Michigan Wolverines vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers: Complete Game Preview
The battle for the Little Brown Jug between the Michigan Wolverines and Minnesota Golden Gophers will take place for the 93rd time this Saturday in Minneapolis, Minn., as the Maize and Blue look to keep pace with the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the Big Ten Conference Legends Division with a victory over their longtime rival.
Michigan leads the all-time series with a 67-22-3 record against Minnesota, and the Wolverines have only been beaten by the Golden Gophers three times since 1968.
Who will be the key players and who will come away with a much-needed win this weekend? Click ahead to find out!
Michigan's Depth Chart
Depth chart information obtained from TheWolverine.com.
QB: Denard Robinson, Russell Bellomy, Devin Gardner; RB: Fitzgerald Toussaint, Thomas Rawls, Vincent Smith, Justice Hayes; FB: Stephen Hopkins, Joe Kerridge, Paul Gyarmarti; WR: Roy Roundtree, Devin Gardner, Jerald Robinson, Amara Darboh; WR: Jeremy Gallon, Drew Dileo, Jeremy Jackson; TE: Brandon Moore, Mike Kwiatkowski, AJ Williams, Devin Funchess; LT: Taylor Lewan, Erik Magnuson; LG: Ricky Barnum, Joey Burzynski, Kyle Kalis; C: Elliot Mealer, Jack Miller; RG: Patrick Omameh, Burzynski; RT: Michael Schofield, Erik Gunderson, Ben Braden
DE: Frank Clark, Brennen Beyer, Mario Ojemudia; DE: Craig Roh, Keith Heitzman; NT: Quinton Washington, Ondre Pipkins, Richard Ash; DT: Will Campbell, Jibreel Black; SAM: Jake Ryan, Cam Gordon; WILL: Desmond Morgan, James Ross III, Brandin Hawthorne; MIKE: Kenny Demens, Joe Bolden, Mike Jones; CB: J.T. Floyd, Raymon Taylor, Delonte Hollowell; CB: Taylor, Courtney Avery, Terry Richardson; SS: Jordan Kovacs, Marvin Robinson, Floyd Simmons; FS: Thomas Gordon, Jarrod Wilson, Josh Furman
PK: Brendan Gibbons, Matt Wile; P: Will Hagerup, Wile; Kick Off: Wile, Seth Broekhuizen; LS: Jareth Glanda, Curt Graman; Holder: Drew Dileo, Jeremy Gallon; Kick Return: Dennis Norfleet, Vincent Smith, Josh Furman; Punt Return: Gallon, Norfleet
Minnesota's Depth Chart
Depth chart information obtained from GopherSports.com (Current as of Oct. 25th, 2012).
QB: Phillip Nelson, Max Shortell; RB: Donnell Kirkwood, Rodrick Williams Jr.; FB: John Rabe, Mike Henry; WR: Isaac Fruechte or A.J. Barker, Brandon Green; WR: MarQueis Gray, Devin Crawford or Andre McDonald; WR: Marcus Jones, Derrick Engel; TE: Drew Goodger, Alex Bisch; LT: Marek Lenkiewicz, Tommy Olson; LG: Zac Epping, Joe Bjorklund; C: Jon Christensen or Zac Mottla; RG: Caleb Bak, Ernie Heifort; RT: Josh Campion, Foster Bush
DE: Michael Amaefula, Ben Perry; DT: Cameron Botticelli, Ronald Johnson; NT: Ra'Shede Hageman, Scott Ekpe; DE: D.L. Wilhite, Theiren Cockran; OLB: Aaron Hill or Lamonte Edwards, Spencer Reeves; MLB: Mike Rallis, Brendan Beal; OLB: Keanon Cooper, James Manuel; CB: Troy Stoudermire, Jeremy Baltazar; CB: Michael Carter, Martez Shabazz; S: Derrick Wells, Damarius Travis; S: Cedric Thompson or Brock Vereen, Grayson Levine
K: Jordan Wettstein, Chris Hawthorne; P: Christian Eldred; LS: Jake Filkins, Dave Ramlet; H: David Schwerman; KR: Troy Stoudermire, Marcus Jones, KJ Maye; PR: A.J. Barker
What Happened in Michigan's Last Game
The Michigan Wolverines looked lost on offense after senior quarterback Denard Robinson left the game with an elbow injury and did not return in the 23-9 loss to the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Memorial Stadium last Saturday.
Redshirt freshman signal-caller Russell Bellomy relived Robinson, but failed to complete a pass in his first 10 attempts and finished the game 3-of-16 passing for 38 yards, zero touchdowns and three interceptions that marred Michigan's comeback attempts.
Michigan's defense forced two turnovers, but allowed Ameer Abdullah to rush for 101 yards and allowed Taylor Martinez to keep the chains moving on several drives with his arm and legs.
The Wolverines' rushing offense has been nowhere to be found due to the struggles of their offensive line. Michigan's leading rusher last weekend was Robinson, who rushed for 46 yards on 10 carries before being sidelined.
Outside of Robinson, the Wolverines only managed to rack up 87 yards of total offense against Nebraska's defense, which had given up 27 or more points in their last four games.
One of the lone bright spots in the loss was junior kicker Brendan Gibbons. The West Palm Beach, Fla., native made all three of his field-goal attempts, including a 52-yarder in the second quarter, and recorded Michigan's only points for a second straight game.
What Happened in Minnesota's Last Game
The Minnesota Golden Gophers snapped a three-game losing streak last Saturday with a 44-28 blowout of the Purdue Boilermakers at TCF Bank Stadium.
With MarQueis Gray at wide receiver and Max Shortell still recovering from a neck injury, freshman quarterback Phillip Nelson made his second straight start for the Golden Gophers and threw for 246 yards and three touchdowns to help Minnesota race out to a 31-7 halftime lead.
Sophomore running back Donnell Kirkwood turned in his second 100-yard performance of the season by rushing for 134 yards on 22 carries.
Minnesota's defense played its best game since the month of September by holding the Boilermakers under 400 yards of total offense and scored a touchdown of its own courtesy of a 43-yard interception return by Michael Carter in the third quarter.
All but one of Purdue's touchdowns came after the Golden Gophers had built up a 37-point lead in the second half.
What This Week's Game Means for Both Teams
The battle for the Little Brown Jug dates back to 1903, and it is one of the oldest rivalry trophies in college athletics, which makes this weekend's contest equally important for the Michigan Wolverines and Minnesota Golden Gophers.
As far as Big Ten Conference implications go, the Golden Gophers could use a victory over their storied rival to stay alive in the Legends Division race, while the Wolverines need to leave TCF Bank Stadium with a victory in order to remain tied with the Nebraska Cornhuskers for first place in the division.
The Wolverines have only lost to the Golden Gophers three times since 1977, which means Jerry Kill's squad will be looking to make a statement this Saturday and prove it will not be pushed around and disregarded by Michigan for another 25 years.
Additionally, Michigan and Minnesota are both in need of a win this weekend to become bowl-eligible.
The Golden Gophers' last appearance in a postseason contest was in the 2009 Insight Bowl against the Iowa State Cyclones, while the Wolverines are hoping to guarantee themselves a spot in a bowl game for a third straight year.
Key Player for Michigan: Denard Robinson
Thankfully for the Michigan Wolverines, senior quarterback Denard Robinson is expected to play against the Minnesota Golden Gophers this Saturday in Minneapolis, Minn., despite being held out for the second half of last weekend's loss to the Nebraska Cornhuskers after aggravating his ulnar nerve.
"He should be fine," Michigan head coach Brady Hoke said at his weekly press conference on Monday.
Robinson appears to be the only functioning piece of Michigan's offense right now, which is struggling to open up holes for the running backs to run through and as a result has become too reliant on its dual-threat quarterback to carry the load.
The problems along the offensive line do not appear to be getting better, so if the Wolverines want to retain the Little Brown Jug this weekend, they will need a spectacular performance from Robinson once again.
In last year's meeting, Robinson rushed for 51 yards on six carries, completed 15 of 19 passes for 169 yards and accounted for three total touchdowns in limited action against the Golden Gophers.
Although Minnesota has improved vastly on defense compared to last season, Robinson should still be able to run all over the Golden Gophers and be efficient enough throwing the football for the Wolverines to get a win.
Key Player for Minnesota: Phillip Nelson
The Minnesota Golden Gophers got an outstanding performance out of their true freshman quarterback Phillip Nelson, who will have to be near perfect for a second straight week if Jerry Kill's squad hopes to win the Little Brown Jug for the first time since 2005.
Nelson completed 13 of his first 14 pass attempts and threw three touchdowns in the first half to give the Minnesota Golden Gophers an insurmountable halftime lead against the Purdue Boilermakers last Saturday.
The Michigan Wolverines are going to throw several different looks at Nelson and dial up plenty of exotic blitzes to try and fluster the young signal-caller, but if the 6'2", 225-pounder can keep his composure and avoid turnovers, the Golden Gophers should be able to hang with the Maize and Blue for much of the game.
Things could get ugly, though, if the Wolverines are able to shut down Minnesota's running backs and are constantly in Nelson's face.
Although the Michigan Wolverines are coming off an awful game in Lincoln, Neb., Denard Robinson still has enough offensive firepower to carry the Maize and Blue to a fourth consecutive victory over the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the battle for the Little Brown Jug.
The matchup to watch will definitely be between Michigan's offensive line and Minnesota's defense. If the Golden Gophers are able to load up in the box and Robinson fails to be an effective passer, Michigan fans could get a scare from Minnesota.
Michigan's defense should shut down Minnesota's rushing attack with ease, but if the Wolverines cannot get pressure on freshman signal-caller Phillip Nelson, the Golden Gophers will be able to hang around early, especially if A.J. Barker or MarQuise Gray are able to come up with a long reception in the passing game.
The only problem for Minnesota is that it is playing the same Michigan offense that put up 89 combined points against the Illinois Fighting Illini and Purdue Boilermakers during the Wolverines' recent three-game win streak.
The Wolverines will finish off the game before the start of the fourth quarter after Robinson breaks off a couple of big runs and finds junior wide receiver Devin Gardner or true freshman tight end Devin Funchess wide open deep down the field at least once.
Prediction: Michigan 34, Minnesota 13