Gophers-Wolverines: Scouting the Matchups

Even if Michigan is without two of its top three players, they will still be heavily favored. We take a look at both teams in-depth.

Minnesota at Michigan, Oct. 27 — The teams play for the Little Brown Jug, one of the most famous trophy games in college football. It is been one-sided with Michigan winning 64 of the 89 meetings. The Wolverines will be heavily favored again in this one. The Gophers won the last time they visited the Big House in 2005, but this is a completely different team and different circumstances.
The Wolverines could be without tailback Mike Hart and quarterback Chad Henne, two of the three main cogs on offense. But against the Gophers, they likely won't need them. Minnesota (1-7) has been dreadful this year and is coming off a loss to I-AA North Dakota State.

MINNESOTA


SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Gophers took a huge step backward against North Dakota State after showing some promise in recent weeks. They managed only 307 total yards (125 rushing) and never looked to be in a rhythm. They will be without starting tailback Jay Thomas, who suffered a torn ACL in is right knee. Senior tailback Amir Pinnix also has several nagging injuries. That will put more pressure on freshman quarterback Adam Weber, who will be making his first start in a difficult venue.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Minnesota's woeful pass defense has been well-chronicled. But now the Gophers have concerns about their running game too. North Dakota State rushed for 394 yards and an 8.0-yard average against Minnesota last week. The Bison are not exactly Michigan, either. If Michigan's Mike Hart returns from a high ankle sprain, he should be able to help his Heisman Trophy cause.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Adam Weber — This will be the biggest stage the redshirt freshman has been on so nerves will likely be a factor. He's also coming off perhaps his worst game. He completed only 10 of 22 passes for 162 yards and one touchdown against North Dakota State last week.

TB Duane Bennett — The true freshman will get more work after Jay Thomas suffered a season-ending injury last week. Bennett rushed for 31 yards last season and caught three passes for 71 yards and one touchdown.

LB Deon Hightower — He has made a lot of plays the past two games but Michigan presents a much more difficult challenge. He's a big hitter and sure tackler and he needs to give his defense a spark.

ROSTER REPORT:

Starting TB Jay Thomas suffered a season-ending right knee injury last week. Senior Amir Pinnix continues to battle a turf toe injury and also has a pulled quadriceps muscle.

Senior CB Jamal Harris lost his starting job to true freshman Kyle Theret, meaning the Gophers will start three true freshmen in the secondary this week (free safety Curtis Thomas and cornerback Ryan Collado).

LB John Shevlin is day-to-day with a shoulder injury but looks like he will be able to play.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "This is very, very frustrating. Most of us have never been a part of a losing team. This year has come as a huge surprise. It's disappointing, but we've got four more games." — Gophers linebacker Steve Davis on the team's 1-7 record.

MICHIGAN

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: It's difficult to gauge Michigan's offense this week because of the questions surrounding the personnel. If Mike Hart and Chad Henne can't play against the Gophers, backups Carlos Brown and Ryan Mallett will be thrust into the spotlight again. Brown responded with 113 yards on 25 carries against the Illini and could be asked to carry the offense again, since Mallett struggled in his time at Illinois. Minnesota's defense isn't nearly as fierce as the Illini, however.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: After allowing a total of 73 points through the first two games, Michigan's defense has allowed just 75 points over the last six games. The Wolverines have really settled in defensively during the Big Ten season, cutting down on missed tackles and even corralling Illinois' spread offense. Minnesota also runs a form of the spread, but quarterback Adam Webber is just a freshman and struggled last week against North Dakota State, completing 11 of 23 passes for 182 yards and an interception.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: LB Shawn Crable — With so much uncertainty on offense, it's up to Crable and the defense to turn up the intensity. Crable is second in the country with 19 1/2 tackles for loss and should have ample opportunity to add to that total against the Gophers.

WR Mario Manningham — Seems to have snapped out of his early-season funk and is performing like the Manningham of last year. The team leader in every major receiving category will be heavily counted on if Mike Hart and Chad Henne can't go.

S Jamar Adams — The leader of the secondary has nine pass breakups and two interceptions, both team highs.

ROSTER REPORT:

RB Mike Hart (ankle) and QB Chad Henne (shoulder) are both questionable. Coach Lloyd Carr said a decision wouldn't be made until later in the week. Given the stature of this week's opponent, it would make sense to rest both stars to gear up for what is looking like a difficult November.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think it was a courageous performance. I know how much pain he was in. And some way he found a way to submerge his pain because of his will to win." — Coach Lloyd Carr, on Chad Henne's performance against the Illini.



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