In the next two weeks as we move closer to the start of the 2015 Gopher Football season, we here at The Daily Gopher will give a quick preview of the Gophers opponents. After what I assume will be a much needed bye week, the Gophers string of three consecutive prime time nationally televised games begins at home on Halloween. Expect a lot of blue pullovers and khaki pants for costumes this year as the Gophers will welcome the Michigan Wolverines.
Name: Michigan Wolverines
Location: Ann Arbor, Michigan (She may or may not be of ill repute)
Conference: Big Ten (East Division)
Notable Alumni: James Earl Jones (of course Darth Vader went to Michigan), Lucy Liu, Arthur Miller, Ann Coulter, Rich Eisen, Clarence Darrow, Gerald Ford, Tom Brady, Ari Gold
Bill Connelly Preview Link: Here!
Last season for Michigan was....well, yeah. A 2-2 non-conference record with losses to Notre Dame and Utah did not give Michigan fans much hope. But it was ok, they started off the Big Ten slate with the weak and hapless Minnesota Gophers. Easy win...right?
Oops. mix in the Shane Morris concussion situation and the buy two cokes get two tickets and that was a REALLY bad week for Michigan. Things did not get better the rest of the way as Michigan would go 3-5 in the Big Ten with wins over Penn State, Indiana, and the Moon game over Northwestern. Yuck. That was enough to send Brady Hoke packing and the administration looking for a better version of a "M" Man. Wonder who they would find? Guessing we have never heard of him and he would draw no media attention at all....right?
Goodbye Brady Ho.....nope...can't do it.
Devin Gardner graduated, and while he had several moments, I really don't think many Michigan fans are sad to see him go. The only problem is what's left to replace him. The Wolverines don't miss much at running back either, unless you count Gardner's yards. At receiver is where Michigan will feel losses. Devin Funchess is finally gone from killing the Big Ten, and with the injury to Kelvin Benjamen will start for the Carolina Panthers this fall. He "only" had 62 catches for 733 yards last season, but it sure felt like more. Michigan also loses just one starter from the offensive line in center Jack Miller. So the cupboard is not bare for this unknown Michigan coach.
Defensively, The Wolverines both lose and return a lot. Someone will have to step up on the defensive line to replace the production of Frank Clark and Brennan Beyer. The two combined for 10 sacks and 21 tackles for loss in 2014. Possibly the biggest hole to fill in the middle of the defense will be linebacker Jake Ryan. Ryan led the team in tackles with 89.5 and tackles for loss with 14. That's 14.4% of the teams tackles in 2014 gone in just one player. The Wolverines will also have to deal with the loss of starting corner back Ramon Taylor. He tied for the team lead with 6 pass breakups in 2014. Also, its time for a completely re-hauled special teams group as punter Will Hagerup, kicker Matt Wile, and return man Dennis Norfleet have all said goodbye to Ann Arbor.
I guess Michigan hired some guy as their head coach. Harbaugh something....never heard of him. Know who I have heard of....Michigan's new "stud" offensive coordinator. Jedd Fisch. Yep, THAT Jedd Fisch.
Good luck with that.
At quarterback, things get interesting as it will be a battle between the now non-concussed Sean Morris and Iowa transfer Jake Rudock to see who gets the first crack at being Fisch's new mentee. However, according to the following, it sounds like things are not going well in Ann Arbor.
QB - if I had to guess, I'd say both Morris and Rudock would play against Utah - not sure there's clear separation— Dave Revsine (@BTNDaveRevsine) August 19, 2015
The Wolverines return both top running backs from a year ago in De'Veon Smith and Derrick Green. Add in former USC 5-star Ty Issac, and it could be a interesting crowded backfield. Michigan returns its #2 and #3 receivers in wide out Amara Darboh and tight end (and All-Big Ten name finalist) Jake Butt, so whomever wins the QB job will have some targets to throw too. Hopefully for them they can get some protection fro the four returning starters on the O-line as well.
Defensively, While Michigan has to replace their top two D-linemen, they do have plenty of depth at the position. They return four players who all had at least three sacks in 2014, so the cupboard is definitely not empty. They also return four seniors and a junior at the linebacker spot to try and make up for the loss of Ryan. Joe Bolden is the flashiest of them coming in second on the team in tackles with 78.5 in 2014. The secondary also has depth with three starters returning, and the hopeful reemergence of now redshirt freshman Jabrill Peppers who only played one game last season due to injury. he was one of the top players in the freshman class of 2014 however. The addition of Stanford transfer Wayne Lyons will make this secondary much improved this year as well.
Does Michigan have a quarterback on the roster it likes? The Gophers had no problem with wither Morris or Rudock last season, and that may be a trend that continues throughout 2015.
What can Jim Harbaugh bring to Michigan besides his name and khakis. He has turned plenty of other programs around, but usually not in year one. How fast can he turn Michigan back into a contender?
Thirdly, the Wolverine defense looks quite good on paper. Will that be enough to cover up the offense's sins, or will we see a lot of games Michigan will be trying to win 14-10.
Fourth, just how many people will be we dressed as Harbaugh on Halloween night? 10? 50? 500?
What Does It All Mean For Minnesota?
The Gophers have the Little Brown Jug in their possession for just the second time since 1986. Hopefully they can keep it a bit longer this time. The Gophers used both Maxx Williams and David Cobb to great advantage in the Big House last fall, and that coupled with De'Vondre Campbell's Pick 6 sealed the deal for Minnesota. The Gophers need to know that at home, with what I can l only assume will be an ABSOLUTELY insane crowd, they need to get up early and use the crowd to their advantage. The last time the Gophers played at night on Halloween, things got weird. Hopefully Minnesota can do that again.
Whomever the quarterback, the Gophers need to make his night a living hell. Pressure, pressure, pressure. This is where the crowd could come in very handy. Make him make mistakes and let your stud secondary make plays. Couple that with some success in the running game, and making the big passes when they are there for the taking, and the Little Brown Jug hopefully should stay here for a few more years (since the teams don't play in 2016)
Ignore the Harbaugh Hype Machine, and the Gophers should win back the jug. Of course, Michigan could be 2-5 by this point if they don't get past Gary Andersen's Oregon State team in the Big House. The Gophers completely outplayed Michigan a year ago and with the crowd on their side this time, the Gophers hopefully can win the jug at home for the first time since 1977. The key will be pressure on the quarterback, and stop me if you have heard this before, establishing the run. If the Gophers do both to success, he biggest problem that night at TCF is going to be keeping some very drunk Gopher fans away from the fragile piece of pottery on the field. Minnesota wins, and the Jug stays in Minnesota until at least 2017 by a score of 31-16.