Michigan Wolverines vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers: Complete Game Preview
The No. 19-ranked Michigan Wolverines (4-0, 0-0 Big Ten Conference) host the Minnesota Golden Gophers (4-1,0-1 Big Ten Conference) in a battle on Saturday for the oldest trophy in college football, the Little Brown Jug.
The Wolverines are undefeated, but two narrow victories over Akron and UConn have caused them to slide in the national rankings.
Date: Saturday, Oct. 5
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
Place: Michigan Stadium (109, 901), Ann Arbor, Mich.
Series vs. Minnesota: 72-24-3
Radio: Michigan IMG Sports
Spread: Michigan by 20.5 TheSpread.com
Live Stats: MGoBlue.com
Last Meeting vs. Minnesota: Michigan 35, Minnesota 13 (Nov. 3, 2012)
Behind a three-touchdown performance by first time-starting quarterback Devin Gardner, Michigan defeated Minnesota at TCF Bank Stadium.
* Information according to University of Michigan Wolverine game notes
Highlights from last year's meeting between Michigan and Minnesota saw Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner make his first career start a memorable one.
Michigan Keys to Victory
Unleash the defense
The Michigan defense has bailed out the team so far this season. With the Wolverine offense struggling to find consistency, the defense needs to contain the Gophers for the entire game. Look for Michigan's linebackers to play a big role in containing the Gopher attack.
Forget UConn and Akron
Despite criticism over their narrow victories over Akron and UConn, it would be easy forget that the Wolverines are still undefeated. That doesn't make their offensive weaknesses any less glaring, but those games are in the books. Michigan can't let the lingering memories of those near-defeats hamper them if they make mistakes early against the Gophers.
Protect Devin Gardner
Quarterback Devin Gardner appeared completely deflated after mistakes against UConn dug a hole that the Wolverines were barely able to escape. The Wolverines need to keep their play-calling simple and help him get his confidence back. Gardner has the potential to be a devastating offensive weapon, but his offensive line has rarely allowed him to shine during the last two games.
Minnesota Keys to Victory
Attack the middle
The interior of Michigan's offensive line continues to struggle. The Gophers need to pressure quarterback Devin Gardner, and turn his mistakes into points. Both Akron and UConn were able to accomplish that, but they still came up short. The Gophers need to do better.
Fling the ball
The Michigan defense has been vulnerable in the passing game, but the Gophers' passing attack is among the worst in the nation, ranking 118 out of 123 FBS teams. They need to find their passing game to have a chance against the Wolverines.
Make Devin pass and contain the run
When all else fails, Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner has sparked the offense with his legs. Last season, teams contained the Wolverine offense by bringing pressure from the edge and having linebackers contain the outside running game. The Gophers would be wise to follow a similar strategy, letting their interior defensive lineman pressure Gardner while dropping their linebackers to look for errant passes and contain his scrambling.
Michigan Players to Watch
UPDATE: Coach Brady Hoke announced yesterday that Graham Glasgow would be replacing Miller at center and Chris Bryant would play guard.
Center Jack Miller
Miller has struggled to block defenders this season. Expect the Gophers to challenge him and to pressure quarterback Devin Gardner. A big game by Miller would go a long way towards solidifying the Wolverines' offensive line.
Quarterback Devin Gardner
The nearly flawless Gardner who gashed Central Michigan and Notre Dame all but disappeared against Akron and UConn. The Wolverines need him to calm down and execute the offense by getting other players involved. Better play-calling by offensive coordinator Al Borges might help Gardner find his rhythm against the Gophers.
Defensive end Frank Clark
Clark has been dominant at times this season. With the Gophers expected to throw the ball, this could be Clark's opportunity for a career day at Michigan Stadium.
Minnesota Players to Watch
Running Backs David Cobb and Rodrick Williams
The Gophers' running backs each average 5.8 yards per carry but were completely contained by the Iowa defense last week. If Michigan can contain them, the Minnesota offense is in for a long day against the Wolverines. Williams has rushed the ball 109 times in his career (13 games) and has been stopped for negative yardage only three times, with two of those carries coming against Michigan last season. He has never been stopped for a loss of yards on the road.
Defensive tackles Cameron Botticelli and Ra'Shede Hageman
How well the interior of Michigan's offensive line contain these two players could be the story of the game. Past performance indicates they both might be spending a lot of time in the Michigan backfield.
What They Are Saying
We always talk bout the trophy games we have...We brought the jug in before we met and talked about it again and kind of went through the history of it and what it means from that history...You don’t want them to come over to your sideline and take it back. I think that’s very important.
Minnesota coach Jerry Kill via the Detroit Free Press:
When you play the University of Michigan, and we played against Gardner last year, he’s made plays this year where they’ve got him bottled up in the pocket and then he scrambles out of it...He does a great job of making plays on his own and keeping his eyes down field and hitting open receivers. I still feel like their offense goes through that young man.