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Posts Tagged ‘Little Brown Jug’

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

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:

Final Look: Minnesota

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013


(MGoBlue.com)

Michigan finally played a pretty good game that resulted in a convincing win just the way it should. Now, it has a chance to go on the road and prove it’s better than it played in the two games before the bye week. But before we get there, let’s take one last look back at the big plays, numbers, stats, and observations from the 42-13 win over Minnesota.

Three big moments

1. Jibreel Black forces a fumble

Many were wondering how Michigan would respond coming out of the bye week that followed back-to-back poor performances against Akron and UConn. Just like in the first four games, Michigan kicked off to open the game, which meant the defense got a chance to set the tone. The kickoff went ominously out of bounds, giving Minnesota the ball at the 35.

On Minnesota’s first play quarterback Mitch Leidner rushed for two yards. On the second Leidner completed a pass to tight end Maxx Williams for two more. On 3rd-and-6, Leidner dropped back to pass and then pulled it down to run a draw up the middle. At first it looked like he had a hole, but Jibreel Black came around and hit him at the 35. He got his right hand on the ball, knocking it loose and James Ross recovered, giving Michigan great field position. The Wolverines punched it in six plays later to take an early 7-0 lead.

2. Funchess diving catch

Blake Countess leads the nation in interceptions and INT return yards (MGoBlue.com)

While Michigan got off to a quick start thanks to Black’s forced fumble, Minnesota did a good job of keeping Michigan’s offense off the field the rest of the first half. The ensuing Gopher possession lasted 9:44 and Michigan only got to run 17 plays the rest of the half. With a 14-7 halftime lead, Michigan needed a strong second half to put the Gophers away.

On the first possession, Michigan looked to establish the run. Fitzgerald Toussaint took the first three carries for 14, five, and eight yards, respectively, and then Derrick Green ran for nine. At the Minnesota 44, Gardner connected with Jehu Chesson for a 22-yard gain to put Michigan in field goal position. On first down from the 22, Toussaint lost a yard. On second, Gardner threw an incomplete pass setting up a critical third down. On 3rd-and-11, Gardner dropped back to pass and fired a bullet across the field, towards the pylon at the front right corner of the end zone. Devin Funchess had to come back to get it and dove from the goal line, picking the ball off the turf at the 2-yard line. The play was reviewed and remained a catch and Green punched it in on the next play to give Michigan a 14-point lead. Without the great catch, Michigan would have faced a 40-yard field goal to go ahead 17-7, leaving Minnesota still in the ball game.

3. Countess takes it home

Michigan held a 35-13 lead after Gardner ran it in from two yards out with 2:36 to play. Minnesota got the ball back looking to possibly score once more, but Blake Countess had other plans. On 1st-and-10 from the Michigan 36, Leidner threw to the left side of the field and Countess stepped in front of the receiver, picking it off at the 28. He then raced 72 yards untouched for a touchdown to bring the final score to 42-13. It was his fourth interception of the season, tying for the most nationally, and the 72 return yards combined with his previous return yards to give him the most interception return yards in the country.

The numbers game

73-24-3: Michigan’s all-time record against Minnesota

86-27: Michigan’s all-time record in homecoming games

0: The number of turnovers by Devin Gardner, marking the first turnover-free game of his career to date

9: The number of consecutive games that Gardner has recorded a rushing touchdown

21: The number of Michigan players to eclipse 2,000 career rushing yards. Fitz Toussaint became the 21st with his 78-yard game

0: The number of passes Michigan threw in the first quarter

72: The yards of Blake Countess’ interception return for touchdown, the sixth-longest in Michigan history

Drive chart
MN
UM
MN
UM
MN
UM
MN
UM
MN
UM
MN
UM
MN
UM
MN
UM
MN
MN

*Hover over team initials to see drive statistics

Three observations

1. Starting strong

For the fifth consecutive game, Michigan started on defense, and for the fifth consecutive game the defense didn’t allow a point on the first possession. Opponents are averaging just 3.8 plays, 11.4 yards, and 1:35 per opening possession. What’s more is that Michigan’s offense has scored on four of the five ensuing possessions, including the blocked punt returned for touchdown following Central Michigan’s first possession. The only game that Michigan didn’t score right after holding the opponent to start the game was UConn when Devin Gardner threw an interception. Three of the four scores have been touchdowns. The other, against Akron, was a field goal. So that’s a combined 24-point lead that Michigan has taken right out of the bat despite not getting the ball to start the game.

2. Funchess out wide

Devin Funchess' move to the outside provides an instant upgrade to the receiving corps (MGoBlue.com)

Devin Funchess played much of the game lined up as a wide receiver and had the best game of his young career with seven catches for 151 yards and a touchdown. His sheer athleticism and height make him an instant mismatch for opposing defensive backs, so it’s a logical move since Michigan hasn’t found a true downfield threat this season. Funchess provides that. The return of AJ Williams and the development of freshman Jake Butt has allowed Brady Hoke and Al Borges to make this move.

Funchess has struggled with his blocking, but excels at catching the ball. Part of his decline in production as the season went on last season was because opponents knew that whenever he was in the game it was a pass. Oftentimes Michigan used that as a decoy, but it resulted in seven receptions in the final nine games after eight in the first four. Now, with the move to the outside, he can do what he does best and the offense won’t sacrifice anything to get him the ball.

3. Offensive line shuffle

Chris Bryant stepped into the starting lineup, pushing Graham Glasgow to center and Jack Miller out. The numbers don’t show any improvement – Michigan rushed for just 3.3 yards per carry – but it seemed to passed the eye test. There seemed to be a noticeable improvement. Michigan did have four negative rushes, a sack, and a fumbled snap that resulted in a loss of five, but the four negative rushes were only one-yard losses and three of them were by Green.

More importantly, Michigan had just two short drives. Look at the drive chart above and then go back and look at the drive charts from the Akron and UConn games. Those two are littered with short maize lines. The Minnesota game had just two in which Michigan didn’t pick up a first down. That’s an improvement.

In addition, the coaches moved Taylor Lewan around the line on certain plays and ran all but two runs behind him. Whether that’s something they will continue to do the rest of the season or this was just a chance to test it out remains to be seen, but he’s the start of the team and it’s always a good bet to run behind him.

Minnesota’s defense certainly wasn’t a stern test, so the real test of how much this shake-up improves the line is still to come. Penn State will be much better defensively than Minnesota was, so before we go grading the offensive line shuffle let’s wait at least another week.

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.

Michigan-Minnesota game preview

Friday, October 4th, 2013


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michigan defense vs Minnesota offense: When Minnesota has the ball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michigan offense vs Minnesota defense: When Michigan has the ball

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

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

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

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

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

The other third: Special Teams

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

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

Prediction

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

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

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

Michigan 35 – Minnesota 13

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!

First Look: Minnesota

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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