Wolverine Wednesday: Minnesota Golden Gophers Preview

#19 Michigan Wolverines 4-0 (Big Ten 0-0) v.s. Minnesota Golden Gophers 4-1 (0-1 Big Ten)

 

Minnesota Last Week: The Golden Gophers lost the Floyd of Rosedale trophy to Iowa for the second straight year. The loss marked the Gophers first of the season and the first in Big Ten play. Iowa more or less dominated Minnesota. The tight Hawkeye defense proved to be too much for the Gophers to handle, as they only gained 165 yards of total offense. Sophomore running back Rodrick Williams Jr. was the leading rusher for the Gophers, with only 22 yards on the ground. Quarterback Philip Nelson completed half of his passes for 135 yards and one touchdown. Nelson also threw two interceptions on the day and had only 5.63 yards per attempt. Defensively, Minnesota allowed 464 yards of total, over 200 in both rushing and passing.

 

Michigan Last Week: Following back-to-back close games against inferior opponents, Michigan was gifted with a bye week.

 

Minnesota Team Leaders:

Passing: Nelson 33/65, 380 yards, 2 touchdowns

Rushing: Cobb 61 carries, 352 yards, 5.8 yards per carry, 5 touchdowns

Receiving: Engel 12 receptions, 160 yards, 13.3 yards per reception, 1 touchdown

 

Michigan Team Leaders:

Passing: Gardner 58/101, 801 yards, 7 touchdowns

Rushing: Toussaint 79 carries, 319 yards, 4.0 yards per carry, 5 touchdowns

Receiving: Gallon 22 receptions, 328 yards, 14.9 yards per reception, 4 touchdowns

 

Minnesota Overall Rankings:

Passing Yards: 118th

Rushing Yards: 23rd

Points For: 44th

Points Against: 38th

 

Michigan Overall Rankings:

Passing: 83rd

Rushing: 51st

Points For: 33rd

Points Against:  40th

 

The Matchup

 

Michigan will, for the third week in a row, face an opponent who should be beaten and beaten handily. Nevertheless, if there is anything we have learned about the Wolverines this season it is there are no easy wins. The Golden Gophers of Minnesota come into Ann Arbor trying to ruin Michigan’s homecoming. Not an easy task for a team that finished at the bottom of the Big Ten Legends division last season, with a 2-6 conference record.

Offensively, the Golden Gophers are tailored to struggle against Michigan. The Wolverines can’t seem  to find an answer to the pass, that much was obvious when inexperienced sophomore Akron Zips quarterback Kyle Pohl threw for over 300 yards in the Big House. This week, Michigan will face Golden Gophers quarterback Philip Nelson, who has barely completed half of his passes and not yet thrown for over 400 yards in his four starts. That being said, if an Akron Zips quarterback could torch the Michigan secondary, then who is to say a Minnesota Gophers quarterback can’t do the same thing?

Minnesota’s strength is running the football, a phase of the game which Michigan’s defense has been able to shut down. The swarming Wolverines defense is currently only giving up 79 rushing yards per game. The Golden Gophers will test Michigan’s endurance with three running backs that continuously rotate in. A fresh pair of legs always favors the offense. If Michigan can stay stout in the running game and force the Gophers to pass, then they should be successful.

What to do about Michigan’s turnover ridden, unproductive offense? One thing is for sure-it will not change. Head football coach Brady Hoke put to rest the idea of showing more spread.

“I would agree to disagree (that the offense is more efficient out of the spread),” said Hoke in this Monday’s press conference. “When you see some of the downhill runs and some of the play-actions off of them and the outside stretch play, I thought we’ve done a good job with those things.”

Hoke was right. For the first time since week one, Michigan running back Fitzgerald Toussaint lead the team in rushing. Hopefully, this is a sign that the pro-style offense that Michigan is looking to implement is starting to come into fruition. And the play action boots that the Wolverines drew up did look good. Quarterback Devin Gardner found tight end Devin Funchess on a few roll outs that were set up by the Wolverines’ running game.

However, Connecticut was a tale of two quarters. In the first half, Michigan’s offense looked atrocious. But in the third quarter, a few big runs by Toussaint opened up the play book a little more, allowing Michigan to call some play action plays.

This week, starting the game off strong will be key for the Wolverines. If the offense lazily walks into the Big House and waits, yet again, until the second half to make plays, then we could have a third week of sitting on the edge of our seats.

 

Matt Moore contributes writings about the NFL Draft and Michigan Football for ProFootballCentral. Follow Matt on Twitter @Matt23Moore