Friday, November 2, 2012

Preview And Prediction: Minnesota

Eight quarters.

That's how long it's been since Michigan last punched the ball across the goal line. It's a grim thought to have in the back of your mind for two weeks now, but with failure comes another chance to succeed. That's what this game against Minnesota is: another chance to succeed.

It has been released that Denard Robinson will be starting for the Wolverines this Saturday, but I have a tough time believing he is at 100%. He is coming off of aggravated nerve that has been bothering him as of late. But Shoelace has never missed a full game; why stop now?

On the opponent's side, the Golden Gophers found their magic last week behind the arm of freshman Philip Nelson, who threw for 246 yards and 3 TDs against an underrated Purdue defense. It was only the second career game for Nelson, but the Gophers seem strong with him at the helm of the offense.

Here are the keys to the game.

The Wolverines have struggled mightily on offense all season, but it has been especially painful these past two weeks. Fortunately, they are 1-1 through that stretch but find themselves in a position where they need to win out (and get some help from Nebraska) in order to compete in the Big Ten Championship.

1. Punch It Across

When -- not if -- but when Michigan gets its first TD in 21 days, I will become a little girl on Christmas and scream for every bolt of electricity racing through my body. And the funny thing is you think I'm joking.

For those of you who have ever played any kind of sport, you can probably relate to this feeling. In baseball, you can't push the run across. In basketball, your shooting slump continues game after game. The list goes on. But it's the same thing for this Wolverine offense.

I'm not saying a TD will revive the Superman in Denard Robinson or extend Branden Gibbon's range to past midfield. But it will bring a title wave of confidence to an offense that desperately needs it.

So, how do we actually get the ball across the goal line?

First of all, for those of you who might have forgotten, a TD is worth 6 points. Add the PAT, that's 7. Second of all, the playbook needs to be opened up. Al Borges has gone very conservative with play calling lately, and it has been too predictable. It's either an option reed or throw back screen.

Some trust needs to be put in Michigan's offense in order for them to be successful on Saturday against the Gophers.

2. Rattle The New Kid

Depending on what clique you called yourself a part of, you probably at least remember seeing the new kid come to school, and consequently some people would make sure that kid knew they were in foreign territory.

The Gophers will be at home on Saturday, but those big boys up front for Michigan have the power to make any quarterback feel like he's never known comfort. I think we can all agree that Greg Mattison does a terrific job of mixing up the pressure as it is, but this could be a game where we see him dial it up even more.

But as Uncle Ben once said, "With great power comes great responsibility." Philip Nelson leans towards his arm first, but he has the ability to bust open for 100 yards in a game. He just hasn't done it yet. But, just as we're learning with Michigan's offense, becoming too predictable and one-dimensional can ultimately be your poison.

I have full faith in our defense, though. They haven't let us down once this year. They'll take care of it.


The Golden Gophers started off their Big Ten season with three straight losses to the likes of Iowa, Northwestern, and Wisconsin. But just as head coach Jerry Kill started coming under more fire, his team exploded last week and beat Purdue convincingly, 44-28.

1. Dial Up The Heat

One aspect of this Minnesota team that has remained consistent all season is the play of the secondary. Contrary to years past, they are putting a strangle on the big play and doing a nice job of nearly eliminating some passing attacks.

Week to week, you can't be sure what exactly you'll have to work on eliminating with Denard Robinson, but virtually taking away that deep ball -- a skill Robinson started to display against Nebraska -- allows your defense to bring more pressure than usual. And as long as you stay disciplined in your attack, Robinson will not hurt you nearly as much as he is capable of.

I would expect to see a lot of option reads again this Saturday, even with the aggravated elbow nerve, but getting pressure on Robinson when he drops back to pass unfortunately means pay day for the defense. Michigan's offensive line is doing better at giving Robinson a pocket and time to throw. But, as I said last week when Nebraska overloaded against Russell Bellomy, there comes a time when the defense can bring one too many guys than the offensive line can handle.

Plus, the Gophers have struggled against the run this year. Getting to bring more guys in pursuit of the rush will help them out a lot.

2. Trust The Young Gun

Sometimes, one of the most rewarding things a coach can do for his program is put trust in the young guys, the players who haven't completely proven themselves. That might be a little harder said than done against a very strong Michigan defense, but Philip Nelson is looking like a QB who could run with the challenge.

Through two games for the freshman, it's hard to completely assess his play, but I would be excited, if I were a Gopher fan, to have this kid out there for my team. He's showing a lot of promise and, most importantly, he doesn't look like overwhelmed by being tossed into the middle of the Big Ten schedule. 

If Minnesota is going to find a spark against the Michigan defense, it most certainly won't be on the ground. And I'm no genius, but I believe that leaves one more option of attack: through the air.

Nelson can make the throws, but I think this coaching staff is going to have to put more trust into the young gun than they might be comfortable with. But like I said, sometimes that's the best thing to do.


While I think a lot of people might be looking past the Gophers, I think they'll give Michigan a run for their money. Still, in the end, I'll take the Wolverines 17-10.

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