Minnesota-Michigan Preview

Through his first non-conference slate as Michigan's head coach, Brady Hoke has done just what Rich Rodriguez did the last two seasons - lead his team to four victories.

Now, Hoke is trying to instill in his 19th-ranked Wolverines that success in the Big Ten doesn't come quite as easy.

Off to another perfect start, Michigan tries to win its conference opener for the sixth straight season when Minnesota visits the Big House on Saturday afternoon.

The Wolverines (4-0) ran the non-conference table in 2009 and 2010 under Rodriguez, and followed those starts with a victory in their Big Ten opener - just as they did from 2006-08.

Beyond their first taste of league play, though, the wheels fell off. Michigan went just 6-18 in conference play, a key factor in Rodriguez's dismissal.

"We have to play better or we won't compete against the Big Ten,'' senior defensive end Ryan Van Bergen said. "The Big Ten standard is higher than any other standard. In order for us to be competitive in the Big Ten the way Coach Hoke wants us to be competitive, we have to step it up. We want to be Big Ten champions.''

The quest for a first conference title since 2004 begins against the Golden Gophers (1-3), whom the Wolverines have beaten 19 of their last 20 matchups.

Saturday will end a five-game homestand during which they've met little resistance aside from a last-second, 35-31 win over Notre Dame on Sept. 10.

Denard Robinson hit Roy Roundtree for the game-winning touchdown pass in that contest, but it was his 200 yards and three rushing scores last Saturday that lifted Michigan to a 28-7 win over San Diego State, Hoke's former team.

Robinson has made headlines with his rushing, averaging 168.7 yards per game to lead the nation - though he'd be fourth (138.0) had the NCAA counted statistics from the Wolverines' lightning-shortened season-opening win over Western Michigan.

Minnesota is allowing an average of 104.8 yards rushing but has surrendered 278.5 yards per game through the air, meaning Robinson may be able to do more in the passing game.

That's an area in which he's struggled. The junior has completed 48.6 percent of his passes and his six touchdowns equal his interceptions.

"This whole season I have been priding myself on not missing guys. I know I have to do (things) to get better," said Robinson, who was 8 of 17 for 93 yards with two picks against the Aztecs. "I think it is going to be all right. I have been practicing well. I just have to put it on the field."

Defensively, Michigan is allowing 351.0 yards of total offense, though it's forced 13 turnovers to tie for third in the country. The Wolverines yield 12.8 points per game, which ranks 11th nationally.

That doesn't bode well for Minnesota, which is coming off a 37-24 loss to FCS opponent North Dakota State. Making matters worse, it is uncertain if first-year coach Jerry Kill will be on the sidelines Saturday after seeking further treatment for ongoing seizures that have plagued him for much of his coaching career.

If Kill is unable to coach, defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys would act as head coach against Michigan. "I hope to be back to work soon, but we believe that taking some time away to get a handle on this is the right thing to do,'' Kill said.

No matter who leads the Gophers, it will be a difficult task to beat the Wolverines for the first time since a 23-20 win Oct. 8, 2005, in Ann Arbor.

Like Michigan, Minnesota relies heavily on a running quarterback. MarQueis Gray ran for a career-high 171 yards Sept. 17 against Miami (Ohio), but was held to only 23 on 13 carries against NDSU. He went 5 for 12 for 53 yards and an interception through the air.

Michigan and Minnesota haven't faced each other since a 29-6 Wolverines victory Nov. 8, 2008.

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