Previewing A Jug That Is Little And Brown - Michigan @ Minnesota

Leon Halip

Ann Arbor is a lady of questionable moral fiber and her mascot-less off-spring are making their first trip to The Bank.

OPENING THOUGHTS

Winning really changes everything doesn't it? Even though I don't expect a W this weekend, I'm in a much better mood coming into tomorrow thanks to the victory over Purdue. I'm less concerned about needing to "win the tailgate" as a distraction from another L in a growing losing streak. As an added bonus, the fine play of Phillip Nelson last week (combined with Michigan's poor play against Nebraska) has me at least seeing an upset as a possibility, albeit an extremely remote one.

The Gophers no longer have their backs pressed up against the wall. The win over Purdue increased their chances of a bowl berth GREATLY. That means instead of coming into this game desperately needing an upset, the team will hopefully play loose, more relaxed, and more precise football.

THE BASICS

When and Where:

11am, TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, MN

Media

TV: Big Ten Network

Radio: KFAN (100.3 FM in the Twin Cities) and the Gopher Radio Network (Radio Affiliates). You can also listen to the game via the IHeartRadio app for your mobile device.

Weather Forecast:

Overall look at the day...

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...the weather for tailgating...

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...and here's how the hourly look for kickoff and beyond...

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THE ENEMY

Last Season:

Rebuilding year? What rebuilding year? Michigan had a fantastic first season under Brady Hoke, finishing 11-2 (6-2) with a BCS berth and Sugar Bowl win over Va Tech. Was it always the prettiest season? No. They lost their 4th in a row to MSU and somehow managed to lose to Iowa. But a BCS bowl winning season is nothing to sneeze at. Oh, and they sort of whooped on the Gophers.

2012 Schedule:

Michigan started the season ranked far too high and were humbled in their opener against Alabama. A second loss to Notre Dame left Michigan sitting at an uncomfortable 2-2 coming into B1G play. Michigan turned in convincing beatdowns of Purdue and Illinois before winning a very ugly game against Michigan State. Last weekend was also ugly, as the offense sputtered without Denard. Nebraska's victory in that game gave them control of the Legends West Division.

General Notes:

- Michigan's win over Michigan State was the 900th in program history.

- Michigan leads the all time series record 71-24-3.

- Michigan leads the Little Brown Jug series 67-22-3

- The Little Brown Jug is the oldest rivalry trophy in college football.

- Last time the Gophers won the Jug in Minnesota? 1977.

- Simple fact that feels weird and wrong somehow? Minnesota and Michigan have the same record right now...5-3.

- The Gophers are undefeated @ TCF in games that are played below 45 degrees.

Bonus Little Brown Jug Fun:

The Michigan website MVictors has a fantastic 13 part history of the Little Brown Jug. I only got through part of it, but it looks awesome and I recommend checking it out.

Coaches:

Head Coach: Brady Hoke (2nd season) is 16-5 (9-3) in his 2 seasons at Michigan. While he was not the first choice of Michigan admins or fans (seriously, Google MGoBrian's meltdowns over Hoke...epic), he has proven to be a solid selection thus far. Very much a "Michigan Man", he refers to OSU simply as "Ohio."

Offensive Coordinator: Al Borges (2nd season). Al came into Michigan talking about moving to a more pro-style offense. In reality, he has continued to incorporate plenty of spread option elements into his schemes to maximize the abilities of Denard Robinson. Borges followed Hoke to Michigan from San Diego State.

Defensive Coordinator: Greg Mattison (2nd season). Mattison was Hoke's big hire, as he stole him away from the Baltimore Ravens (where Mattison was also DC). The defensive turnaround under Mattison has been impressive, and defense is becoming the primary strength of the team.

The Offense:

In one word? Denard. Seriously. The guy accounts for approx 75% of the team's offensive production. As we all know by now, he's absurdly quick and a huge running threat. His passing has improved some from previous seasons, but he's still a champion arm punter when he wants to be. If the Gophers can somehow find a way to contain Robinson, then they might have a shot in this game. Sadly, I think we know all too well how unlikely it is that our lowly ranked rushing D will have much success stopping Shoelace. We just don't have the team speed or talent (particularly at LB) to effectively contain him or scheme against him. If Denard is injured again or doesn't play, then they have more than just a shot, because the backups are not good and the passing offense is BAD.

The other primary threat is RB Fritz Toussaint, but he's actually had a "meh" year. But again, this is our rushing D we're talking about. If Denard gets hurt, keeping him contained and forcing Michigan to throw will be key. Their receivers are the definition of blah, with lots of drops and missed opportunities. Their play has got Michigan blogs taking the time to look at how badly Rich Rod recruited the position.

Stop the run (or Denard gets hurt) and we have a chance. No wishing for injuries though. That's just cold.

- Rushing Offense: 27th nationally (4th B1G); 206.63 ypg

- Passing Offense: 108th nationally (11th B1G); 171.50 ypg

- Passing Efficiency: 108th nationally (11th B1G); 111.05

- Total Offense: 83rd nationally (7th B1G); 378.13 ypg

- Scoring Offense: 63rd (6th B1G); 28.00 ppg

- 3rd Down Efficiency: 23rd nationally; 47.27%

- Red Zone Efficiency: 20th nationally; 89%

The Defense:

The best we've seen yet, without a doubt. I wouldn't expect the kind of offensive explosion we saw last week, that's for sure. The 3 big names to know are Jake Ryan, Thomas Gordon, and Jordan Kovacs. Ryan is a LB and leads the team in tackles (56) and TFL (9). Probably the best linebacker we've seen and a big reason why the running game may struggle. Gordon and Kovacs are both safeties who are in the top 4 in tackles and TFL. Combined they account for nearly 50% of the teams interceptions as well. They'll be looking to ruin Phillip Nelson's day.

If Maize n Brew is to be believed, thus far Michigan's pass rush hasn't been overly dominant and their corners have been struggling on coverage. But if we can't run the ball, Greg Mattison will have no trouble creating coverages that sell out on the pass and take away any opportunities we have in that aspect of the game. After all, they have the best overall pass D #'s in the conference AND in the nation.

- Rushing Defense: 46th nationally (6th B1G); 145.13 ypg

- Passing Defense: 1st nationally (1st B1G); 145.88 ypg

- Passing Efficiency Defense: 15th nationally (4th B1G); 107.37 rating

- Total Defense: 9th nationally (2nd B1G); 291.00 ypg

- Scoring Defense: 14th nationally (2nd B1G); 17.25 ppg

- Turnover Margin: 89th nationally (10th B1G); -4 total

Special Teams:

Kicking (particularly FG kicking) was a huge liability under RichRod. Not anymore. Brendon Gibbons has been solid on FG and PAT, going 13-15 on the former (long of 52, both misses in the 40's) and 25-25 on the latter. Punting appears to be split between Will Hagerup and Matt Wile, with Wile getting all the punts against Nebraska. Wile's average is worse (around 40 yards) so that could help.

- Kickoff Returns: 52nd nationally (3rd B1G); 22.59 ypr

- Punt Returns: 39th nationally (4th B1G); 10.40 ypr

- Net Punting: 69th nationally (7th B1G); 36.37 ypp

- Kick Return Defense: 60th nationally; 21.04 ypr

- Punt Return Defense: 54th nationally; 7.00 ypr

SMART SOUNDING MUMBLINGS

Keys to the Game:

- Contain the run on defense

If we can hold Michigan to their season average in rushing yards that counts as containing the run. That would also give us a shot at winning the game. If Denard runs wild then this game is a sure loss.

- Win the turnover battle

You're going to keep seeing this one on the keys. The Gophers aren't good enough to dig themselves out of holes or recover from mistakes. They either need to play turnover free ball or be sure to force more than they lose. That's especially true against a Michigan defense that may not allow them many sustained drives.

- Establish the run on offense

If the Gophers become 1 dimensional on offense they will lose. Plain and simple. Michigan's pass defense is too good for Minnesota to become a pass heavy team in this game. Additionally, the offense needs to chew clock and create longer drives to give the defense time to rest. Otherwise Denard will slice and dice our run defense with even more ease.

- Be flawless on special teams

No more missed FG's Jordan. We'll need every point.

Completely Worthless Prediction:

Ultimately I don't see the upset unless Denard doesn't play or is hurt pretty early in the game. Even then, I'm not sure our offense will be able to move the ball enough to make a difference. I'm going with the assumption that Denard plays the whole game. Final score? Michigan 31, Minnesota 13.

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