Minnesota hasn't won the Little Brown Jug since 2005 and suffered a 35-13 loss to Michigan last year at home. This year they must travel to the Big House and try to take the jug from the Wolverines who are ranked 17th in the preseason polls. The good news for the Gophers is the only two wins against the Wolverines since 1978, have been games played in Ann Arbor.
The Wolverine Offense:
Denard Robinson is officially out as QB for the Wolverines as he has graduated and moved on to the NFL. Unfortunately for the Wolverine's opponents, Devin Gardner is now the man in charge of the offense. Gardner took over for Robinson part way through last season and while he technically didn't start every game after taking over, he was essentially the #1 QB for the Wolverines. Gardner is a much better passer than Denard Robinson while still being a threat to take off running as well. The Gophers have traditionally struggled against dual threat QB's, so containing Gardner will likely be a struggle for the Gophers once again. Backing up Gardner will likely be true freshman Shane Morris, who was Scout's #3 overall QB prospect out of high school. Gardner will also have plenty of weapons at RB as Fitzgerald Toussaint returns as does Justice Hayes along with Scout's #1 overall RB in Derrick Green. Gardner also has some weapons on the outside as Jeremy Gallon returns. Gallon may be short, but he is incredibly athletic. Upfront Michigan returns a future 1st round pick in Taylor Lewan and another draft pick on the other end of the line in Michael Schofield, but they are very young in the middle of the line. Despite that youth in the middle, Michigan has great size along the line and it will be tough for the Gophers to get much pressure on Gardner or stuff the talented Michigan RB's.
The Wolverine Defense:
Last year the Wolverines held the Gophers to 128 yards on the ground and while they do lose 3 out of their top 8 lineman, they still have great size up front. While their size should allow them to be good against the run the Wolverines had only 22 sacks last year which ranked 77th in the country. Part of the reason the Wolverines ranked 52nd in the country in run defense was their linebackers. This year they return 4 of the top five, but Jake Ryan suffered a torn ACL in the spring and is likely out. Despite the loss of Ryan, they should still be a strength for the defense again. The secondary was a bit of a weakness for Michigan last year as they gave up 341 yards through the air in the bowl game, which was the only time all year they really faced a formidable passing attack from a team that didn't necessarily have a great ground game. Even in their secondary, they will regain one of their premiere players from a torn ACL in Blake Countess. They likely won't make any huge strides forward this year as they lose two starters as well as a key backup, but will be very solid.
3 Keys to the Game:
1. Don't turn the ball over. Anytime you're out-matched athletically, which the Gophers will be against the Wolverines, you can't expect to compete if you turn the ball over. If the Gophers win the turnover battle, then it may be a close game. If not, it may be a bit of a blowout.
2. Contain Devin Gardner. The Gophers have always struggled against running quarterbacks. While it's not likely that the Gophers can shut down Gardner, if they could slow him down they could make it a game.
3. Have success on the ground. Last year the Gophers had just 128 yards on the ground. That will not be enough for the Gophers to pull out a win against the Wolverines. Kirkwood and co must step it up to make this a game.
While the Gophers are again improved, it won't be enough to regain the jug. Michigan is just too talented and too athletic for the Gophers to pull out a win. Michigan 31 Minnesota 13
Brice Marich also contributed to this report