A road game against Minnesota used to be the kind of scenario in which the Wolverines would cure their ills ... but that might not be the case this time around.
Not because the Wolverines aren't playing well on offense or defense. Michigan's main problem has been special teams.
Minnesota is more than capable of taking advantage of those weaknesses. Gopher head coach Glen Mason has always excelled at devising punt block schemes, and that should have Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr and special teams coach Jim Boccher sweating. In last week's loss to Iowa, Wolverine freshman PK Garret Rivas was asked to handle the punting chores. He had one blocked, and the Hawkeyes also had a 43-yard return that set up a key second-quarter touchdown.
Two weeks earlier, similar breakdowns by the punt team led to two Oregon TDs in Michigan's first loss of the season.
As the Wolverines try to improve their mistake-prone special teams, they will have to excel on offense against Minnesota. RB Chris Perry has the speed and power to give the Gophers a hard time and John Navarre is more than capable of exploiting the pass defense.
On the other hand, the confrontation between the Minnesota offense and the Michigan defense could be a classic. The Gophers have a sensational and deep running attack led by Marion Barber. Thomas Tapeh, Laurence Maroney and Terry Jackson are also key contributors. QB Asad Abdul-Khaliq is coming off the best passing game of his career against Northwestern, so Michigan will have to be sharp in order to slow the resurgent Gophers.
Carr can only hope that it doesn't come down to special teams.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: John Navarre had a brilliant game in the loss to Iowa. He completed 26-of-49 passes for 389 yards and was able to get over the top of the Hawkeyes' very active defense. Minnesota faced a very soft non-conference schedule and has not seen this kind of offense this season. If the Wolverines can score a couple of early touchdowns, the Gophers could panic.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Wolverines rank third in the country in total defense, with 255 yards allowed per game. However, special teams issues have doomed Michigan in two losses. Minnesota has a powerful running game and a decent passing offense that does not get a lot of respect. Larry Stevens and Grant Bowman will try to sell out to stop the run, but don't be shocked if Minnesota QB Asad Abdul-Khaliq gets the best of Michigan with the passing game.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "John Navarre played extremely well. Anybody who thinks he didn't ... doesn't know anything about the game." -- Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr, after the loss to Iowa, on critics who dwell on Navarre's shortcomings.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Michigan at Minnesota, Oct. 10 -- This game was switched to Friday night when it appeared that the Minnesota Twins might need the Metrodome for the American League Championship Series. This will be a prove-it game for the Gophers, while Michigan is fighting for survival in the Big Ten race.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB Chris Perry -- After a sensational start, Perry has had a couple of up-and-down games. He ran for 87 yards in the loss to Iowa. Can Perry's one-man show top Minnesota's stable of backs?
LB Carl Diggs -- The Gophers have a sensational running attack. Marion Barber is their best runner and had two 31-yard TD runs against Northwestern last week. It will be up to Diggs and friends to lay a couple of big hits early and test to see exactly how persistent Minnesota will be with its favored running game.
INJURY IMPACT: Defensive back Jeremy LeSueur (arm) is questionable at Minnesota. If he can't play, Leon Hall will likely take his spot.
Michigan scouting report
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