Michigan Football: Keys for Wolverines to Avoid Crushing Upset vs. Minnesota

Tyler ConwayFeatured ColumnistOctober 31, 2012

LINCOLN, NE - OCTOBER 27: Quarterback Denard Robinson #16 of the Michigan Wolverines slips past defensive end Jason Ankrah #9 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers during the first half of their game at Memorial Stadium on October 27, 2012 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska won 23-9. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Eric Francis/Getty Images

Unranked and stuck in second place in the Big Ten Legends Division, the Michigan Wolverines' BCS bowl fate is now out of their hands coming into this Saturday's contest against the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Last week's crushing 23-9 loss to the Nebraska Cornhuskers put them in this position, as quarterback Denard Robinson left the game with an injury and the offense floundered without him.

Michigan's loss to Nebraska means every game from here until the end of the season is a must-win, starting on Saturday. 

It also puts the Wolverines in a position where they will have to execute certain facets of the game better than they have been. 

The Gophers come into Week 10 just one win shy of becoming bowl eligible, but with just one of those victories coming in the Big Ten. That undoubtedly makes Michigan favorites. However, Minnesota is at home and winning outside of the Big House has proven to be a daunting task for this Wolverines bunch. 

With that in mind, here is a look at what the Wolverines must do to come out victorious on Saturday.


Denard Robinson: In the Lineup and Effective

It's incredibly easy for the Wolverines to put last week's loss at the feet of backup quarterback Russell Bellamy. 

The freshman signal-caller completed as many passes to the Huskers' defense (three) as he did to his own receivers on 16 pass attempts.

Nonetheless, let's not forget that Denard Robinson wasn't exactly having a career-defining game, either. When the preseason Heisman hopeful went out of the contest, he was just 6-of-11 passing for 55 yards and had run for 46 yards on 10 carries.

By no means are those atrocious numbers, but they were relatively in line with his all-around mediocre performance against Michigan State.

As Michigan saw both last week and throughout the season, this offense only ticks if Robinson is spectacular. Anything else and it simply reverts to being pedestrian at best, as almost none of the skill-position players have the wherewithal to make big plays on their own.

With a matchup against Minnesota's elite pass defense on tap, one has to wonder how Robinson will fare on Saturday.


Find Some Positive Sign From Fitzgerald Toussaint

Perhaps the most inexplicable floundering facet on the Wolverines offense has to be performance of non-Robinson rushers this season, particularly Fitzgerald Toussaint.

The junior running back came into the season expecting to have a massive campaign after going over the 1,000-yard in 2011.

Unfortunately for Brady Hoke's bunch, Toussaint has been shockingly ineffective this season, gaining just 321 yards on 3.3 yards per carry.

That has to change for the Wolverines to have any shot to capture the Big Ten championship. Considering Minnesota's continued failures in run defense this season, Saturday will be as good a day as any to make that happen.

If Toussaint is ineffective again, it may be time to look down the depth chart and make a switch to Thomas Rawls.


Figure Out What MarQueis Gray is Doing and Stop It

After coming into the season as the Gophers' starting quarterback, MarQqueis Gray has seemingly moved back into the wide receiver slot, where he played as a sophomore.

Nonetheless, it seems likely that the team will look to use the 6'4" senior in a multitude of ways against Michigan.

When a player is as explosive as Gray on the outside and has a seemingly never-ending skill-set, it goes without saying that the Wolverines will face a unique challenge.

Still, if they can work on slowly negating Gray's effect, it will be easy to switch their focus toward flustering quarterback Phillip Nelson. 

Though the freshman signal-caller has been nothing short of great thus far, he's yet to face any defense even nearing Michigan's talent level.