Saturday, October 5, 2013

Preview: Michigan vs. Minnesota

Rush Offense vs. Minnesota Rush Defense
The big news on Michigan's side is a shakeup on the offensive line with the insertion of redshirt sophomore left guard Chris Bryant, the move of redshirt sophomore Graham Glasgow to center, and the benching of redshirt sophomore Jack Miller. Michigan has struggled to run the ball with the tailbacks this season. Starting running back Fitzgerald Toussaint has 79 carries for 319 yards (4.0 yards/carry) for 5 touchdowns, and the next most utilized tailback is freshman Derrick Green (13 carries, 60 yards, 1 touchdown). Where Michigan has made hay is on options and scrambles with quarterback Devin Gardner (49 carries, 301 yards, 5 touchdowns, 6.1 yards/carry). It will be interesting to see whether the mammoth Bryant can be effective at blocking zone stretches, because he's more of a straight-ahead power blocker. Meanwhile, Minnesota's run of patsy opponents have averaged just 3.9 yards/attempt on the ground, but sometimes that's the way it goes against the likes of UNLV, New Mexico State, Western Illinois, San Jose State, and Iowa. The Gophers are small on the edges with redshirt sophomore end Theiren Cockran (6'6", 238 lbs.) and junior end Michael Amaefula (6'2", 244 lbs.). The real force to deal with is fifth year senior defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman (6'6", 311 lbs.), a bona fide NFL prospect who boasts 20 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss thus far; he's paired with redshirt junior Cameron Botticelli (6'5", 290 lbs.). Junior strongside linebacker Damien Wilson (6'2", 254 lbs.) leads the team in tackles with 33.
Advantage: Michigan

Pass Offense vs. Minnesota Pass Defense
Gardner is completing 57.4% of his passes for 801 yards, 7 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions, which is a terrible touchdown-to-interception ratio. Fifth year senior Jeremy Gallon (22 catches, 328 yards, 4 touchdowns) had over half his yards and 3/4 of his touchdowns against Notre Dame, so the other opponents have done a good job of clamping down on Gardner's favorite target. Redshirt freshman Jehu Chesson (3 catches, 57 yards, 1 touchdown) has been targeted more lately, sophomore tight end Devin Funchess (8 catches, 145 yards, 1 touchdown) has been fairly consistent, and senior slot receiver Drew Dileo (6 catches, 74 yards, 1 touchdown) is as dependable as anyone. Sophomore cornerback Eric Murray (6'0", 194 lbs.) leads the team with 6 pass breakups, senior safety Brock Vereen (6'0", 202 lbs.) has 3, and five players have 1 interception each. Cockran leads the team with 3 sacks, and three other guys have 1 each, so it's not a dominant pass rush. However, Michigan's reshuffling on the offensive line might prove to be problematic, especially given that Bryant is considered to be a more adept run blocker than pass blocker. Twist stunts have given Michigan's offensive guards fits so far this year, and the Gophers would be remiss not to try, oh, 37 of them or so. Until Gardner can stop throwing so many picks . . .
Advantage: Minnesota

Rush Defense vs. Minnesota Rush Offense
From left tackle to right tackle, Minnesota goes redshirt junior Marek Lenkiewicz (6'5", 289 lbs.), redshirt junior Zac Epping (6'2", 321 lbs.), Jon Christenson (6'4", 306 lbs.), redshirt junior Caleb Bak (6'3", 302 lbs.), and redshirt sophomore Josh Campion (6'5", 326 lbs.). Each of those guys started at least four games in 2012, although that rendition of the team averaged just 3.8 yards/carry. This year that number has jumped to 5.2, albeit against questionable competition. Carries have been split pretty evenly between sophomore Rodrick Williams (5'11", 235 lbs.; 52 carries, 299 yards, 3 touchdowns) and junior David Cobb (5'11", 225 lbs.; 61 carries, 352 yards, 5 touchdowns), who both average 5.8 yards/carry. The Gophers have a run offense based heavily on the option, and the quarterbacks have combined for 88 carries, 454 yards, and 8 touchdowns. Meanwhile, Michigan has allowed just 316 rushing yards so far on 3.1 yards/carry, and the next rushing touchdown will be their first allowed this year. Part of the reason for that lack of success on the ground is other teams' ability to complete short passes, but Michigan also has yet to face a team with a mobile quarterback or an option-oriented offense. This will be Michigan's first real test on the ground. The Wolverines should hold up fairly well, but this might be the week where they finally allow a score.
Advantage: Michigan

Pass Defense vs. Minnesota Pass Offense
Minnesota typically starts four capable pass catchers. Fifth year senior Derrick Engel (6'2", 187 lbs.), redshirt junior Isaac Fruechte (6'3", 204 lbs.), and sophomore K.J. Maye (5'10", 197 lbs.) are the receivers, while junior Drew Goodger (6'5", 265 lbs.) starts at tight end. Luckily, they mostly lack big-play potential. That quartet has combined for just 26 catches, 331 yards, and 2 touchdowns. Sophomore starting quarterback Philip Nelson (6'2", 215 lbs.) has completed just 50.8% of his passes for 2 touchdowns and 4 interceptions, while redshirt freshman backup Mitch Leidner (6'4", 233 lbs.) is 12/20 for 178 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 0 picks. The Wolverines have forced opponents into throwing 6 interceptions, including 3 by redshirt sophomore cornerback Blake Countess. The safeties have been solid in not allowing deep passes, but the non-Countess cornerbacks have been beaten over the top repeatedly. The team's 9 sacks put them on pace for 27 on the year, which would improve on last year's total by 5. No one player has proven himself as a great pass rusher, but Michigan is hurrying the quarterback with a variety of players. In particular, outside linebacker Brennen Beyer, defensive tackle Jibreel Black, and defensive end Frank Clark have put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Michigan isn't great against the pass, but luckily, Minnesota isn't great at throwing it, either.
Advantage: Michigan

Roster Notes
  • Freshman running back Berkley Edwards is the younger brother of former Michigan wide receiver Braylon Edwards and the son of former Michigan running back Stan Edwards
  • Edwards (from Chelsea) and redshirt sophomore linebacker Dominic Schultz (Port Huron) are the only Michigan natives on the roster
  • Redshirt sophomore offensive linemen Kyle and Luke McAvoy are twins and the younger brothers of former Michigan offensive guard Tim McAvoy
  • Redshirt freshman OT Jonah Pirsig is the only Minnesota player to have held a scholarship offer from Michigan.
  • H-backs/tight ends coach Rob Reeves attended Saline High School and played quarterback at Saginaw Valley State University.
Last Time They Played . . . 
  • Devin Gardner debuted as the starting quarterback, completing 12/18 passes for 234 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception, adding 21 yards and 1 touchdown on the ground.
  • Minnesota sacked Gardner 3 times.
  • Philip Nelson went 13/29 for 142 yards and 1 touchdown.
  • Michigan won by a score of 35-13.
  • Michigan's shakeup on the offensive line causes offensive coordinator Al Borges to call more powers and fewer zone stretches.
  • The midline option offense results in a couple fumbles.
  • Devin Gardner finally hits Jehu Chesson over the top for a big play.
  • The Glasgow/Gardner combination results in a fumbled snap.
  • Michigan 34, Minnesota 10


  1. Our OTs versus their DEs sounds like a crazy mismatch.

    1. Let's see how our RBs take advantage of that

  2. Imagine you missed the game -- couldn't watch it for some reason. Now imagine Michigan wins by your predicted 34-10 score. You bring up the box score. What's the stat you look at first to get the big picture of the game, and whether Michigan is making progress towards being the team it can and should be? Some thoughts:

    o Turnovers, particularly INT -- indicates Gardner's maturation
    o Yards on First Down -- indicates OL effectiveness
    o 3rd Down Conversion -- broader measure of getting production early so 3rd Downs are more accessible

    Your thoughts?

  3. Let me make a few predictions of my own and let's see if any of them sticks:
    1. Gardner throws two picks
    2. Green and Fitz both get ~10+ carries
    3. Glasgow is better than Jack Miller at center and Bryant is better than Glasgow at LG
    4. Michigan 28 - Minnesota 14

  4. Michigan wins by a lot - 38-16

    Toussaint, Green, and Gardner run for 200 yards.

    Gardner throws only 1 pick on a long pass, it's not a detrimental interception.

    Gardner doesn't LOSE any fumbles.

    Gardner passes for 250 yards.

    We hold Minnesota to less than 25% third down conversion, and less than 300 yards total offense.


  5. Not bad prognosticating there Thunder. If Countess doesn't pick six in the last minute, you're within 4 total points on the score. One fumbled snap. I missed some of each quarter and might have missed a couple, but i didn't see one stretch play. Not bad at all.