Minnesota (4-4, 1-4 Big Ten) at Michigan (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten)
Saturday, November 4, 7:30 p.m.
PJ Fleck rowed his way out of Kalamazoo and docked in Minneapolis, where the sweet smell of money wafted through the air. The fine folks of Minnesota were nice enough to retrieve his motto, but what he found on the northern edges of the prairie was a football team firmly entrenched in the Big Ten West’s middle class. And when you’re Big Ten West middle class, you’re basically Big Ten middle-lower class. No amount of enthusiasm and sharp dressing was going to change that in year one. After that is TBD.
The Gophers limp into Ann Arbor having lost four of their last five after running over three cupcakes in non-conference. The Michigan team they’re meeting is 2-2 over its last four but starts a promising new redshirt freshman quarterback (as you may have heard). Let’s get to it:
Michigan’s offense vs. Minnesota’s defense
The Gophers have put together a decent defense in Fleck’s first year, generally ranking in the upper-half of the Big Ten in most categories.
Their rush defense is middle of the pack, and the Wolverine ground game is bordering on elite after steam-rolling Rutgers – so look for Michigan to pick up five and six-yard chunks on first down to stay ahead of the chains. The Wolverines have settled on a gap blocking scheme that their o-line is executing well, and they have a handful of running backs with the potential for a big day.
Minnesota’s pass defense is slightly better than its rush defense. Michigan’s pass offense is nowhere near as good as its rush offense, making this a much worse match-up for the Wolverines. Junior DB Jacob Huff has three interceptions for a Gopher secondary that’s averaging a pick per game. Brandon Peters is a redshirt freshman starting his first game, and he almost gave one away last week, plus with the wet weather it’s safe to assume Minnesota forces him into at least one interception. The good news for Michigan fans is that the Gophers don’t generate much pass rush.
Michigan defense vs. Minnesota offense
The Gopher offense is as bad as the Gopher defense is good. Combine that with rain and the Wolverine D, and it means Minnesota will have to solely rely on its adequate run game to move the ball.
The Gophers have three running backs that all average more than nine carries per game and more than four yards per carry. They’re good, but other than a Saquon Barkley-sized blip, Michigan’s rush defense has been top-notch this season. Mo Hurst will eat — he always does.
Minnesota’s passing offense is what’s dragging down its offense as a whole. Conor Rhoda was cast off at quarterback for Demry Croft a few games ago, but it hasn’t helped the Gophers move the ball. Tyler Johnson is a good receiver, and the Minnesota line will probably pass block better than you think they will, but Croft isn’t comfortable in the pocket, and when he bails out to find an open receiver he probably won’t. That’s due to the Wolverine corners being some of the best in the conference — and the country. The Gophers’ only hope is to get Johnson matched up with a safety, but considering the rain, don’t expect Minnesota to move the ball through the air on Saturday.
Special Teams & Intangibles
The Gophers have a Ray Guy Award candidate punter, and that could loom large in a wet, defensive game. On the other hand, the Wolverines still have the best kicker in the Big Ten in Quinn Nordin.
Michigan’s last night game at home didn’t go so well, but that’s usually an advantage for the home team. It’s going to rain, and that will keep things close. Are you ready for this, Brandon Peters?
It will be close, but the Gophers have very little hope of moving the ball. The Wolverine defense is too good.
Final score: Michigan 20, Minnesota 13
Oh by the way, on Saturday you may be wondering what Minnesota’s motto, Ski-U-Mah is. I did some googling for you. From gopherhole.com:
This famous Minnesota phrase Ski-U-Mah (pronounced SKY-YOU-MAH) is more than 115 years old. In 1884, two Minnesota rugby players, John W. Adams and Win Sargent, tried to think of a fitting team yell. They used the word “Ski”, a Sioux battle cry meaning victory, and combined it with “U-Mah” (representing the University of Minnesota and rhyming with “rah-rah-rah”) to create a team cheer. The phrase stuck and was incorporated into both official school songs, “Hail Minnesota” and more commonly in the “Minnesota Rouser.”
Now you know.