Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Minnesota Players To Watch

With 4 games to go, there is nothing to be taken for granted. Nothing. Michigan will be traveling to face Minnesota this week, where they have an all-time record of 67-22-3 in the series,  carrying a 5-3 (3-1) record. Minnesota is also 5-3 but (1-3) in the Legends Division, and Michigan has lost to Minnesota only 3 times since 1968.

When you look at how Michigan has done so far, it's not encouraging for the simple fact that except for Purdue, Michigan has loss every road contest, and won every home stand. That makes Saturday's game against the Golden Gophers that much trickier. Both teams do pretty well on the pass defense part of the game--Michigan is 1st, Minnesota is 7th. It's the other facets of the game that both teams seem to struggle with. Denard Robinson was hurt last week against Nebraska, and although he is supposed to be "fine" this still begs the question of how "fine" will he be after being knocked out of the game for over half of it?  And what will happen with Michigan's running attack, or lack thereof? Will Michigan retain the Little Brown Jug that's been passed around since 1903?  Well here is some players to keep on eye on for Minnesota:

Max Shortell
Normally I begin the entry with the quarterback starter. With Minnesota it's difficult to do so since they've had 3 guys under center taking snaps this season, and each one has his own skill set. Max Shortell has had this most experience this season and has thrown for 791 yards, 6 TDs, and 4 INTs on the season so far, but he's been out the last few weeks with a neck injury and that led to Philip Nelson. Nelson has played two games so far and has 5 TDs with 2 INTs against Wisconsin and Purdue. MarQueis Gray is the all-purpose weapon--not only does he have the identical stats as Nelson does, but he's also caught 8 passes on the season and ran the ball 54 times for 320 yards and 3 TDs. That averages out to be 5.9 ypc in case you wanted to do the math on it. Gray's issue however is the Gopher's need of help at the wide receiver spot, a la Devin Gardner.

Donnell Kirkwood
When college football enters championship November a solid running game is needed, which only Gray and Donnell Kirkwood can provide. Kirkwood is only 5'9", but at almost 220 lbs he is a brusier of a running back. Even with having 619 yards on 138 carries, Kirkwood has only scored 3 TDs on the season through 8 games, and hasn't scored since Week 4 against Syracuse. Not to mention last week against Purdue he recorded his second 100+ rushing yard effort. The one thing I can tell about him looking solely at his stats so far is if he is going against a tougher run defense, and Michigan's is only ranked 48th in the nation, then he isn't as productive. I know that's not shocking to hear, but if you're going to be a ground and pound running back then you need to be able to churn out the yardage, even against better teams.

A.J. Barker
Minnesota seems to have only one quality receiver, and that's A.J. Barker. Barker is only 6'1" and 197 pounds, but when you do your research and see that when he went to high school at De La Salle HS in California, then that's all you need to know about his toughness. De La Salle is still one of the preeminent high schools in the country and churn out college stars on a regular basis. Now so far on the season Barker has only 30 catches for 577 yards and 7 TDs...which on every stat is more than double than that of any other receiver. If Michigan's successful secondary can hold this guy down, then it should be a good day for Big Blue.

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