What to watch on offense
Personnel has dictated much of what Minnesota has been able to do offensively over the past 2 years. The presence of super athlete MarQueis Gray has pushed Minnesota toward the spread option, but that approached has softened a bit.
Gray started out the year as the starting QB; but injuries allowed sophomore Max Shortell to play his way into the starting lineup where his performance has ebbed and flowed. After getting off to a quick start Shortell’s play took a nose dive and true freshman Philip Nelson took over the starting job in the last two weeks. Nelson has a 5-2 TD to INT ratio the last two weeks and has averaged 197 yds through the air. Junior A.J. Barker ranks 4th in the Big 10 in receiving despite having three different signal callers this season.
RB Donnel Kirkwood was 3rd on the team in rushing a year ago but has blossomed this season with increased reps and is the Gophers leading rusher this season. Minnesota lost three of five starters off the offensive line including three year starter Chris Bunders. The line struggled to block at the beginning of the year but has hit their stride in recent weeks. Minnesota boosts one of the largest offensive lines in the Big 10, averaging 305 lbs across the unit.
Best Offensive Player
AJ Barker- Barker averages 19 yds per reception and is a big play waiting to happen. A player with exceptional speed and quickness, Barker also doubles as Minnesota’s punt returnman.
Head Coach - Jerry Kill -2nd Year
Off Coord - Matt Limegrover -2nd Year
Def Coord - Tracy Claeys -2nd Year
WR Da’Jon McKnight
RB Duane Bennett
OT Chris Bunders
OC Ryan Wynn
DT Anthony Jacobs
LB Gary Tinsley
FS Kim Royston
RB Donnel Kirkwood
OT Ed Olson
QB MarQueis Gray
LB Mike Rallis
LB Keanon Cooper
What to watch on defense
Jerry Kill entrusts control of his defense to his longtime assistant Tracy Claeys who has coached under Kill for the last 13 years. Claeys employs a standard 4-3 defense but is big on pressure and blitzing the opposition.
Minnesota has struggled for years defensively mainly because of a lack of talent and size in the front seven. The Gophers have a ton of size in the front seven this year beginning with the defensive line. Minnesota’s DTs check in at 6’6 300lbs and 6’1 295lbs respectively and they anchor a defensive line that is hard to push backwards if nothing else. Both DEs return to a unit that finished near the bottom of the rankings in sacks a year ago. This season Minnesota checks in at 7th in the conference in sacks and has 6 more sacks than Michigan does this season.
The LBers are led by MLB Mike Rallis who finished 3rd on the team in tackles a year ago and tied for first in TFL. Rallis is joined by junior James Manuel and Senior Keanon Cooper, both of whom earned significant playing time a year ago.
Minnesota is tied for 3rd in the Big 10 in interception and the opportunistic nature of the secondary is a big reason why. Starting safety Derrick Wells moved from CB to SS in the spring and has proven to be quite the ballhawk in the back four. Senior Michael Carter was able to fight off JUCO corner Martez Shabazz and is considered Minnesota’s best cover guy in the secondary.
Best Defensive Player
Derrick Wells- Wells has taken to safety better and faster than many thought he would. While always a physical specimen, Wells physicality and ball skills has been what has separated him from the rest of the pack on the Gopher defense.
Michigan Rush Def vs. Gophers Rush Off
Rush defense continues to be Michigan’s biggest area of strength. There is no reason to expect any different in this game.
Minnesota checks in at the middle of the pack in rush offense in the Big 10, averaging 162 yds per game on the ground. Despite their size up front, the Gophers are overmatched in this area.
Michigan Pass Def vs. Gophers Pass Off
The Michigan secondary took a step backwards a week ago, mainly because of inexperience in playing zone coverage. A return to man to man should help the Wolverines regain their form.
Michigan Rush Off vs. Gophers Rush Def
If Denard doesn’t play in this game Michigan will have to get creative to generate production. The production from the RBs has been average at best.
The Gophers have one of the worse rush defenses in the Big 10 from a statistical standpoint, allowing 178yds per game on the ground.
Michigan Pass Off vs. Gophers Pass Def
Michigan’s passing game is below average with Denard Robinson at QB. It is even worse when he’s not in the lineup. Last week showed that the issues in the passing game extend beyond just the QB.
Minnesota has a playmaking secondary that has forced a high number of turnovers throughout the season.