Who, What, When, Where, Weather:
Who: Minnesota (Line: -20.5)
What: Big Ten Season Opener
When: 12:00 Eastern. Big Ten Network
Where: Ann Arbor
Weather: Hi 49: 20% chance of showers
Offense vs. Minnesota
The Gophers are 75th in the nation in scoring defense allowing 26.8 ppg to the likes of North Dakota State, New Mexico State!?, and Miami (OH). Their best defensive outing came in the opener against USC, which, what? The rush defense comes in at a respectable 32nd. But, something tells me that NDSU, NMSU, Mia (OH), don't pose the same rushing threat that Denard and Co. do. Which, is completely accurate Miami (OH) is 118th in the nation, NMSU is 109th, USC is only 67th, and NDSU is a 1-AA school, that was able to rack up 139 yds on the ground. I'm not convinced that their rush defense is prepared to be Denarded.
This rush defense was 90 something overall last season and no matter how good the overall number looks now, Michigan's rushing offense is 12th in the nation far and above what any opponent the Gophers have faced thus far. Denard is Denard, so I, through my maize and blue glasses, always expect great things. The running back by committee has been narrowed down to what seems like only two viable options and both have shown great things to this point. Look for Michigan's rushing attack to remind Minnesota where their place is. Having 2 starting DE's that collectively weigh less than 500 lbs will not help them, when Taylor Lewan bulldozes them.
Fortunately for Michigan's enigmatic pass offense the gopher pass defense is 108th nationally. It will be interesting to see if Michigan uses this to their advantage and works on developing a passing game to get Denard comfortable. Against USC, save a TD bomb, Robert Woods was able to get 17 catches mainly on short routes, as Minnesota did their best Michigan of the past 2 years impersonation, and gave receivers 7-10 yds cushion on every play.
Denard has looked uncomfortable in the pocket the majority of the season. I've thrown my opinion out there that Borges needs to maybe revert to the more simpler passing style of Rich Rodriguez's spread, at least early, to get Robinson comfortable and allow him to build some confidence. If there's a time for Robinson to throw effectively it has to be this weekend against the Gophers. Barkley chucked up 300, NMSU's Andrew Manley, threw for 288 and TD's and NDSU's, Brock Jensen went for 197 and only 5 incompletions.
Lastly, the experience in the secondary resembles one worse than Michigan's the past couple years.The experience consists of a converted WR and guy with a handful of starts at CB. While the safety position, starts a guy that missed an entire season with a leg injury and a converted RB.
What To Watch For:
Michigan having an effective passing game, that isn't jump-ballpalooza. While, I don't think that the Wolverines will need a heavy dose of the pass to win this one, it would be nice going into the rest of the B1G schedule, feeling like their's something their that resembles a passing game. If the passing game still looks lost in the abyss look for Denard to scamper to another 125-150 yds.
Defense vs. Minnesota
The gopher offense comes in to this one 88th nationally. I can rehash the level of competition that's held this offense in check if I must but, NMSU, Miami (OH), NDSU... Minnesota's rushing attack is 48th nationally and for the majority, that offense has come from QB Marquise Gray, who is questionable to play this weekend. Passing the ball the Gophers come in 97th nationally for 179.3 yds a game.
Gray has been able to pick yards just like how you'd expect a spread QB to pick up yds this year, broken plays and designed runs. The rush defense has gradually been improving and last week was able to keep the nations second leading rusher relatively in check. If Gray is unable to play it will be interesting to see where Minnesota tries to get yards on the ground. I was assume that they will try to attack the edges, as that's where Michigan's rush defense has been the shottiest the most this season.
Passing the ball, Minnesota has a weapon in Da'Jon McKnight and than nobody. Last week the secondary showed decent to good improvement blanketing the receiving corps from SDSU, and making NFL prospect Ryan Lindley look average. If Gray isn't able to go and true Freshman Max Shortell is in the game look for me to be even more excited about the apparent improvement of the secondary. Woolfolk should be able to sit this one out without any worries and Blake Countess can go ahead and be the first freshman corner to not look terrible at Michigan in first year since Donovan Warren.
The D-line stepped up big last week and helped make the secondary look better than they may or may not truly be and that trend of improved play should continue. Martin, VanBergen, and Roh showed last week just how disruptive they can be and Roh is playing some of his best football too date. With the inexperienced and not very good offensive line the D-line will be key.
What To Watch For:
Michigan being able to contain edge especially if Gray plays. This has been the most obvious glaring weakness for the D and if they can improve on locking that down that will be a good sign for the rest of the B1G season. The D is able to practice against Denard all the time, and not to take away anything from Gray, but he is no Denard, this should help the D here.
Jeremy Gallon keep making me confident in you and Gibbons plese don't miss another field goal or this time I will start to worry. One development to keep an eye on is the return of Will Hagerup punting. If he was able to win his job back this past week look for an advantage to Michigan in the field position game.
If Minnesota came into this game with their only loss being to USC, I'd be a little nervous just because B1G opener, yadda, yadda. But the fact of the matter is Minnesota is 1-3 and hasn't looked good against presumably weaker competition. Now I look at them like I did the Eastern game and expect Michigan to run away with this one. I say 34-14 Meeeechigan.