin Hollins (G) 31.9 13.5 42.0 34.8 74.4 7.1 2.7 1.4 0.9 1.6
Deandre Mathieu (G) 28.3 11.9 51.6 53.8 80.9 2.6 4.8 1.9 0.0 2.1
Oto Osenieks (F) 20.3 7.3 47.1 27.3 69.6 3.3 0.7 0.9 0.4 0.6
Elliott Eliason (C) 24.7 6.1 46.6 00.0 76.0 8.4 0.8 0.9 2.3 1.1
The Others
Minutes Points FG% 3FG% FT% Reb Ast TO Blk Stl
Malik Smith (G) 21.7 10.0 41.5 39.7 85.0 2.0 1.2 1.0 0.1 0.8
Joey King (F) 20.0 8.2 43.5 29.2 74.2 2.7 0.3 0.9 0.3 0.4
Maurice Walker (F) 15.2 5.3 55.6 00.0 80.0 4.2 0.5 1.3 0.7 0.7
Maverick Ahanmisi (G) 11.1 2.8 38.9 42.9 68.8 1.4 0.8 0.6 0.1 0.4

The Hollins brothers are the stars of the team, leading the Gophers with 16 and 13.5 points per game, respectively. Andre Hollins (6’2″, 195) has scored in double figures in 10 of 13 games with a season high of 26 against Richmond. Austin Hollins (6’4″, 190) has reached double figures in all but one game (in which he scored nine) and has a season high of 20 against South Dakota State. The latter has been the better shooter this season, averaging about two percentage points better from both two and three.

Junior guard Deandre Mathieu (5’9″, 165) is the team’s third leading scorer at 11.9 points per game and the best shooter at 51.6 percent overall and 53.8 percent from downtown. The transfer from Moorhead State and Central Arizona College lit up Nebraska-Omaha for 27 points two weeks ago, shooting 9-of-11 from the floor and 8-of-10 from the free throw line.

In the frontcourt, junior forward Oto Osenieks (6’8″, 220) is averaging 7.3 points and 3.3 rebounds in 20 minutes of action. His season high of 14 against Wofford came on 6-of-11 shooting, but he has hit just 7-of-24 three-point attempts on the season. Center Elliott Eliason (6’11″, 240) leads the team with 8.4 rebounds per game and averages just 6.1 points. He scored ten points in back-to-back games against South Dakota State and Nebraska-Omaha, but has been held scoreless twice as well.

Senior guard Malik Smith (6’2″, 200) comes off the bench to be the Gophers’ fourth player that averages double figures. The Florida International transfer put up 16 against Syracuse on 5-of-8 shooting, including 4-of-7 from downtown. He followed that up with games of 15 and 16 against Arkansas and Chaminade, respectively, and has a season high of 19 against UNO.

Sophomore Joey King (6’9″, 225) and redshirt junior Maurice Walker (6’10, 250) are key subs in the frontcourt. King, a transfer from Drake, scored 20 in the season opener against Lehigh, but has reached double figures just twice since. Walker missed the first six games of the season but contributed 11 points and eight rebounds against New Orleans on Dec. 7.

The Schedule
Date Opponent Score
Nov. 8 Lehigh W 81-62
Nov. 12 Montana W 84-58
Nov. 16 at Richmond W 74-59
Nov. 19 Coastal Carolina W 82-72
Nov. 21 Wofford W 79-57
Nov. 25 #8 Syracuse* L 67-75
Nov. 26 Arkansas* L 73-87
Nov. 27 Chaminade* W 83-68
Dec. 3 Florida State W 71-61
Dec. 7 New Orleans W 80-65
Dec. 10 South Dakota State W 75-59
Dec. 20 Nebraska-Omaha W 92-79
Dec. 28 Texas A&M CC W 65-44
*Maui Invitational

At 11-2, Minnesota has done everything it should during the non-conference portion of the schedule. The Gophers’ best win was a 71-61 home victory over Florida State in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. The Seminoles are the only common opponent thus far. Aside from FSU, the rest of Minnesota’s wins have been against a bunch of cupcakes.

The only other major conference foes, #8 Syracuse and unranked Arkansas, resulted in losses, both in the Maui Invitational. The Gophers did play Syracuse tough, however, falling 75-67 after trailing by just three at halftime. The Gophers were within two with under two minutes remaining. Against Arkansas, Minnesota held a 40-35 halftime lead, but was outscored 52-33 in the final 20 minutes.

The Series

Michigan holds a 86-65 all-time lead in the series including wins in the last four and eight of the last nine. Michigan is 31-44 all-time at Minnesota but has won its last four games at Williams Arena.

Notes

• Michigan is 54-43 all-time in Big Ten openers.

• Glenn Robinson III is averaging 19.3 points and is shooting 66.7 percent from the field and 46.7 percent from three-point range in his last four games.

Jug stays home: Michigan 42 – Minnesota 13

Saturday, October 5th, 2013


(MGoBlue.com)

For the 100th time Michigan and Minnesota squared off and for the 73rd time Michigan emerged victorious, keeping the Little Brown Jug in Ann Arbor for another year. After a slow start that saw Michigan run just nine offensive plays in the first 21 minutes of the game, the Wolverines scored 28 points in the second half to pull away for a 42-13 win.

It was clear coming out of the bye week that Brady Hoke was determined to run the ball behind a shuffled offensive line, and after forcing a Minnesota fumble to open the game, Michigan did just that on its first possession. Six runs later, Fitzgerald Toussaint found the end zone to put Michigan on the board 7-0. Freshman Derrick Green got a pair of carries on the drive, taking one for 14 yards.

But Minnesota put together a 16-play, 75-yard drive that consumed 9:44 and tied the game at seven with a 7-yard touchdown pass to tight end Maxx Williams. The drive included five third-down conversions, three of which were quarterback runs.

Final Stats
Michigan Minnesota
Score 42 13
Record 5-0 4-2
Total Yards 348 281
Net Rushing Yards 113 136
Net Passing Yards 235 145
First Downs 17 16
Turnovers 0 2
Penalties-Yards 2-10 6-35
Punts-Yards 3-155 3-115
Time of Possession 26:12 33:48
Third Down Conversions 10-of-13 8-of-15
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-0 1-of-1
Sacks By-Yards 1-3 1-9
Field Goals 0-for-0 2-for-2
PATs 6-for-6 1-for-1
Red Zone Scores-Chances 5-of-5 2-of-2
Full Box Score

When Michigan’s offense finally got the ball back, it went three-and-out and Minnesota made it to the Wolverine 45 before stalling and punting it back. The teams traded punts once again and with 2:35 remaining in the first half Michigan turned to the Devin and Devin show. First, Devin Gardner found Devin Funchess for 18 yards to the Minnesota 20. After a five-yard Gardner rush and a sack, Michigan faced 3rd-and-14 and Gardner connected with Funchess for a 24-yard touchdown. Michigan took a 14-7 lead into the half.

On the first possession of the second half, Michigan marched 75 yards in nine plays, culminating with a 2-yard Green touchdown run. The drive included a 22-yard completion to Jehu Chesson and a 21-yard completion to Funchess to set up the touchdown.

Minnesota answered with a field goal, but Michigan wasn’t finished. On the last possession of the third quarter, Michigan went 75 yards in eight plays for another touchdown. Toussaint carried it in from 12 yards out to put the Wolverines ahead 28-10.

Michigan’s offense scored one more touchdown midway through the fourth quarter to officially put the game away. Gardner scored from two yards out to cap off a nine play, 69-yard drive. Once again, the Devin to Devin connection came up big as Gardner found Funchess for gains of 22 and 46 on the drive.

In the closing minutes, Blake Countess picked off a Mitch Leidner pass and raced 72 yards for the final score of the day. It was his fourth interception of the season.

Michigan outgained Minnesota 348 yards to 281 and used only 17 pass attempts to do so. Gardner completed 13 of them for 235 yards and a touchdown. Most importantly, he didn’t make any mistakes, completing his first career start without an interception. Toussaint led the way on the ground with 17 carries for 78 yards and two touchdowns. Green was held to just 23 yards and a score on 10 carries. Funchess racked up 151 yards and a touchdown on seven catches.

On a day when the story was supposed to be about the changes along the offensive line, the biggest story was on the changes at wideout. Funchess spent more time split wide as a receiver than at tight end, creating a matchup nightmare for opposing defensive backs. The emergence of Jake Butt and the return of AJ Williams from injury allows Hoke and Al Borges to do this, giving Gardner the downfield threat that he has lacked through the first third of the season.

Devin Funchess caught seven passes for 151 yards and a touchdown (MGoBlue.com)

Aside from one fumbled snap by Graham Glasgow, the offensive line was effective even though the numbers don’t really show it. Michigan had just 3.2 yards per carry, but it was by and large a conservative gameplan from the get-go. When the Wolverines needed to pick up yards on the ground, they did.

Minnesota’s high-powered running game gained just 136 yards on the ground on 3.3 yards per carry. The majority was gained by Leidner on quarterback keepers or designed runs. He gained 66 yards on 18 carries. The backs, Rodrick Williams Jr and David Cobb, who came in averaging a combined 121.8 yards per game and 6.2 yards per carry were held to just 55 yards and 3.7 yards per carry. Leidner, who started in place of Philip Nelson, completed 14-of-21 passes for 145 yards and a touchdown, giving the Gophers their best passing game of the season to date.

After turning the ball over 12 times in the first four games, it was Michigan’s first turnover-free game of the season. The Wolverines also committed just two penalties and converted 10-of-13 third downs.

Although it took some time to get going, Michigan did just what it was supposed to do: earn a decisive victory by playing a solid, clean football game against an opponent better than Akron and UConn. And there’s no reason to believe this team won’t continue to improve as it works its way toward a brutal November slate.

The Wolverines travel to State College, Pa. for an evening game against Penn State (3-2, 0-1). Stay tuned for more analysis of today’s win and previews of the Nittany Lions.

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

____________________________________________________________________________
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.

Friend vs Foe: Minnesota

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013


We are pleased to welcome JDMill from the Minnesota SB Nation site The Daily Gopher for this week’s Friend vs Foe segment. He has graciously answered a few questions about Gopher fans’ feelings of the Little Brown Jug, what happened against Iowa, where Minnesota might have an advantage on Saturday, and provided his prediction for the game. You can follow him on Twitter @JDMill. On the Michigan side, Josh gives his thoughts on what he would like to see from the Wolverines on Saturday.

1. What does the Little Brown Jug mean to Minnesota fans? Michigan fans see it as a great part of our history but kind of take it for granted. Is it a big deal to Gopher fans? Why or why not?

The Jug is definitely a big deal to Gopher fans. As you mentioned, the history of the trophy makes it an awesome tradition and beating Michigan is pretty much the pinnacle of what our program can achieve in a single game right now. But in a bit of a different way, Gopher fans take it for granted too. We have two incredibly intense trophy traditions with our border rivals Wisconsin and Iowa, and those rivalries definitely take precedent over the Jug at this point.

For some reason we also have a trophy with Penn State (the Governor’s Victory Bell, or some such abomination), which means absolutely nothing to anybody. This year is unique, however, because we do play for all four trophies.

In any case, if you asked Gopher fans if they could lose to Michigan, but beat Wisconsin & Iowa in any given year, I think 99/100 Gopher fans would take that in an absolute heartbeat.

2. Iowa: what happened? The first four games went pretty well – all wins, lots of offense, etc. How was Iowa able to dominate?

How much time do we have to go over this? First of all, Iowa is good at two things that our first four opponents weren’t good at: running the ball and stopping the run. Having said that, we were fairly confident going into this game that we’d be able to successfully run the ball on their defense. Boy were we wrong.

Minnesota last captured the Little Brown Jug in 2005

Here’s the deal, I think Iowa is a more talented and more experienced team than Minnesota at this point, and those things definitely matter, but I don’t think the delta in talent is as wide as it looked like on Saturday. The thing about Iowa is that they didn’t do anything fancy, they didn’t do anything that you wouldn’t expect from a Kirk Ferentz team, but everything they did they did absolutely flawlessly. They don’t miss assignments, they don’t miss blocks or gaps, they don’t miss tackles, they do all of the fundamentals right. A younger, inexperienced team that likely has more talent isn’t going to beat a team like that unless they have a better gameplan and also execute flawlessly, and the Gophers most certainly didn’t do that.

3. Your running game is doing pretty well (at least before Iowa), but what’s wrong with the passing game?

Prior to the Iowa game the problem with the passing game was really, more than anything, that we just hadn’t used it. We were averaging just 15 passing attempts/game heading into Iowa. So part of the problem is rust.

The potentially bigger issue, which really seemed to rear it’s head on Saturday against Iowa, is inaccuracy. Phil Nelson was throwing over and behind receivers all day long. Of the 12 passes he completed, my guess is that at least half were completed because of a good catch by the receiver despite a poor throw. This was the case on his one TD throw to Derrick Engel. The pass was high, and slightly behind Engel, but he made a great adjustment to pull down the ball and get in the endzone. If Nelson’s accuracy doesn’t improve, and in short order, this team won’t have a passing game at all in 2013.

4. Statistically, Minnesota’s special teams look pretty good, ranking in the top 20 nationally in both kick and punt returns, as well as kick return defense. Michigan’s kick and punt return games (offensively and defensively) haven’t been very good. Are Minnesota’s special teams really that good, and do you see that as an advantage this weekend?

My goodness, the Gophers have to have an advantage SOMEWHERE, don’t we?

Minnesota got away from its normal running game against Iowa, but the Gophers still feature a top-25 running game (Ann Heisenfelt, AP)

The Gopher special teams (as far as the return game and defending kicks) is pretty good. Marcus Jones has emerged as a real threat on any return and he was one of the few bright spots in the Iowa game. For the season he’s averaging over 13 yards/punt return (Top 25 in the country) and over 30 yards/kick return (Top 10 in the country). I do think that special teams is an advantage for Minnesota this weekend, but I don’t think it’s enough to win the game.

5. Despite the loss to Iowa, do you think Minnesota can beat Michigan on Saturday? Obviously, Michigan struggled to beat Akron and UConn…how much confidence does that give you for Minnesota’s chances even though Michigan is favored by about 20? What will it take for Minnesota to win? What’s your prediction?

Confidence isn’t exactly a word that I’d use to describe how I, or any Gopher fans, feel about the team right now. Gameplan is going to be important in this game. Without going into too much detail, the Gopher gameplan against Iowa was really a departure from what they had done through the first four weeks of the season. The Gophers did try to establish the run against Iowa, but the way they went about it was completely different than they had during the non-con. They really abandoned the true power run game that they had established and attempted more of a cutesy run game which is pretty inexplicable. If the Gophers get back to trying to establish the power run game (Maryland-I, inverted wishbone, just 3-back sets in general), I’ll have a lot more confidence in their ability to hang with Michigan.

The Gophers also need to get back to the disciplined team they were through the first four weeks when they were the least penalized team in the conference with a total of 10 penalties. Last week against Iowa they had five, and they came at some horrible times.

If the Gophers can figure out a way to control the clock using that power run game, and if they can get back to being more disciplined, then I think something like a special teams TD or big return is something that COULD end up being something that puts them over the top.

Having said that, like I mentioned, I don’t have a lot of confidence right now just because of how we performed last week.

I predict a Michigan win: 28-17.

I don’t know about you but that bye week did me a lot of good. It gave me some time to cool down and get back in a rational mindset about Team 134. Now that we’re back in the swing of things we get to look at Minnesota, a team that looked pretty good until Iowa dismantled them last week. Regardless, there are still some things we need to see out of Michigan.

I think we all expected a lot more of this team than they’ve shown the last two weeks so I’ll keep it simple. Let’s not forget that this team is loaded with first and second year players and at most high-level schools these kids get to sit for a while to bulk up and learn the playbook. Michigan has not had that luxury so while we do expect more out of Michigan let’s cut these kids some slack. It’s not easy to come in as a first or second year player and make an impact, yet we’re expecting ALL of them to be studs right off the bat.

This should go without saying but I’ll say it anyway. ELIMINATE the turnovers. And before we go any further and start pining for Shane Morris, the kid has thrown six total passes. He wouldn’t do any better than Gardner. How they go about eliminating those turnovers is a tricky task though. I never played high-level sports like Division 1 football but I do know how important the mental aspect is. As Yogi Berra said, “90 percent of the game is half mental.” Gardner clearly has the physical tools but he needs to get his head right before he can fix this problem. How long that will take is anyone’s guess, but for now I’d just like to see a calm and composed Gardner in the pocket and not the one who was only looking to run late in the UConn game. They say quarterbacks need to have short memories. Devin Gardner needs to have amnesia about the last two games.

All eyes will be on Devin Gardner to see him perform better than the last two games (MGoBlue.com)

Secondly, pressure from the front four. Michigan did manage to get to Chandler Whitmer a few times but it still wasn’t enough. Minnesota doesn’t pass the ball much but they do run it a lot so the front four needs to make their presence felt in the run game. Up until last week Minnesota was running the ball very well. Almost reminiscent of Laurence Maroney and Marion Barber II -, almost. I expect them to attempt to establish the run and Michigan’s front four needs to be disruptive enough to nip it in the bud. I don’t even need to see tackles for loss from these guys, at least not yet, but I would like to see a front that looks like a Michigan front. Which looks something like this - strong at the point of attack, in control of the line of scrimmage, making plays in the backfield, even when it’s not tackles for loss or sacks. In two words, strength and tenacity.

Ideally we’ll see this again, but let’s at least wait until Jabrill Peppers is a sophomore. OK, back to reality and Team 134.

Next, I’d like to see a run game. And enough of the clamoring for Derrick Green already. Fitz Toussaint had a bit of a re-coming out party against UConn, which was great but it was against UConn. However, you can only place so much of the blame on Fitz. Without the line creating holes and sustaining them it’s tough for any running back to get things going, so it is doubtful Green would fare any better. The issue is the interior of the line. Hoke said he may switch it up like I thought he would at UConn, but regardless of who’s in there they need to get some serious push. Two words I use when I describe my ideal offensive lineman: mean and nasty (see Steve Hutchinson, Jon Runyan). These kids need to stop thinking and just play.

I want to see these kids play with a mean streak and just bulldoze people. Obviously this is easier said than done but if they can just stop looking like deer in headlights out there I’d consider that progress.

Next, an emergence of a receiver other than Jeremy Gallon. Part of the problem with Gardner and his propensity for turnovers is that when push comes to shove he only looks for Gallon and that limits his options and forces him into poor decisions. If someone else can get his confidence it will open up the offense tremendously. It looked like Jehu Chesson might be the guy but it seemed as though Gardner shied away after he had the ball ripped away from him on a deep pass play. Ideally I’d like to see Devin Funchess more involved. He’s a proven commodity, so why not get him the ball more.

A simplified passing game may really be what I am looking for. Dumb down the playbook with quick, short throws to build Gardner’s confidence and help open up the run game. That’s what Al Borges’ West Coast offense boils down to, right? Borges turned a mediocre Cade McNown into an All-American quarterback and future first-round NFL draft pick. Let that sink in for a moment. Cade. McNown. He clearly knows what he’s doing with QBs but I’d like to see him really simplify things for the offense going forward. Right now these kids need a confidence boost more than anything and dumbing the playbook down could be the remedy.

In theory this should be a great game to regain confidence before they head to Happy Valley next week but Michigan was supposed to dominate both Akron and UConn and barely escaped with wins. If one bad game against a vastly inferior opponent is a fluke and two is a trend what would three in a row be?

I was ready to pick Minnesota to beat Michigan until they got dominated last week by a resurgent Iowa team last weekend. Now I’m not so sure. Will the Michigan team that beat Notre Dame show up? Or will it be the team that took the field against Akron and UConn? I do know this: if the Michigan team that played Akron and UConn shows up the Gophers will not only reclaim the Little Brown Jug but they’ll also end Michigan’s 17-game home winning streak.

Five-Spot Challenge: Minnesota

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013


Congratulations to JustJeepGear.com for winning the bye week edition of the Five-Spot Challenge. It was the first time we have held the challenge on a week in which Michigan didn’t play and it went pretty smooth. JustJeepGear.com was just six off of Braxton Miller’s total yards, four off of the combined score of Ohio State and Notre Dame, and 48 away from Oklahoma’s total yards. While none of those were the best deviations for those questions, the overall consistency was enough to capture the win and the $10 M Den gift card.

Bluwolf77 finished second, just eight points away, while Maizenblu62 was only 17 points off. First time contestant joeblue was the closest to predicting Braxton Miller’s total yards (just one away) and fellow new contestant clarkthomasa was only four away. Last week’s winner, kashkaav, was the closest to Tommy Rees’ passing yards (13 away). Fla06GOBLUE was remarkably only five off of Oklahoma’s total yards.

The weekly results and overall standings are updated.

Now that Michigan is back in action on Saturday, we return to our regularly scheduled Five-Spot Challenge with a $20 M Den gift card and full points up for grabs. Good luck!