After last week’s bye week, the Michigan football team hopes to improve on its recent performance when they host Minnesota on Saturday at 3:30. Michigan’s Big Ten opener will air on ABC and is also its homecoming. Michigan is a 20 point favorite heading into the contest. This weekend’s meeting will be the 100th in the Battle for the Little Brown Jug.
In its two previous games, the Wolverines barely defeated inferior opponents in Akron and UCONN, causing major concerns. With the bye week, Michigan has had an extra week of preparation and time to improve on some of its problems. It also gave players that have been a little banged up some time to rest and heal up.
Michigan fans are worried. If they come out against the Gophers and struggle, they should worry a little bit more. Michigan is still a very talented team and if they rebound from their past two games and roll over Minnesota, it will be a very good sign for the future of their season.
Here are some things to pay attention to on Saturday:
Offensive line shakeup
The offensive front of the Wolverines has been one of the major concerns so far this season. Their inability to effectively block the run and to protect quarterback Devin Gardner has led to some close games against some not so great teams.
Brady Hoke announced today that starting center Jack Miller would no longer be starting. Left guard Graham Glasgow will slide over to center and Chris Bryant will take his spot. Bryant, a sophomore, hasn’t played because of a lack of talent. He has battled a leg injury for much of the past two seasons. He’s healthy now, for the first time in a long time and will most likely start on Saturday against Minnesota.
Hoke also mentioned junior Joey Burzynski and freshman Kyle Bosch could also see some time at the guard position.
Hopefully this change in the offensive line can improve the run blocking and pass protection heading into Big Ten Conference action.
The Wolverines rely on their junior quarterback for the majority of its offense. When Gardner is on, Michigan usually controls football games. When he is off, Michigan struggles. This has been evident in the last two games.
Michigan has turned the ball over 12 times this season, which ranks up there for the most in college football. The majority of these turnovers have come from Gardner, who has not handled pressure all that well as of late. His decision making has been questionable, but it doesn’t help that he doesn’t have much time to throw most of the time. The lineup change on the O-line will hopefully give Gardner a little more time to throw and make good decisions.
The Minnesota defense has allowed its fair share of passing yards through its first five games. They rank 90th in the country, allowing 259.6 yards per game. If the line can protect and if Gardner can rebound, it could make for a big day for Michigan’s aerial attack.
Minnesota running game
The Golden Gophers have been pretty effective on the ground so far this year, averaging 231.8 yards per game. In its first four games, (UNLV, New Mexico St., Western Illinois, San Jose St.) Minnesota thrived on the ground but struggled in its most recent game against Iowa. The Hawkeyes shut down the Minnesota ground attack and helped defeat the Gophers 23-7.
The running back duo of David Cobb and Rodrick Williams Jr. has provided a good 1-2 punch for Minnesota. Cobb has 352 yards and 5 touchdowns and Williams Jr. has gained 299 and 3 touchdowns.
If Michigan hopes to defend the Jug on Saturday, they will need to limit these two backs the way Iowa did. Through Michigan’s first four games, they rank 5th in the FBS in run defense, allowing just 79 yards per game. If they continue this trend, they should have no problem coming away with the win.
The run game for Minnesota is even more important because of how bad they throw it. They have averaged just 111.2 yards per game so far this season. Gophers’ quarterback Philip Nelson has completed just 50 percent of his passes for 380 yards, 2 touchdowns and 4 interceptions.
Michigan has struggled at times, allowing over 300 yards passing in multiple contests this season. If you see 300 yards from the Minnesota offense this weekend, then Michigan fans should really start to worry.
Other game notes
– Michigan has dominated the rivalry in recent years, winning 20 of 21 contests dating back to 1987.
– The Wolverines have struggled to find contributors outside of Jeremy Gallon and Devin Funchess in the passing game. Look for freshmen Jehu Chesson and Da’Mario Jones to get some looks in the coming weeks.
– Senior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint finally benefited from a few good blocks and put together a solid showing last week against UCONN. Fitz finished with 121 yards on 24 carries and a pair of scores.
Michigan is too good of a team to struggle against opponents like Akron and UCONN. They will return to the way they played in its first two games against CMU and Notre Dame where they looked like a team that could compete for a Big Ten title.
The defense will hold the Gophers run game and the offense will benefit from an extra week of preparation and the shakeup on the offensive line certainly won’t hurt either.
Devin Gardner will limit his turnovers (hopefully none) and Toussaint will have another solid game on the ground. Michigan will improve to 5-0 and will control the Little Brown Jug for another year as they will win 38-17.
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