The Big Ten title will not be decided in this week's game with Minnesota, but the picture will be a bit clearer after the dust settles from what should be a classic matchup.
The Gophers are a highly touted offensive machine with one of the best running attacks in the country. A year ago, they led Michigan 28-7 in the fourth quarter at the Metrodome before the roof fell in and Michigan came from behind to register a 38-35 victory.
While the game remains a nightmare and a psychological hurdle for the Gophers, it is a source of inspiration for the Wolverines.
"Just what happened in the course of that game — especially in the second half and the fourth quarter — that makes that game so much more special," WR Braylon Edwards told the Detroit Free Press.
"It's definitely the most thrilling game I've been a part of on any level. But at the same time, they're playing for a Big Ten title ... so that's what they're mostly looking at right now. ... I don't think they'll try to use last year as revenge for this year."
Michigan got solid offensive and special teams contributions last week against Indiana, but it's the defense that has much to prove in this game. The Wolverines were torched by the Gopher offense a year ago — 424 yards allowed — and are eager to get another chance to prove themselves.
"We've been waiting for it, too," safety Ryan Mundy said. "We want to go back out there and prove to ourselves that we are a better team than last year, and it's going to be a great game."
Michigan's defense has certainly been dominant this year. The Wolverines excel in two areas: stopping the run and taking the ball away. They are allowing a mere 47.2 rushing yards per game — that ranks first in the country. The Wolverines also lead the nation in takeaways with 19 — even though they did not force one turnover in their 35-14 win over Indiana last week.
QB Chad Henne will have quite a bit of responsibility on his shoulders this week against a Minnesota team that is coming off good efforts against Northwestern and Penn State in the past two weeks. The freshman is the third-rated quarterback in the Big Ten, but this is his first crucial Big Ten game and nerves could become a factor.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Wolverines should be able to get their passing game going against the Gophers. Not only is Braylon Edwards one of the best receivers in the nation with 40 catches for 665 yards and seven touchdowns, the Gophers are soft in the secondary. Minnesota is giving up 271.8 passing yards per game and head coach Lloyd Carr is sure to attack the Gophers through the air.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: This is a major test for a Wolverine defense that has excelled against the run and leads the nation in takeaways. Minnesota has two super running backs in Laurence Maroney and Marion Barber, each of whom is capable of running for 150 yards or more on any day.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're not concerned with how Minnesota feels. We're not concerned about last year. The thing we've got to do is be concerned about how Minnesota plays, and on film what we see and what we know is that they're an outstanding football team." — Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr on preparing for this week's game with Minnesota. Michigan overcame a 21-point deficit a year ago to beat Minnesota 38-35.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Minnesota at Michigan, Oct. 9 — This should be one of the most memorable games of the Big Ten season. Michigan has dominated the series, having won the past 15. Last year's loss was particularly painful for Minnesota, since the Gophers blew a 21-point fourth-quarter lead. This should be a slugfest and the key matchup could be Minnesota's outstanding running game against Michigan's run defense.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB Michael Hart — Every Michigan team wants to establish itself on the ground. So far, the Wolverines have struggled in that area. Michigan has the conference's 10th-rated ground game with 101.0 yards per game. Hart, a freshman, is the conference's ninth-ranked rusher with an average of 67.2 yards per game.
SS Ernest Shazor — He has to have a huge game if the Wolverines are going to contain Minnesota's powerful running game. Shazor leads the team in tackles this season with 28. A Jim Thorpe Award candidate, Shazor has contributed three tackles for loss, three pass breakups, two interceptions and one fumble recovery this season.
DB Markus Curry — He leads the Wolverines with three interceptions.
ROSTER REPORT: Defensive lineman Larry Harrison (leg) and defensive back Jacob Stewart (hamstring) are questionable for Saturday's game against Minnesota. Wide receiver Steve Breaston (hand) is probable. Quarterback Matt Gutierrez (shoulder) is sidelined indefinitely. Linebacker Tim Jamison (knee) is expected to miss the remainder of the season.
Wolverines remember the comeback
Gopher Illustrated Top Stories
Gophers in good favor with Top 40 DT GreenThe Golden Gophers are in good favor with one of the top 40 defensive tackles in the country in Kendrick Green following his Minnesota visit this past weekend, and he spoke about…
Gopher IllustratedYesterday at 8:26 PM
Five takeaways from Minnesota's 31-24 victoryHere are GopherIllustrated's Ryan Burns five takeaways from Minnesota's 31-24 victory over Colorado State.
Gopher IllustratedSaturday at 2:15 PM
Gophers beat CSU, improve to 3-0The Gophers have swept the nonconference portion of their schedule following a 31-24 win over Colorado State. Big Ten play opens next weekend at Penn State.
Gopher IllustratedSaturday at 10:39 AM
Game Preview: Colorado State vs. MinnesotaGopherIllustrated's Ryan Burns previews the Colorado State vs. Minnesota game this Saturday as the Gophers try end the non-conference season undefeated at 3-0.
Gopher IllustratedFriday at 6:30 AM
Gopher Gridiron Radio 9.22.16GopherIllustrated publisher Ryan Burns gives an update on the Gophers 2017 football recruiting class and previews Colorado State in this solo edition of Gopher Gridiron Radio.
Gopher IllustratedThursday at 5:40 PM