Michigan vs. Minnesota: 3 strengths & weaknesses for obscure Golden Gophers team

Football

The college football season is hitting the home stretch as Michigan (6-2, 3-2) hosts Minnesota (4-4, 1-4) for the second and final night game inside Michigan Stadium.

With Saturday approaching, The Little Brown Jug isn’t getting a whole lot of national attention. Nor is it getting the usual attention within the Michigan media for a Week 9 game.

Minnesota has been nothing short of a mystery team under first-year head coach P.J. Fleck. We’re here to clear the air on what the Golden Gophers will bring to the table — and what they won’t — on Saturday.

Here’s a look at 3 strengths and weaknesses from Minnesota’s 2017 season thus far.

Minnesota’s strengths:

Pass Protection

Minnesota allows the fewest sacks per game of any Big Ten team. Granted, they run the second-fewest number of plays, but seeing your quarterback go down only eight times in eight games must please Gopher faithful. In five games, the Minnesota offensive line has kept its quarterback totally clean. The jury is still out on whether or not the Gophers can take advantage of its protection, as quarterback Demry Croft scrambles away from the pocket even with adequate protection. But a quarterback that doesn’t get sacked often should be able to learn to stand in the pocket with confidence. A quarterback that does gets sacked often is Devin Gardner bailing out of the pocket and running around like his hair is on fire. The Michigan defensive line might be too ferocious for any o-line, but fewer sacks means fewer chances for a strip-sack, which can improve your …

Turnover Margin

I know, there is a theory that this is luck-based, but luck can’t explain all of it. Plus, Minnesota excels in two of the areas that can significantly improve its luck: pass protection and interceptions. When a football hits the turf, it can bounce to either team, but snagging an interception is less random, and the Gophers snatch one per game. Combined with the Law of First-Time Starting Quarterbacks, expect Brandon Peters to give one away. He had one pass last week that only a severe case of butter-fingers prevented from being a turnover. The fear of potential Michigan turnovers is mitigated by the Wolverine defense, which has done a good job limiting opponent points off takeaways and forcing…

Punts

Ryan Santoso is a Ray Guy Award candidate. He’s averaging 43.7 yards per boot with a 68-yarder to his name this season, the second-longest punt in the Big Ten this year. For a reference point, Penn State’s very good punter that you may remember, Blake Gillikin, only averages a half yard more than Santoso per punt. In a game where weather may be an issue, field position will be key, and Gillikin can deliver it for Minnesota, but fear not, because the Gophers also have a few…

Minnesota’s Weaknesses:

Passing

Yup. Minor detail our friends to the northwest may have overlooked. They’re 13th in the Big Ten in passing offense and 12th in passing efficiency. Presumed starter Demry Croft only averages 5.49 yards per attempt. Receiver Tyler Johnson averages 73.9 yards per game, good for fourth in the Big Ten, but there’s no one behind him. If Minnesota passes, Michigan’s secondary, already a top unit, will feast, making it hard to get…

Third-Down Conversions

The Gophers only convert 35.7-percent of the time, 10th in the Big Ten. Oh, and the best Big Ten team at preventing third-down conversions? The Gophers will see them on Saturday. Minnesota’s good rushing attack hasn’t been able to overcome how bad the passing offense is in this category. Interestingly, this weakness might be nullified by the fact that Michigan’s offense is somehow worse on third down. But, who knows if that will continue with Peters at the helm, however the Gopher defense can’t…

Get Sacks

Rutgers and Minnesota were just what the doctor ordered for Michigan’s beleaguered pass protection, ranking 14th and 10th respectively in the Big Ten in sacks. The excellently named linebacker Carter Coughlin gets to the quarterback and has 4.5 sacks this year, but there’s no other Gopher with more than one. Juwan Bushell-Beatty can breathe easy in this one.

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