This is the week the Gophers can step up, join the party and show they belong in the world of college football's elite teams — a place they have not ventured since the glory years of 1960-62, when Murray Warmath's teams finished in the top 10 for three consecutive seasons.
All they have to do to get there is beat Michigan.
That's something that has been a major problem for Minnesota for more than three decades. Michigan has not lost to Minnesota since 1986 and has won 32 of the last 34 times they have played.
If those numbers were not daunting enough, Minnesota's most recent nightmare against Michigan is burned into the memory of the Gopher players. Last year, Michigan came into the Metrodome to face a 6-0 Minnesota team. Everything was going beautifully for the Gophers through three quarters as they built a 28-7 lead. However, they imploded in the fourth quarter and Michigan emerged with a 38-35 win.
Gophers coach Glen Mason must play psychologist this week and find a way to get that game out of his players' minds. Minnesota can beat Michigan if it plays its best game, but if the Gophers are worried about making mistakes in the clutch and trying not to screw up, Michigan will almost certainly impose its will and find a way to escape with the win.
Mason is trying to keep his players from getting too emotional.
"Obviously there's a lot of media focus on Michigan because of what happened last year and what would have laid in the balance for us," Mason said. "But we can't do any more to prepare for Michigan than we did to prepare for Penn State and Northwestern."
A win over Michigan would put the Gophers in a great position to make a true run at the Big Ten title and the Rose Bowl. With games against Michigan State, Illinois and Indiana following the Michigan encounter, Minnesota would likely take a 9-0 record into their Nov. 6 game against Wisconsin.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The powerful Minnesota running attack goes up against the stingy Michigan run defense in what should be one of the great battles of the season. Minnesota averages 323.4 yards on the ground and RBs Laurence Maroney and Marion Barber are both superb. Michigan leads the nation in rushing defense by allowing an average of 47.2 yards per game. If either side wins this battle decisively, that team likely wins the game.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Gophers are not a great defensive team, but they are improving after two good games vs. Northwestern and Penn State. Michigan's running game has been awful this season — 10th in the Big Ten — but the passing game has been dangerous. WR Braylon Edwards is one of the best in the country — 40 catches for 665 yards with seven touchdowns — and he'll need to be contained if the Gophers are going to win the Little Brown Jug for the first time since 1986.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You always say one game at a time, but you can't honestly say that we haven't peeked ahead to this one a little bit. It's finally here and it's time to show up and prove how good we are. It's right in front of us. We know what we're up against going into the Big House. They're a great team, but it's going to be fun." — Safety John Pawielski on playing at Michigan this week.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Minnesota at Michigan, Oct. 9 — This is a watershed moment for the Gophers. Minnesota believes it is good enough to represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl, but must overcome all the history in this series — the Gophers have beaten Michigan only twice in the past 34 meetings — and erase painful memories of last season's fourth-quarter collapse.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: RBs Laurence Maroney and Marion Barber — This outstanding duo has given the Gophers a spectacular offense. They are the two leading runners in the Big Ten and have combined for 1,272 yards through the first five games. Michigan has the top-ranked run defense in the country, allowing 47.2 yards on the ground per game. It's the ultimate test ... for both teams.
PK Rhys Lloyd — The Gophers expect a lot out of the kicking game, but some problems developed in the 16-7 victory over Penn State last week. Lloyd had two FG attempts and one extra point blocked.
ROSTER REPORT: Defensive back John Pawielski (ankle) is questionable for Saturday's game against Michigan.
Looking to buck recent history
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