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Posts Tagged ‘Gophers’

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


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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


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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.

Smoked “Land of 10,000 lakes” catfish

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014


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Tailgate Tuesday is our weekly collaboration with Joe from MmmGoBluBBQ. These will be posted each Tuesday throughout the season and each recipe will be themed around that week’s opponent. 

Previously: Hot-’n-Fast pulled pork with Carolina mustard slawIrish stout pepper beefSpatchcock RedHawk, Grilled Ravioli.

Bring on those Golden Gophers from the great state of Minnesota. Or, as they say, the land of 10,000 lakes. I wanted to venture out and try something new for the start of the Big Ten season. Since I didn’t have any moose meat laying around and didn’t know if gopher was even legal to eat, I decided to try some smoked fish. I went through the freezer looking for some walleye I had tricked into the boat last year on our Canadian fishing extravaganza but had no luck. The best I could do was a mess of fresh catfish filets a buddy of mine dropped off. They turned out to be extremely tasty and will be a staple moving forward for sure. Here is what you will need.

Ingredients:

• 1 Catfish filet (Per person)
• Buttermilk
• Hot Sauce (your favorite)
• Seasoning (your favorite BBQ rub will do)

Directions:

Cover and soak the fish filets in a mixture of buttermilk and your favorite hot sauce. I used about 1/8 cup of Franks Red Hot sauce and it came thru very mildly in the taste of the fish. Use as much or as little as you’d like.

After one hour in the buttermilk, remove the fillets and pat them dry with a paper towel. Season both sides with your favorite BBQ rub. Don’t be shy!

Catfish 1-2-3

Fire up the grill or smoker to 225-250 degrees. I love a good apple or pecan wood for fish as it won’t overpower the fish flavor. Set the grill up for indirect heat and add the wood chunks. Once the smoke is flowing, place the seasoned fillets on the greased grill grates and close the lid.

This is a short cook, so don’t plan on going far. After about 30 minutes, check the fish and make sure you are getting some good color. You will notice the fish is starting to sweat a little. This is a good thing.

After an hour, your fish should have a nice dark color with the edges starting to get a little crispy. We are about 15-30 minutes away from a finished Cajun smoked catfish dinner. After 90 minutes on the smoker, you should be able to poke the fish with your finger and it will flake. It should still be moist, but have some flakiness to it. This is when its done. I made some red beans and rice (out of the box) as a side and added some grilled lemon juice.

Catfish 4-5

Thanks again for reading and let me know if you have any recipes to you would like me to try. I am always interested in new and tasty grilled goodies. Go Blue!

For more great recipes, photos, and barbecue ideas, follow Joe on Twitter at @mmmgoblubbq. And don’t forget to check out his site, MmmGoBluBBQ, for recipes, product reviews, and more.

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


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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.

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