First, overall. Michigan will come out fighting in this game. You'll see a team that will come out and blitz on defense, and on offense they'll put a lot of points on the board. Michigan will win this game. Minnesota is better than last year, but they aren't going to beat Michigan. They have some talent at certain positions. But Minnesota doesn't have the talent to beat Michigan. They lead the league in some statistical catagories, especially on offense. But you kind've have to discount the stats because of who've they've played ... not one team with a winning record. Tulsa, Troy State, Ohio U, Louisiana-Lafayette, and then pretty bad Penn State and Northwestern teams.
I don't want to take anything away from Minnesota. Like last year's game, they play Michigan having just gotten into the Top 25 ... last year the score was 41-24. This year will be closer than that, but Michigan will win it.
As far as unit-by-unit breakdowns, we better start with Special Teams.
Minnesota has a good kick returner but they haven't had to use him much, because they haven't taken many kickoffs. It's freshman running back Lawrence Maroney. He's a fast little guy. I think he's only had 4-5 returns but he took one back 88 yards for a touchdown. Minnesota is first in the Big Ten in kickoff returns with a 30.2 yard average.
And Minnesota has a good punter -- Pete Ross. He averages 41.7 yards. And they are good on punt returns as well, averaging 13.6 yards.
But you can be sure Michigan got back to basics on special teams this week. And Steven Breaston will be returning both punts and kickoffs, and he'll be fast on that turf.
Also, Minnesota doesn't turn the ball over much: they have two fumbles and four interceptions -- six overall. Michigan has six of each for twelve overall. So turnovers have been somewhat of a problem for Michigan and they have to do a little better there.
The Minnesota Offense vs. the Michigan Defense
Minnesota is 61% in third down efficiency, and leads the Big Ten in rushing offense, passing efficiency, total offense and scoring offense. But as I say, you really can't go by their stats because of who they've played.
As far as running the ball, they average 284 yards,which is good no matter who the opposition is. And they have a good back in Marion Barber. And their quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq is a runner, a scrambler, but he's not a great passer.
In the passing game they have huge 6-6 tight end Ben Utecht. He has to have great game. They have to stretch the field with him and with wide receiver Aaron Hosack, their 6-5 guy who was hurt in the game last year. But Minnesota's offensive line will have trouble with Michigan's D-line, particularly Larry Stevens and Alain Kashama.
So what Minnesota will do is try to establish the running game. They'll run Barber and Abdul-Kalikq, and use the outside run. Then they'll go to Utecht. So they will try to pressure Michigan's linebackers who will be concerned covering both Utecht and stopping the running game.
So the key to Michigan's defense is that the linebackers will have to stop the run and cover Utecht. But they should be able to do it. Minnesota shouldn't do that much in the air. So Michigan should be able to do what they did last year -- stop the run first and make Minnesota pass it. Like I say, Abdul-Khaliq is not a great passer.
The Michigan Offense vs. the Minnesota Defense
Minnesota has two good linebackers, Terrance Campbell and Ben West. But Michigan will try to run. And the Wolverine offensive line should dominate and Michigan should have success.
With their linebackers, Minnesota will do what Oregon did ... put 8-9 in the box and make Navarre throw it, and make Braylon Edwards, Jason Avant and Steve Breaston catch it. Eli Ward is a good safety for Minnesota, but Michigan offensive coordinator Malone will test their corners ... it'll be hard for their cornerbacks to stop Edwards, Breaston and Avant. And don't forget Carl Tabb -- I think he'll remind people of Tai Streets before he's through with his career at Michigan.
I will say this -- the first quarter will tell a lot. That place will be loud. Minnesota comes in undefeated, ranked, and with the Twins done the Gophers are all the fans have to cheer for ... so Michigan has to come out and get ahead in the first quarter. Minnesota hasn't had this much hype since the Ricky Fogge days. I was there when Fogge ran that option down the Michigan sideline to score the winning touchdown. That's the game that got Lou Holtz the Notre Dame job ... then Minnesota went on probation, just like Arkansas before, Notre Dame after, and South Carolina in the future. Ha!
I wouldn't be surprised to see Michigan go for it on 4th down. Minnesota too for that matter -- they can run the option, and it'll be harder for them to score than Michigan.
Jeremy LeSueur is out. We'll see if and when he comes back. So Leon Hall will have to play the whole game this week. So far Hall has just played here and there -- it's different when he has to play the whole game. Will they move Marlin Jackson back to cornerback? It doesn't matter really -- this week and next (versus Illinois) they'll win, and with Purdue and Michigan State they'll run nickle and dime packages the whole game anyhow. Jacob Stewart and Jon Shaw will now be the nickle/dime guys. I don't know Willis Barringer's injury situation, or Darnell Hood's. And there is Ryan Mundy too. Anyway, having LeSueur out will not hurt much this week or next, but after that it will.
Ouimet's Minnesota Prediction: It'll be closer than last year, but Michigan will win it, no doubt. 31-21.
"Michigan is gonna win."
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