This Saturday finally marks the opening of Big Ten competition with the Minnesota Golden Gophers traveling to the Big House to face the Michigan Wolverines. It has been quite the emotional roller coaster for the Maize and Blue faithful as expectations have been jolted a bit by the nail-biting results of the last two games against what most would agree as far less talent. Nonetheless, Brady Hoke and the Wolverines must put the non-conference schedule behind them and focus on the task at hand. What is the task at hand you may ask? What it is every year for the Wolverines; a Big Ten Championship! To do that Team 134 must first get past Minnesota.
Minnesota comes into town with a 4-1 record with their only loss coming to Iowa last week by a score of 23-7. For the Golden Gophers to pull off a victory and give Brady Hoke his first loss in the Big House they will need several key things to happen.
First they will need to establish a passing game to compliment their already over 1,200 yards of rushing on the season. The Gophers have consistently struggled this season to open up the pass attack. Currently they are averaging a little over 111 yards a game. If they can settle in and start getting some completions down field, this will only improve their already stout rushing game and force the Wolverines to drop back into coverage.
Last week Minnesota’s special teams had a breakout play by Junior Marcus Jones. Jones took a kickoff in the 3rd quarter 66 yards out of his own end-zone setting up Minnesota’s first score. If the Gophers can get solid yards out of Jones on kickoffs it could spell trouble for the Wolverines.
Lastly, the Gophers defense will need to get pressure on Devin Gardner. Gardner has had a knack this season for turning the ball over, and if the Gophers can get to him quick and early it will only increase their chances.
For Michigan to win, it comes down to two things: win the turnover battle and establish the running game.
If Devin Gardner finally settles in this week and limits his turnovers to one or none, the Gophers could be in a heap of trouble. The offensive line for Michigan has improved on a weekly basis allowing for Fitzgerald Toussaint to have his best game of the year nearly two weeks ago at Connecticut. Naturally, the running game will open up the passing game and if Gardner has finally settled in as quarterback it could spell doom for Minnesota.
Alas, this is Big Ten football and it may end up being a very hard fought contest giving the uncertainty of where the Wolverines really stand in the scheme of things. Or, the Wolverines will be reminded of how this game determines who takes the Little Brown Jug home, college football’s oldest trophy. Starting in 1903 with Michigan leaving their jug and finally getting it back in 1909 after the Golden Gophers said you will have to play us for it!
The overall series record between these two teams is led by Michigan 68-22-8.
One can only wonder if Minnesota regrets initiating that challenge back in 1903. I believe this Saturday, when the Gophers come to Ann Arbor they will once again leave the Jug where it truly belongs; Michigan!
Prediction: Michigan wins 33-10.