The Wolverines move into Big Ten Conference play as one of just four teams from the league that made it through the first month of the season without a loss.
But Michigan starts Big Ten play knowing that if the game plan remains the same, there could be losses in the future, both on the scoreboard and in key personnel.
The supposedly revamped Michigan pro-style offense under the direction of first-year head coach Brady Hoke looks remarkably similar to the Michigan spread offense of former head coach Rich Rodriguez. QB Denard Robinson is being ridden hard and exposed to a lot of hits, just like he was last year.
Through four games, Robinson has the most carries of any player in the Big Ten, running back or quarterback, tied with Minnesota quarterback MarQueis Gray. Robinson leads the conference in rushing yards.
This all looks very familiar. In the 2010 season, Robinson ran the ball 29 times in the opener against Connecticut, 28 times the following week against Notre Dame, 27 times against Penn State and 22 more in successive weeks against Purdue and Wisconsin. He had 256 carries for the season.
So far in 2011, Robinson has a high of 26 carries against lowly Eastern Michigan, and 71 total carries through four games. His career numbers show 396 carries for 2,605 yards and a 6.6 yards per carry average.
"We want to keep him healthy," Hoke said as the Wolverines prepared to move into eight straight games against the rest of the Big Ten.
Hoke said the Wolverines need better blocking up front to increase the effectiveness of their overall running game, which would take some of the pressure off Robinson.
"That's all part of our development and our progress that we need to make as a team," Hoke said. "We will definitely go back to looking at the film, seeing what we're not doing well."
There is no question that the barely 6-foot and 190-pound Robinson is one of the most exciting players in college football, and Michigan has gotten a lot of mileage out of his abilities.
The danger for the Wolverines is if they use this weapon too often, as they did in 2010, that they'd end up once again with a banged-up Robinson that is leading the Michigan offense down the home stretch for a second straight year.
--Michigan hosts Minnesota to open Big Ten play, meaning the Wolverines will play a fifth straight home game to start the season for the first time since the 1976 season.
--Moving into eight straight games in the Big Ten conference, the Wolverines know from their recent history that their unbeaten record has little significance. "I know I speak on behalf of the senior class and the guys who have been here for four or five years, we are hungry to get into the Big Ten schedule because everybody who is on this team has been 4-0 at one point," said senior DE Ryan Van Bergen. "Everybody has realized that does not mean anything once you reach the Big Ten schedule."
--Michigan and Minnesota play each year for The Little Brown Jug, the oldest trophy in college football. "I would definitely put it up at the top," senior TE Kevin Koger said about the importance of the Jug. "I mean it is the oldest rivalry game in the NCAA, so it definitely means a lot to us and we want to keep the Jug where it belongs."
SERIES HISTORY: Michigan leads Minnesota 70-24-3 (last meeting, 2008, 29-6, Michigan)
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Wolverines leaned heavily on QB Denard Robinson last week in their win over San Diego State, and no one expects that approach to change too radically. Robinson rushed for 200 yards and a career high-equaling three touchdowns in that game. As the opposition gets more film to review, the Wolverines will need to pass more and explore other run options.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Wolverines have made big strides on this side of the ball, enough so that coach Brady Hoke is comfortable bragging a bit about its play. "We have had good red zone defense, and we have had some really good short yardage stops," Hoke said. "We can kill drives; we have had some three-and-outs. We step up to the plate when we need to."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's what you play for -- the Big Ten championship. And Minnesota coming in here is game one. We've got to have a great week of preparation and work together and spend time getting to know our opponent." -- Michigan coach Brady Hoke on his team playing its Big Ten opener against Minnesota.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Minnesota at Michigan, Sept. 30 -- The Wolverines get the Big Ten's weakest team for their conference opener. Minnesota is coming off a loss to North Dakota State, and dealing with the continuing health problems of head coach Jerry Kill, who has been hospitalized twice this season as a result of seizures.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Michigan faces a Minnesota team that is stuck in the doldrums, and the Wolverines need to assert themselves early and keep the Gophers down there. The competition gets tougher after this, so Michigan will want to be crisp and efficient in victory.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
---- C David Molk, a first-team all-Big Ten pick in 2010, has made 33 starts in his Michigan career and can dominate the middle of the offensive front.
---- LB Kenny Demens has started all four games in the middle of the Michigan defense, and is tied for the team lead with 30 tackles.
---- QB Denard Robinson has had six runs of 20-plus yards this season, including runs of 53 and 52 yards.
---- WR Junior Hemingway leads the Wolverines with 211 receiving yards and is averaging 42.2 yards per catch, best in the nation.
--LB Cameron Gordon, projected as a starter, has missed the first four games of the season with a back injury. Gordon switched from receiver to safety prior to the 2010 spring drills, and then made the move to linebacker.
--CB Troy Woolfolk, who injured his ankle in the first half of the win over San Diego State and did not return to the game, was back at workouts two days later and is expected to be available for the Minnesota game.
--P Will Hagerup missed the first four games of the season while serving a suspension for a violation of team rules. He is expected to compete for the starting job now that he has returned to the active list.
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