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.
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.
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.