2 Hrs Until Game Time:Keys to Winning versus Minn.

Going through the play by play of the Iowa game was painful. That said, it didn't reveal much that most didn't already know. The special teams breakdowns (bad return coverage and a punt block) were the overriding factors in the Wolverines demise last week. Against the Gophers, special teams is onle ONE of the areas that must be improved.

There were a couple of missed plays in the second quarter that could have put the Hawkeyes away, but Michigan wasn’t able to capitalize on them. The first came after Jason Avant’s 71-yard reception early in the second quarter. John Navarre had Braylon Edwards open on an out pattern in the endzone, but he over shot him. Granted, there was some pressure on that play, but the QB just has to make a better throw in that situation. The other play came on Michigan’s second to last drive of the first half. The Wolverines were up 20-10 and moving the ball down the field with a little under 5 minutes left. They were also doing a very effective job of bleeding the clock. Tim Massaquoi had gotten wide open on a sideline pattern and John hit him with a strike. However, Tim muffed the pass. Michigan probably could have run the clock all of the way down and tacked 3-7 more points on the board.

Overall, John Navarre’s performance wasn’t as bad as it might have seemed live. Out of the 49 passes he threw, eight were bad throws (one being the aforementioned missed touchdown and another being the pass that he threw behind Edwards that was tipped and intercepted). Another five passes were dropped. Still, history has proven that putting the game on John’s shoulders in crunch time is not how Michigan wins games. As was mentioned previously, special teams have hurt Michigan drastically in the two losses. That unit should never be the reason for a team losing games and the coaches have put the failures in that department squarely on their own shoulders. Hopefully the increased attention to that unit will bring it to a level where it isn’t so harmful.

The Special Team’s miscues have been blatantly obvious in their effect on the team. What hasn’t been so obvious is Michigan’s inability to run the ball against six and seven man fronts. Oregon did frequently put eight in the box, but they also spent a lot of time in seven man fronts. Iowa almost NEVER put eight in the box. Michigan still wasn’t able to run on them consistently even though they were in man to man blocking situations. That simply can’t happen with a line this experienced.

Keys to the Game with the Gophers
1.) Get an average performance from the special teams.
2.) Run the ball more effectively than they have the past 3 weeks.
3.) Get a tight end in the game that will catch the ball consistently.
4.) Maintain gap integrity on defense (to limit the Gopher zone-blocking rushing game).

It’s important for Michigan to be more effective in the running game versus the Gophers. Their performance in that area versus Oregon and Iowa is a bit disturbing. One of the staples of this team was supposed to be the offensive line’s ability to impose its will on the opposition and that didn’t happen in those two contests. That has caused John to take more on his shoulders than should be asked of him. Furthermore, the fact that he can’t count on the tight end in the passing game like he could last year has been a big hindrance for him.

The defense, despite the scores in the losses, has been doing a very good job this year. They have been put in sudden change positions all season and they have answered the call more times than not. The defense held Iowa to only 6/18 on third downs. They also had 6 three-and-outs and an interception. They continue to keep Michigan in games despite the breakdowns in other areas on the team. There high level of play should continue to manifest itself versus the Gophers.

Last year at the Metrodome, Minnesota only had 3 plays of over 7 yards and converted only 2 of 8 first downs during the first half. In the second half Abdul-Khaliq decided to run a bit more and the Minnesota offensive line did a better job of opening holes for Jackson. Michigan did a pretty good job of containing Terry Jackson outside of a few big plays. He finished the day with 19 carries for 89 yards. However, Abdul-Khaliq did the greater damage. He only had 13 rushes for 67 yards, but he had big runs on 3rd downs.

Many of Abdul-Khaliq’s yards came when he ran up the middle and then cut to the outside. Teams sometimes combat mobile quarterbacks with spy techniques. An alternative is to "spill" the quarterback to the outside and use the boundary as an extra defender. This requires all of the defenders to maintain their rush lanes. Michigan is a team that runs stunts very frequently. This can leave them susceptible up the middle at times. They must be on guard for that scenario during the game. They must also look out for a healthy Ben Utecht. The big tight end was injured last year and they may have to put a safety on him for much of the game to limit his effectiveness.

Michigan was forced to play a few inexperienced players in the game last year, most notably of which was Joey Sarantos after the injury to Kaufman. This year, with better linebacker and safety play, the Wolverines should be even better at bottling up the Gopher attack. Even though this team is probably down after the last few weeks, I expect them to come out and play a good game. There is NO WAY Carr will allow the special teams to be that bad again this week and there will probably be a noticeable change or two. Despite the atmosphere in the dome and the emphasis that they Gophers have put on this game, I expect the Wolverines to walk out of Minneapolis with a 31-17 victory.

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