Michigan (5-3) at Minnesota (5-3)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, Nov. 3, 12 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: TCF Bank Stadium (50,805) -- Minneapolis, Minnesota. Television: Big Ten Network. Home Record: Michigan 4-0, Minnesota 4-1. Away Record: Michigan 1-2, Minnesota 1-2. Neutral Record: Michigan 0-1, Minnesota 0-0. Conference Record: Michigan 3-1, Minnesota 1-3. Series Record: Michigan leads, 71-24-3.
GAME NOTES: The latest installment in the battle for the Little Brown Jug takes place in Minneapolis this Saturday, as the Michigan Wolverines and Minnesota Golden Gophers square off in a Big Ten Conference showdown.
Both teams come in sporting a 5-3 overall record, but Michigan has won three of its four Big Ten bouts, while Minnesota has lost three of its four.
The Wolverines dropped a 23-9 decision at Nebraska last Saturday, in what was their first visit to Lincoln in more than a century, and the setback snapped a three-game win streak for coach Brady Hoke's club. As a result, the Maize and Blue fell out of the AP Top-25, and it was the second straight game in which the team failed to find the end zone. Following this bout, Michigan still has tough games with Northwestern, Iowa and hated rival Ohio State, and it is still in the hunt for a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game.
The Golden Gophers claimed a 44-28 win at home versus Purdue last Saturday, putting the brakes on a three-game slide which came on the heels of four straight wins to open the season. Minnesota is 4-1 at home this year, and coach Jerry Kill's squad needs just one more win to become eligible for a bowl game. If unsuccessful this week, Minnesota's best shot at reaching that milestone victory will likely come next weekend at Illinois.
Michigan owns a commanding 71-24-3 lead in the all-time series with Minnesota, and the Wolverines have won four straight and 20 of the last 21 meetings overall. The most recent encounter took place in Ann Arbor on Oct. 1, 2011, with Michigan easily retaining the Litte Brown Jug with a 58-0 triumph.
Had multi-dimensional QB Denard Robinson been able to stay in last week's game at Nebraska, the Wolverines may have had a better chance of earning a victory. But as it was, Robinson was knocked out late in the first half with an arm injury, and freshman backup Russell Bellomy was thrust into action. The rookie was clearly in over his head, as he completed a mere 3-of-16 passes for 38 yards with three interceptions. He was sacked twice as well. In all, the Wolverines finished with just 166 total yards, while allowing 326 to the Cornhuskers. PK Brendan Gibbons accounted for the team's only scoring, booting three field goals, including a career-best 52-yarder in the opening quarter.
Nebraska didn't have a particularly strong offensive game, the Huskers piling up 326 total yards, and they won despite being flagged eight times for a loss of 104 yards, The Michigan defense was led by LB Kenny Demens with 10 tackles, and the unit as a whole notched just a single sack to go with a pair of turnovers.
It's expected that Robinson will play this week, and he will need to be on top of his game if the Wolverines are going to end their TD drought, which now stands at eight quarters. Robinson is having a sub par season passing the ball (.536, 1,319 yards, nine TDs, nine interceptions), but he is a threat to go the distance every time he decides to hold onto it, rushing for 946 yards and six scores, his yardage total being nearly three times that of his closest teammate (Fitz Toussaint, 321 yards, four TDs). Not surprisingly, no pass catcher has more than 18 grabs and 318 receiving yards (Jeremy Gallon), although Devin Gardner has hauled in four scoring strikes among his 16 total receptions.
Michigan is outscoring the opposition by 10.8 ppg (28.0 to 17.2), and the defense has been at its best when trying to stop the pass (145.2 ypg, five TDs). The effort against the run yields 145.1 ypg and seven scores, but a glaring lack of big plays has clearly hurt the team. The Wolverines only have 10 sacks thus far, despite making 42 stops behind the line of scrimmage. Additionally, the unit has been credited with only seven interceptions and 13 total turnovers. LB Jake Ryan and Desmond Morgan rank one-two on the team's tackles list with 56 and 53, respectively, the former also pacing the club with 9.0 TFL and 3.5 sacks.
In last week's win over Purdue, Minnesota got solid individual efforts from freshman QB Philip Nelson (15-of-22, 246 yards, three TDs), WR A.J. Barker (five receptions, 135 yards, two TDs, and RB Donnell Kirkwood (22 carries, 134 yards), and PK Jordan Wettstein aided the effort by going 3-of-4 on field goal attempts, two of which were from 40 yards and beyond. Nelson completed 13 of his first 14 passes. In the end, the Gophers amassed 212 yards on the ground and 246 through the air, while moving the chains on 6-of-13 third-down tries and committing just a single turnover.
Minnesota CB Michael Carter broke up six passes and returned an interception 43 yards for a score to start the third quarter last week, while CB Troy Stoudermire and S Brock Vereen paced the defense with seven tackles apiece. The Gophers were credited with three sacks on the day, while the Boilermakers had none. Despite those efforts, Purdue still managed to generate 183 yards rushing and another 198 passing, and it too was effective on third down, converting 9-of-18 chances.
Minnesota is scoring just a shade more than it allows this season (25.2 ppg to 23.1 ppg), and the team has been rather balanced on both sides of the ball. Offensively, the Gophers typically roll up 162.9 ypg on the ground and 206.2 ypg through the air, the latter resulting in 16 of the unit's 24 TDs. Nelson has appeared in just two games this season, but he is a 60.9 percent passer who averages just shy of 200 ypg, and he has five TD tosses against two interceptions. Barker now has 30 catches for 577 yards and seven scores, while Kirkwood spearheads the rushing attack with 609 yards and three TDs.
Foes are producing 178 ypg on the ground, but just 159.9 ypg via the pass, and nearly twice as many TDs have been surrendered on the ground (15-8). Stoudermire continues to pace the club with 48 total tackles, but there are three others with at least 41 stops. DE DL Wilhite has 6.5 sacks, and fellow end RaShede Hageman has four, the team as a whole having taken down the opposing quarterback 16 times as part of its 43 TFL. The Minnesota defense has logged just 11 takeaways to this point.
There is no denying the fact that Michigan is the better team on paper, but that said, there is no quit in this Minnesota squad so you can expect them to play hard from the opening kickoff until the final second ticks off the clock. The Wolverines are likely to come after Nelson hard, so it will be interesting to see if he's got what it takes to rise to the occasion. In the end, however, Robinson and company will be able to do enough to earn the visitors a satisfying win.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Michigan 31, Minnesota 21
10/31 10:36:54 ET