Minnesota (3-1) vs. Michigan (2-2)
(W) Appalachian State 52-14
(L) Notre Dame 31-0
(W) Miami (OH) 34-10
(L) Utah 26-10
(W) Eastern Illinois 42-20
(W) Middle Tennessee 24-35
(L) TCU 30-7
(W) San Jose State 24-7
Gophers Players to Watch
QB Mitch Leidner: 26-54, 362 yards, 2 TDs, 4 INTs
RB Berkley Edwards: 16 carries, 92 yards and 2 TDs (long of 42)
RB David Cobb: 92 carries for 539 yards and 4 TDs (long of 48)
TE Maxx Williams: 6 receptions, 110 yards, 2 TDs
S Cedric Thompson:
Injuries: “Well, you know, we are not going to talk about any injuries”- Head coach Brady Hoke.
Questionable: Wide receiver Devin Funchess, linebacker Desmond Morgan, safety Jarrod Wilson, cornerback Jabrill Peppers. For Minnesota, questionable are QB Mitch Leidner, TE Maxx Williams.
What’s at stake: This game marks the opening of the Big Ten conference schedule and the first opportunity for Michigan to turn around its season. The goal all along has been for Michigan to win the Big Ten Championship, and a dominant performance against Minnesota would be indicative that this goal is still attainable.
History: Last year’s 42-13 victory over Minnesota at home was the 100th installment of the Wolverines’ series against the Golden Gophers. Minnesota joined the Big Ten in 1896, however they first faced the Wolverines four years prior in 1892. Michigan has a strong edge over Minnesota in terms of the all-time series as the Wolverines’ claimed a 73-24-3 lead last year and look to build on their vast win disparity this season.
Minnesota Season So Far
Week 1: Eastern Illinois
In the Gophers’ season opener, sophomore quarterback Mitch Leidner propelled Minnesota to an easy victory over the Eastern Illinois Panthers with both his arm and his legs. The Panthers, who are routinely among the best in the FCS division, were overwhelmed by Lediner’s versatility, as the 6’4”, 237 lb. QB rushed for two touchdowns and added another passing TD, along with 144 yards through the air, before eventually being replaced by backup Chris Streveler. Although Lediner was subject to a slow start in the first half, much of his production came in the second half as Minnesota gradually pulled away en route to a 42-20 victory.
True freshman running back Berkley Edwards, the brother of former Michigan wide receiver Braylon Edwards, also provided a welcomed spark late in the game. Showcasing his breakaway speed, Edwards piled on two rushing touchdowns late in the game, with his longest score coming from 42 yards out.
Week 2: Middle Tennessee
After Leidner’s impressive performance in week one, another member of the Gophers’ offense was called upon to carry Minnesota to victory in week 2. In part of Minnesota’s 284-yard rushing performance, senior running back David Cobb accumulated the most single-game rushing yards by a Golden Gopher in the past nine years as he took 29 carries for 220 yards and two touchdowns. Donnell Kirkwood also added a touchdown run in the first quarter of the contest.
Minnesota eventually built a 28-0 lead on Middle Tennessee heading into halftime. The Blue Raiders battled back, however, with three second-half touchdowns and a field goal of their own, to make it a 13-point game late in the 4th quarter, but that was after Minnesota had pulled several of its starters.
Week 3: TCU
Before the season, TCU looked to be the first real test on the Gophers’ schedule in 2014. The Horned Frogs played tough, as advertised, and contained Minnesota’s rushing attack to the tune of just 99 yards during the game. With an inability to move the football on the ground, Minnesota turned to quarterback Mitch Lediner in hopes of generating some offensive continuity. Leidner, too, was unable to muster much success against a stingy TCU defense as he went 12-for-26 with three interceptions and zero touchdowns.
Minnesota turned the ball over five times on offense before turning the reigns over to backup quarterback Chris Streveler. In limited action, Streveler did see marginal levels of success as he completed a 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Maxx Williams for Minnesota’s only score of the day in a 30-7 blowout loss for the Golden Gophers.
Week 4: San Jose State
With Mitch Leidner ailing from a sprained knee and turd toe, Chris Streveler was given his first career start in week 4. Streveler, who possesses a much different skill set than Leidner, ran for 161 yards and a score as Minnesota relied heavily on the run in a 24-7 win.
With Leidner sidelined, the Gophers threw just seven passes all day (completing only one) and had considerable success doing so. Cobb had another big game, registering 207 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 34 carries.
Minnesota committed a handful of costly errors in the form of 10 penalties for 80 yards that prevented the Gophers from winning by a much larger margin.
Much like this year, Michigan began conference play at home with Minnesota on the docket in 2013. The Wolverines are hoping for a similar turn of events this year as quarterback Devin Gardner and company rolled to a 42-13 victory last year. After committing seven turnovers in the previous two games, quarterback Devin Gardner was able to play his first complete game without a turnover as a starter. Gardner put forth one of his more efficient performances as the signal caller for U-M, completing 13 out of 17 passes for 235 yards and one touchdown.
Gardner’s performance opened the door for Michigan’s running game to find a rhythm against the Gophers. The combination of Fitz Toussaint and Derrick Green, who accounted for 17 carries, totaled 101 yards and three touchdowns in the blowout victory.
With the game out of hand late in the 4th quarter, cornerback Blake Countess put the contest further out of reach with a 72-yard interception return for a touchdown with just over a minute remaining. This was the final nail in the coffin for a Minnesota team that allows 348 yards of total offense on just 17 first downs.
Minnesota Offense vs. Michigan Defense
Minnesota’s offense has experienced varying degrees of success this year. Through the air, Mitch Leidner has put forth a few shaky performances—at best—up to this point, but the Gophers’ have had much more success running the ball with a two-headed rushing attack of David Cobb and Berkely Edwards. With 945 rushing yards on the year (and an average of 5.05 yards per carry), Minnesota boasts the nation’s 29th ranked rushing offense in 2014.
With the status of Leidner in question heading into Saturday’s contest, Minnesota may be forced to play backup quarterback Chris Streveler, who checks in as another threat on the ground, in place of the sophomore Leidner. On the season, Streveler has been underwhelming through the air, connecting on only four of his eleven pass attempts for 37 yards, collecting one touchdown and one interception each along the way. With wide receiver Maxx Williams’ status also in jeopardy in week 5, the Gophers will look to rely heavily on the running ability of Cobb and Edwards to get things going on offense. This may bode well for the Wolverines who boast the 9th ranked rushing defense in the NCAA after holding Utah to a mere 81 rushing yards in week 4.
Although the Wolverines may be without a few integral pieces on defense (Jarrod Wilson, Desmond Morgan, Jabrill Peppers—perhaps among others), the majority of Michigan’s front 7 remains intact. With a heavy dose of running the football on tap, much will be asked of linebackers Jake Ryan and Joe Bolden against Minnesota. Through four games, Ryan leads Michigan with 33 total tackles, four tackles for loss and one sack. Bolden is right behind him, notching 28 tackles so far. The linebacking corps has been a strength for Michigan up to this point, and they will play a large role in determining what success the Gophers will see on the ground.
Minnesota Defense vs. Michigan Offense
In the event that Michigan opts to go with quarterback Shane Morris to start the game, the Gophers will have an opportunity to disrupt the sophomore early on. Coming into Saturday’s contest, Minnesota has the 20th best turnover margin in the country at +4. With two interceptions in limited work this season, Morris hasn’t proven to be the most secure with the football so far.
This is not exactly a match made in heaven for a team looking to break in a new starting quarterback. A fully functioning running game would do wonders to ease the weight on Morris’ shoulders (if he does indeed get the starting nod), and Michigan has been a quality running team thus far. With the 37th ranked rushing offense, Michigan is averaging 211 yards per game on the ground, and the Wolverines have two running backs averaging at least six yards per carry (Derrick Green at 6.1 and DeVeon Smith at 6.9).
The two-headed rushing attack of Green and Smith have proved a handful for defenses this year, combining for a total of 585 yards and five touchdowns this year, so the potential is there for Michigan to move the chains on the ground.
When Michigan does operate through the air, it may or may not be throwing to wide receiver Devin Funchess, who has been limited in practice due to a right leg injury. As the Wolverines’ top receiving threat, Funchess has pulled in 20 passes for 284 yards and three touchdowns in three games this season. Minnesota possesses an experienced secondary with four upperclassmen in the starting lineup, namely senior safety Cedric Thompson, but few defensive backs in the country are able to match up effectively with Funchess, and this looks to be the case once again.
Apart from Funchess, Michigan has a handful of weapons in its arsenal in Amara Darboh, Jake Butt, Jehu Chesson and Dennis Norfleet, among others. In 2014, the Wolverines have spread the football to 12 receivers not named Funchess, although keeping opposing secondaries honest is a much easier task to accomplish with Funchess in the lineup.
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