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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

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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

2013 opponent preview: Minnesota

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013


Continuing our opponent preview series, today we will take a look at the opponent that we feel will be the fourth easiest (or ninth-toughest) on Michigan’s schedule, the Minnesota Golden Gophers. To read our previous opponent previews, see Akron, Central Michigan, and UConn.

Overview

Philip Nelson took over the starting job midway through 2012 and looks to provide stability at the position for the next few years

Jerry Kill enters his third season in Minneapolis hoping to continue the improvement his program has shown in the first two. When he came to Minnesota in 2011, he vowed that if given enough time he could turn the program around. In year one, the Gophers went just 3-9, but noticeable improvement was made last seasons as the team doubled its victories and made its first bowl game since 2009. Despite losing the Meineke Care Car Bowl of Texas to Texas Tech, Kill’s squad played tough and set the stage for an even better year in 2013.

Offense

The good news is most of the offense returns from a year ago, including quarterback Philip Nelson who showed some promise as a true freshman. While he completed just 49.3 percent of his passes and eclipsed 200 yards passing just once in seven starts, he entered spring practice as the man to beat. But a pair of freshmen – Mitch Leidner, who redshirted last season and Chris Streveler – will push him for time. Leidner is 6’5”, 230-pounds with 4.6 speed, while Streveler is a dual-threat true freshman that enrolled early.

In the backfield, Donnell Kirkwood returns after falling just short of a 1,000-yard season. The 5’10” junior rushed for 926 yards – the most for a Gopher back since 2006 – averaging 4.2 yards per carry, and six touchdowns. This season, he will get to run behind an offensive line that was plagued by injuries last season, but should be healthy in 2013.

Receiver is a position badly in need of depth. The leading returning receivers, Derrick Engel, (18 receptions for 375 yards) and Isaac Fruechte (19 receptions for 256 yards), were transfers from smaller schools. The top receiver, A.J. Barker, quit the team, while a pair of freshmen suffered setbacks – Jamel Harbison missed last season with a knee injury and Andre McDonald was suspended for the bowl game and didn’t re-enroll at the school in the spring. He’s back with the team, but it remains to be seen what kind of contribution he’ll be able to make. Incoming freshman Drew Wolitarsky stands 6’3″ and broke receiving records in California, so he’ll have high expectations.

The leader of the line looks to be junior Zac Epping. He started all 13 games last season, but split between three different positions, most frequently center. This spring, he split time between left guard and center. Tommy Olson, Zach Mottla, and Caleb Bak also return and the Gophers add Ohio State transfer Brian Bobek. Kill is trying to build a power running offense and that’s a good way to start.

Defense

While the offense has a good bit of experience returning, the defense is where the questions lie. One question that has already been answered is defensive tackle Ra’Shede Hageman. The 6’6”, 311-pound senior was an All-Big Ten honorable mention selection last season after recording six sacks and 35 tackles. He nearly entered the NFL draft, but elected to return for his final season with the Gophers, citing the need to improve his strength in order to become a dominant player in the conference.

Along with Hageman, the defensive line also has some experience, but is young. Last year’s leader in sacks, D.L. Wilhite, is gone, but six of the 10 linemen that played consistent minutes were no older than sophomores.

Schedule
Date Opponent
Aug. 29 UNLV
Sept. 7 @ New Mexico State
Sept. 14 Western Illinois
Sept. 21 San Jose State
Sept. 28 Iowa
Oct. 5 @ Michigan
Oct. 19 @ Northwestern
Oct. 26 Nebraska
Nov. 2 @ Indiana
Nov. 9 Penn State
Nov. 23 Wisconsin
Nov. 30 @ Michigan State

At linebacker, only senior Aaron Hill remains, but junior college transfer Damien Wilson and De’Vondre Campbell are eager to fill in. The secondary also has to replace a pair of starters – Michael Carter and Troy Stoudermire – but the coaching staff is very high on sophomore Eric Murray. Starting safeties Brock Vereen and Cedric Thompson are back, while a pair of offensive players – running back Derrick Wells and receiver Marcus Jones – are making the switch to corner.

Special Teams

Punter Christian Eldred is back after averaging 38.1 yards per punt last season, good for ninth in the Big Ten. Kicker Jordan Wettstein is gone and will likely be replaced by senior Chris Hawthorne, the only other kicker on the team with experience. However, incoming freshman Ryan Santoso will challenge him for the job. The return game will have big shoes to fill replacing Stoudermire, but KJ Maye and Marcus Jones both returned some kicks and punts last year.

Outlook

An easy non-conference slate should allow Minnesota to enter Big Ten play at 4-0, but that’s where Kill’s team has struggled the past two seasons. With Purdue and Illinois missing from the conference schedule, they’ll have a tough time reaching eight wins.

What it means for Michigan

With the exception of Notre Dame, Michigan’s 2013 schedule is very backloaded. The other three opponents we’ve featured so far, Akron, Central Michigan, and UConn comprise the remainder of the non-conference schedule, while Minnesota serves as the Big Ten opener. Michigan gets the Gophers after a bye week, while Minnesota has a rivalry game with Iowa the week prior to the meeting in Ann Arbor. Minnesota has won in Ann Arbor just twice in the last 50 years (23 games), but don’t expect this year to be the third time.

Michigan 35 – Minnesota 13: Gardner helps Michigan retain Jug

Sunday, November 4th, 2012


Needing a win to stay in the Big Ten title hunt, Michigan was dealt a blow when Denard Robinson was ruled out for the game. But no one told Devin Gardner that was a bad thing. After a slow start, the junior quarterback-turned-receiver-turned-quarterback put on a display that will ease concerns about next season’s quarterback situation.

Michigan 35 – Minnesota 13
Final Stats
35 Final Score 13
6-3, 4-1 Record 5-4 (1-4)
389 Total Yards 275
155 Net Rushing Yards 128
234 Net Passing Yards 147
18 First Downs 21
1 Turnovers 1
7-69 Penalties – Yards 9-68
3-88 Punts – Yards 3-127
29:08 Time of Possession 30:52
7-of-12 Third Down Conversions 4-of-14
1-of-2 Fourth Down Conversions 2-of-4
1-4 Sacks By – Yards 3-23
0-for-0 Field Goals 2-for-3
5-for-5 PATs 1-for-1
3-for-3 Red Zone Scores – Chances 3-for-4

Gardner completed 12-of-18 passes for 234 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception, leading Michigan to a 35-13 win over Minnesota. It didn’t start out positively, however, as Michigan gained just nine yards on eight plays in the first quarter.

The Gophers got the scoring started with a 10-yard touchdown pass from freshman quarterback Philip Nelson to tight end John Rabe. Michigan responded with a 12-play, 91-yard scoring drive that took seven minutes off the clock. The touchdown was a 45-yard pass from Gardner to Drew Dileo that seemed to be straight out of the playbook from a backyard football game. Gardner dropped back, stepped up, rolled to his right, then back all the way across the field to his left, and heaved it up to a wide open Dileo in the end zone.

After a Minnesota three-and-out, Gardner put together another long drive, marching 90 yards on 13 plays, capping it off with a two-yard Thomas Rawls touchdown run. It was the first time in Michigan history that the team scored touchdowns on consecutive drives of 90 yards or more, and just the third time it has ever been done in the same game.

Minnesota missed a 55-yard field goal as time expired in the first half and Michigan took a 14-7 lead into the locker room.

A Minnesota sack forced Michigan to punt away its first possession of the second half and the Gophers mounted a 10-play drive into the Michigan red zone. On fourth-and-16 from the 19-yard line, head coach Jerry Kill elected to call a fake field goal instead of kicking a 36-yarder. It failed miserably, gaining only five yards, and Michigan capitalized with an 86-yard scoring drive. Jeremy Gallon did the heavy lifting on this drive, catching a 47-yard pass and a 10-yard touchdown grab to give Michigan a 21-7 lead.

Michigan retains the Little Brown Jug for the fifth straight year (photo by Tom Olmscheid, AP)

Minnesota tried to fight back, driving to the Michigan three-yard line, but settled for a field goal to pull within 11. Michigan scored touchdowns on its next two possessions – a two-yard run by Gardner and a 41-yard run by Fitz Toussaint – to put the game away.

Toussaint led the Wolverines in rushing with 74 yards on 13 carries, but 41 of those came on that one play. Rawls had 43 yards on 16 carries for a meager 2.7 yards per. Without Gardner in the receiving corps, the receiving was well rounded. Gallon led the way with four catches for 72 yards, while Dileo had 69 and Roy Roundtree had 64.

For Minnesota, Nelson took a lot of chances downfield with little success. The best success he had was drawing a few pass interference calls against Michigan’s defensive backs late in the game. He completed 13-of-29 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown. It will likely be good enough to keep Michigan atop the national rankings in pass defense. Donnell Kirkwood rushed 16 times for just 61 yards and Michigan held the Gophers to 3.4 yards per carry.

It was a game that Michigan was supposed to win, even without Denard, and the Wolverines did just that. The talk coming out of the game will likely center around Gardner’s performance and question whether he should start the rest of the season. Any talk of that kind should stop right there. I’ll get to it more later this week and so will Chris in his weekly Monday Morning Quarterback segment, so stay tuned. But for now, enjoy the win and look forward to returning to the Big House against Northwestern next Saturday.

M&GB Pick’em: Minnesota staff predictions

Friday, November 2nd, 2012


Last week, all predictions went out the window when Denard left the game with a nerve injury to his elbow. Russell Bellomy couldn’t get anything going on offense and Michigan was held without a touchdown for the second straight week. Denard is back this week and heaven forbid he get hurt again, we should have a pretty good idea of how this game will play out.

M&GB PREDICTION SUMMARY

____________________________

Justin: Michigan 37 – Minnesota 10

Chris: Michigan 31 - Minnesota 14

Josh: Michigan N/A – Minnesota N/A

Sam: Michigan 31 – Minnesota 13

Katie: Michigan 38 – Minnesota 13

Matt: Michigan 38 – Minnesota 17

___________________________

Average: Michigan 35 – Minnesota 13

Justin (1): Michigan makes its first visit to TCF Bank Stadium for a noon (11am local time) kickoff against Minnesota. The time is important because the only chance the Gophers have of pulling this one out is if Michigan sleeps through its alarm because it’s so used to playing 3:30 (or later) games. As long as the Wolverines lay off the waffles and fake eggs from the hotel breakfast bar and come ready to play, they’ll get back on track for what is shaping up to be an epic clash with Ohio State at season’s end. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. One game at a time.

Michigan will be, as the Black Eyed Peas sing, runnin’ runnin’ and runnin’ runnin’. Fitz Toussaint and Thomas Rawls will see lots of carries until Minnesota proves it can stop them – which the Gophers haven’t been able to do against anyone this season. Michigan will build a big lead and let Denard give way to Bellomy in a good scenario this time. For more analysis, check out this morning’s game preview, Friend vs. Foe, and Monday’s First Look.

[Edit: I should also add that the only other thing that could prevent a Michigan win is another significant injury to Denard. If that happens, all bets are off].

Michigan 37 – Minnesota 10

Chris (2): With four games left in the regular season, the Wolverines enter this game at Minnesota knowing that they need to win out and get help with a Nebraska loss in order to make it to the Big Ten Championship. However, I think that it’s important that the team not be thinking about it this way. It’s one game at a time. No scoreboard watching. Everyone does their job. Give your all EVERY play. I think if they do that, they can win these last four games and end up in Indianapolis on Dec 1.

First thing’s first though. Historically, Michigan has dominated the Golden Gophers in Minneapolis. They have won 14 straight trips there, winning by an average score of 40-13. Last time at Minnesota was back in 2008 (29-6 win). Minnesota enters the game at 5-3 (1-3 Big Ten) and are looking to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2009.

Donnell Kirkwood averages 4.4 yards per carry (photo by Jesse Johnson, AP)

Overall, this is a decent Minnesota squad that can sneak up on teams if they take them too lightly. Minnesota’s biggest weakness is their defense, especially when trying to stop the rush. In their three losses this season, they gave up big days on the ground to opposing running backs to the tune of 242 yards per game. Wisconsin’s running backs put up 337 by themselves. So far, this has been a season when Michigan has been unable to run the ball effectively with someone other than Denard Robinson. If there’s any hope for this running game, it will need to show on Saturday because it will provide the Wolverines with the best chance to win.

On offense, Minnesota has switched to true freshmen Philip Nelson at quarterback. Dynamic quarterback MarQueis Gray has been hampered by injuries this season, which prompted the switch. Just because Nelson is young and inexpereinced, the Wolverines can’t look past his skills. He earned Mr. Football honors in the state of Minnesota and they doesn’t hesitate to chuck the ball around when he’s under center. This bodes well for a Michigan pass defense which ranks as one of the best in the nation. Defensively, I don’t see the the Wolverines having much trouble. Minnesota isn’t going to control the line of scrimmage with three sophomores starting on the offensive line.

I like Michigan to win this game, but I don’t think it’s going to be by a large point differential.

Michigan 31 – Minnesota 14

Matt (2): We haven’t really taken Minnesota seriously. Overall, our record in the Battle for the Little Brown Jug, is 67-22-3. And Minnesota has only beaten us three times since 1968. However, looking past them is a big mistake.

Although the Golden Gophers seem to pale in comparison with the Wolverines, only being ranked higher than Michigan in passing by a small margin, and being ranked lower than Michigan in rushing yards, points for, and points against, the game is still being played in Minneapolis, and this is a rivalry game. You know what they say about rivalry games. Throw the records out the window.

However, is this really a rivalry? Is this anything like Michigan vs Notre Dame, Michigan State or Ohio State? The answer is simple, no. But we still want to hold onto that Little Brown Jug, and we still want to win the Legends Division, which could happen, but we need Nebraska to lose too!

Minnesota is ranked higher than Michigan in passing, although if you compare QBs, Denard has thrown over 500 yards more and three more touchdowns (that’s not counting the six Denard has scrambled in). Minnesota’s rushing game isn’t that great either, averaging 162 yards a game while Michigan averages 206.

And as far as defense goes, Michigan allows 17 points a game. Minnesota allows 23.

The biggest factor to this game, is going to be Denard Robinson. Is he going to be able to play? He left the Nebraska game with an injured nerve in his elbow. From there we got to see Russell Bellomy come in, and have a horrible game. I’m not blaming the kid. He’s new to all this. He isn’t supposed to be the starting QB. He’s supposed to watch as Denard tears defenses apart. So when Denard went down, Bellomy had that deer in the headlights look, and tried. I heard many people asking (and begging) Brady Hoke to put Devin Gardner in as QB instead. He did not.

Jerry Kill is trying to get the Gophers bowl eligible for the first time since 2009 (photo by Jesse Johnson, AP)

News at Michigan practice his week, is that Devin did however take snaps as QB, just in case Robinson doesn’t end up playing this Saturday. Maybe Hoke heard the people.

I think Denard will play this Saturday. Will he injure the elbow again? Not sure. I don’t think he’ll play all game. I think Hoke will play him, but pull him every now and again to let Devin, and maybe even Russell get some snaps (that is if the game is in hand). We really need to rely on Fitzgerald Toussaint this Saturday. Al Borges needs to let Fitz run straight at the Golden Gophers defense, and ram the ball down their throats.

I have not done the best job at guessing the score this season, but here we go…

I don’t see this one being that close. Michigan is going to take the lead, and never give it back. The Little Brown Jug will stay in Ann Arbor for another season. Denard scores a couple TDs, and so does Devin Gardner (as QB, NOT WR).

Michigan 38 – Minnesota 17

Sam (1): Michigan wins. End of story.

Michigan 31 – Minnesota 13

Katie: Last week didn’t turn out nearly as well as was hoped for, but there is a consolation, this week we play Minnesota and the poor Golden Gophers are at the bottom of the Legends Division. But hey, it could be worse, the Leaders has two teams without a Big Ten win, and Minnesota has notched a W against the Boilermakers to make them 1-3 in conference play. Michigan on the other hand is living in disappointing times. Granted, the preseason polls were overestimated, the Wolverines have still lost three games so far this season, and while that’s not quite a debacle it will be if we go 5-3 in Big Ten play. Northwestern I’m sure would love nothing more than an upset at the Big House after what will likely be a safeguarding of the Brown Jug. Not to mention Ohio State, who will welcome Michigan into the ‘Shoe for the first time since coach Urban Meyer was instated, and with a definite chip on their shoulder due to their inability to play in the conference championship or a bowl game.

I’m not trying to overlook Minnesota. Well, I suppose that’s not entirely true. I do know however, that one has to make the catch before running with it, and that the play can’t go down field until the ball is secured. Really though, did last years score against Minnesota have to look like a MAC team rollover. 58-0?

So while that sort of bullying hasn’t happened to the Gophers this year, they also have yet to play a ranked team. Though it is true that they played the Wildcats, who are now second in the Legends, within a touchdown. Now I am going to make the assumption that if we can’t beat Minnesota that the season is, for all intents and purposes, over. But on a positive note I’m not envisioning much of a problem. That is unless the offense collapses without Denard, and Devin Gardner, who could see a return at quarterback, looks worse than Bellomy. Not that the red-shirt freshman would look quite as bad as he did against Nebraska. I think that with more than a few minutes notice, and an away crowd that hasn’t been getting pumped for a night game for hours in advance, he should be able to pass more efficiently. With that being said I still would not hesitate to say that Gardner was our starting QB if number 16 wasn’t ready.

As for the stats, Minnesota’s aren’t too bad on either side of things, but they don’t look as good on paper as Michigan does, and Michigan has been fumbling around this season. The Wolverines best bet is on a strong defense that gives its offense as many opportunities to score as possible. Without Denard’s fleetness of foot Michigan could need time for some extended drives. Look for a Wolverines victory, but without last year’s margin.

Michigan 38 – Minnesota 13

Michigan vs Minnesota game preview

Friday, November 2nd, 2012


Michigan’s los to Nebraska last weekend put the Wolverines in a must-win scenario for every game the rest of the season. And it all starts tomorrow with the battle for the Little Brown Jug. It’s our very own Matt’s favorite rivalry.

Minnesota enters with a 5-3 record, but has won just one of four since Big Ten play started. The Gophers munched on douglas-firs – UNLV, New Hampshire, Western Michigan, and Syracuse – before dropping three straight to Iowa, Northwestern, and Wisconsin. Last week, Minnesota got back in the win column with a 44-28 win over Purdue.

TCF Bank Stadium  -  Minneapolis, Minn.
12pm EST  -  Big Ten Network
______________

Minnesota Head Coach: Jerry Kill (2nd season)
Coaching Record: 8-12 (at Minn.), 135-85 (overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Matt Limegrover
Defensive Coordinator: Tracy Claeys
Returning Starters: 13 (7 offense, 6 defense)
Last Season: 3-9 (2-6)
Last Meeting: Michigan 58 – Minnesota 0 (2011)
All-time Series: Michigan leads 71-24-3
In Ann Arbor: Michigan leads 38-12-1
In Michigan Stadium: 32-10-1
Current Streak: Michigan 4

Minnesota is fighting for bowl eligibility, needing at least one more win in its four remaining games. That will likely come next week against Illinois, but the Gophers would like to become bowl eligible this week and take back the Little Brown Jug. Can they? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

When Minnesota has the ball

Minnesota will be starting freshman quarterback Philip Nelson for the third straight week. He turned in rather pedestrian numbers against Wisconsin in his first start (13-of-24 for 149 yards, two interceptions and two touchdowns) but had a good game against Purdue last week (15-of-22 for 246 yards, three touchdowns, and no picks). He can also run a little bit, having carried the ball 25 times for 104 yards.

He will be throwing to junior A.J. Barker and a bunch of other guys. Barker leads the Gophers with 30 receptions for 577 yards and seven touchdowns. The next best receiver is Isaac Fruechte who has just 13 catches for 193 yards and two touchdowns. MarQueis Gray, who converted from quarterback to receiver, has caught seven passes for 73 yards in the past two weeks. He’s a great athlete, so he’s always dangerous with the ball in his hands.

In the backfield, Donnell Kirkwood is the workhorse with 138 carries for 609 yards and three touchdowns so far. He had his best game of the season last week, rushing for 134 yards on 6.1 yards per carry. No other running back has done much – Gray and Nelson are second and third on the team – but freshman Rodrick Williams Jr has been getting more carries each of the last three weeks.

The Gophers are only scoring 25 points per game and were held to 13 by Iowa, Northwestern, and Wisconsin. You might recognize that as the magic number Michigan has allowed a few times this season. Michigan’s defense has been outstanding the past six weeks, giving up an average of 9.8 points per game. The Wolverines held Nebraska well below its season average despite an offense that couldn’t stay on the field in the second half without Denard Robinson. Minnesota shouldn’t hurt Michigan at all with the run game, so look for Nelson to challenge Michigan’s secondary downfield. Even though Michigan features the top-ranked pass defense in the country, the corners have still been susceptible over the top.

When Michigan has the ball

Minnesota has the 7th-ranked pass defense in the nation but the 82nd-ranked rush defense. That shows that teams have been able to run all over the Gophers. The best rush offenses Minnesota has faced, Wisconsin and Northwestern, put up 337 and 208 rushing yards, respectively. Iowa also had a 100-yard rusher.

Rushing Attempts: 12 – Denard will pass Tyrone Wheatley for 6th in career rushing attempts.
Rushing Yards: 4 – Denard will pass Tyrone Wheatley for 4th in career rushing yards. With 115, he could pass Missouri’s Brad Smith (2002-05) for 2nd in NCAA FBS history. With 219, he could pass Jamie Morris for 3rd in Michigan history.
Rushing Touchdowns: 1 – Denard will pass Mike Hart for 3rd in career rushing touchdowns.
100 rushing yards: Denard will pass Jamie Morris for 4th in career 100-yard rushing games.
Pass Completions: 17 – Denard will pass Tom Brady for 5th in career completions.
Pass Yards: 211 – Denard will pass Elvis Grbac for 3rd in career passing yards.
Total Yards: 170 – Denard will pass Illinois’ Juice Williams (2006-09) for 6th in career total yards in Big Ten history.
Field Goals: 1 – Brendan Gibbons will tie Bob Bergeron for 6th in career field goals made. With 3 he will tie Ali Haji-Sheikh for 5th.

Safety Troy Stoudermire and cornerback Derrick Wells are the leading tacklers, while Wells also has a pair of interceptions. Linebackers Mike Rallis and Keanon Cooper are returning starters from last season and rank third and fourth on the team in tackles.

The defensive line found a pair of guys to step up after being a disaster last season. DL Wilhite leads the team and ranks second in the Big Ten with 6.5 sacks and also has nine tackles for loss. RaShede Hageman has also made an impact in the backfield, ranking sixth in the conference with four sacks.

Expect Michigan to run the ball just like it did against Purdue and Illinois. With a healthy Denard, Michigan should be able to eat up chunks of yards on the ground and only pass a handful of times.

The other third

Kicker Jordan Wetterstein is just 9-of-16 this season with a long of 44, while punter Christian Eldred averages just 37.4 yards per punt, which ranks ninth in the Big Ten. The Gophers don’t have much in the way of a return game. Barker handles punt returns and averages 7.1 yards per, but no one ranks in the top ten in the conference in kick returns.

Prediction

As I mentioned above, look for Michigan to run the ball. Denard better go out of bounds when necessary to avoid big hits, and hopefully the game can be well in hand by the end of the third quarter so he can rest and give Russell Bellomy some more game action. On the other side of the ball, Minnesota may connect a couple long balls, but shouldn’t be able to move the ball very much against Michigan’s defense. Michigan will retain control of the Jug for the fifth straight year.

Michigan 37 – Minnesota 10

Bonus: After Michigan’s win, root hard for Michigan State. Yes, I said it and I know it goes against everything you’ve been taught, but Michigan’s only chance of winning the Legends division is for Nebraska to lose one if its remaining game, and this is their best chance. So go Sparty!

Minnesota: first look

Monday, October 29th, 2012


Read our preseason preview here.

This Saturday, Michigan looks to follow up a poor performance against Nebraska with a win over Minnesota. The Gophers are currently in last place in the Big Ten Legends division, while Michigan is in a battle for first with Nebraska. At this point, every game is a must-win if Michigan wants any chance of reaching the Big Ten championship game. Minnesota, meanwhile, is still fighting for relevancy.

The Gophers picked up their first conference victory last Saturday, beating Purdue 44-28. You might remember that as being the same number of points Michigan scored on Purdue, though the Wolverines held the Boilers to just 13.

Michigan’s loss to Nebraska dropped the Wolverines to just 3-4 on the road in Brady Hoke’s tenure (not counting the neutral site loss to Alabama), so Michigan will need a win in Minneapolis to pull even in that regard. Does Minnesota have a shot at upsetting the Wolverines and dismantling their Big Ten title hopes? Or will Michigan keep those hopes alive? Let’s take a look.

Minnesota 2012 Statistics & Michigan Comparison
Minnesota Michigan Rank Opponent Rank
Points Per Game 25.2 | 28.0 82 | 63 23.1 | 17.2 43 | 14
Rushing Yards 1,303 | 1,653 1,424 | 1,161
Rush Avg. Per Game 162.9 | 206.6 61 | 27 178.0 | 145.1 84 | 46
Avg. Per Rush 4.0 | 5.2 5.0 | 3.7
Passing Yards 1,650 | 1,372 1,279 | 1,162
Pass Avg. Per Game 206.2 | 171.5 87 | 108 159.9 | 145.2 7 | 1
Total Offense 2,953 | 3,025 2,703 | 2,323
Total Off Avg. Per Game 369.1 | 378.1 88 | 83 337.9 | 290.4 27 | 9
Kick Return Average 17.5 | 22.6 109 | 52 17.0 | 21.0 7 | 60
Punt Return Average 7.9 | 10.4 69 | 39 5.1 | 6.3 30 | 54
Avg. Time of Possession 31:49 | 30:45 25 | 45 28:11 | 29:15
3rd Down Conversion Pct 39% | 47% 72 | 23 39% | 35% 61 | 37
Sacks By-Yards 16-107 | 10-95 56 | 104 12-87 | 7-55 35 | 12
Touchdowns Scored 25 | 26 24 | 14
Field Goals-Attempts 9-16 | 14-17 6-7 | 13-18
Red Zone Scores (20-26) 77% | (25-28) 89% 80 | 20 (18-21) 86% | (19-22) 86% 95 | 92
Red Zone Touchdowns (15-26) 58% | (14-28) 50% (14-21) 67% | (10-22) 45%

On paper, Michigan and Minnesota look fairly similar – at least on offense. I never thought I would utter those words in a senior Denard-led offense, but that’s where we are eight games into the season. But while they look fairly even on paper, in actuality, Michigan has faced three of the nation’s top ten scoring defenses, while the best one Minnesota has faced is Wisconsin, which ranks 17th. In fact, the average scoring defense among the teams Minnesota has played is 56th, plus the 65th ranked scoring defense in the FCS. Conversely, Michigan’s is 51st.

The main discrepancy between the two teams is on defense. Michigan boasts the nation’s ninth-best total defense, 14th-best scoring defense and top pass defense, while Minnesota has the 43rd-best scoring defense and 27th-best total defense. The biggest mismatch may be in Michigan’s rush offene, which ranks 27th against Minnesota’s rush defense, which ranks 84th.

Freshman Philip Nelson has started the last two games at QB (photo by Andy Manis, AP)

The main playmaker for the Gophers is quarterback-turned-receiver MarQueis Gray. He started the season at quarterback, but made the move to receiver in favor of Max Shortell. Shortell then gave way to freshman Philip Nelson who has started the past two games and completed 61 percent of his passes for 395 yards, five touchdowns, and two interceptions. Against Purdue on Saturday, he went 15-of-22 for 246 and three TDs.

Gray is the team’s second leading rusher (from his time at quarterback) with 320 yards on 54 attempts and has caught eight passes for 89 yards since making the move.

Running back Donnell Kirkwood has rushed 132 times for 609 yards (an average of 4.4 yards per carry) and three touchdowns, while Nelson, having played in only the last two games, has rushed for 104 yards on 25 carries.

The receiving corps is pretty much a one-man show. Junior A.J. Barker has 30 catches for 577 yards and seven touchdowns. No other Gopher has more than 13 catches or 193 yards, however, 16 different players have caught a pass and 14 of those have caught at least two. The Minnesota passing offense is sixth-best in the Big Ten, just a few yards per game behind Nebraska, so Michigan’s top-rated pass defense will have its hands full once again.

The rush offense is also sixth in the conference, averaging 162.9 yards per game, but Wisconsin and Iowa held the Gophers to just 96 and 102 rushing yards, respectively.

Defensively, Minnesota allows just 159.9 yards per game through the air, good for seventh nationally and second in the Big Ten behind Michigan, but that is largely due to the success other teams have on the ground. Iowa’s Mark Weisman rushed for 177 yards on 21 carries, Northwestern’s Venric Mark gained 182 yards on 20 carries, and Wisconsin had two ball carriers with big days – James White had 175 yards on 15 carries and Montee Ball had 166 on 24. Needless to say, Minnesota’s rush defense has been anything but stout, and that’s good news for a Michigan offense that needs to get back on track.

Another area that Michigan seems to have a major advantage is on special teams. Brendan Gibbons has been getting quite a workout the past few weeks, and hopefully Michigan won’t need him much on Saturday, but he (and Matt Wile’s) 14-of-17 rate is far and away better than Minnesota kicker Jordan Wetterstein’s 9-of-16. In addition, punter Christian Eldred ranks ninth in the conference with an average of 37.4 yards per punt compared to Will Hagerup’s conference-best 45.9.

With Nebraska facing Michigan State on Saturday, this weekend is the beginning of a must-win four-game stretch for Michigan. Stay tuned for coverage throughout the week.