Saturday, October 27, 2007

Battle or Cakewalk for the Little Brown Jug?

Michigan passed its toughest test of the season last week after winning at Illinois without star running back and team leader Mike Hart, and without starting quarterback Chad Henne for the majority of the game. Despite Henne’s injury, he came back in the fourth quarter to lead his team to victory and keep Michigan unbeaten in the Big Ten. This week, Michigan will take on a team winless in the Big Ten and with only one win on the season in Minnesota (1-7). Most would say this is close to a bye week for the Wolverines before finishing with three tough opponents, however, with the Little Brown Jug up for grabs and the recent history of Michigan against underdogs (App. State, EMU), Michigan cannot overlook the Gophers.

Michigan’s Offense vs. Minnesota’s Defense

The big story for Michigan’s offense is the health of Mike Hart, Chad Henne, and the entire offensive line. Mike Hart was expected by many to play last week at Illinois, but his ankle injury may have been worse than originally thought as he did not dress for the game. It is still questionable as to whether or not he will suit up tomorrow, but Lloyd Carr did indicate he expects Hart to feel much better this week. Chad Henne’s status is also questionable after suffering a shoulder injury in his throwing arm last week. Despite having the injury, Henne came back to aid his Wolverines to victory towards the end of the third quarter at Illinois when it seemed the Wolverines were starting to lose their grip on the Illini. Coach Carr called Henne’s playing through the pain a courageous performance and one that no one on the team will forget. Despite the fact that he was able to play, the extent of the injury is unknown and Henne also may not play. Then there is the offensive line which has been injured for much of the season. RG Alex Mitchell has been out for the year, his backup Jeremy Ciulla was expected to practice this week after being injured as well. At RT Stephen Schilling had a sub par performance after moving there from RG earlier in the year, and Michigan continues to have troubles under center with lefty Justin Boren sometimes having troubles not fumbling the snaps to the quarterbacks. Regardless, Minnesota’s defense should give the offense a chance to heal for a week as they have had one of the worst defenses in the country. The Gophers have given up 37.5 PPG, 533.6 YPG including 342 YPG through the air and 258 on the ground. This all has come against sub-par competition as the only ranked team they played was Ohio State this year. Even if Mallett and Carlos Brown play a majority of the game, they should still have their way with the Gopher defense and Mallett might be able to air it out more for the first time this season.

Advantage: Michigan

Minnesota’s Offense vs. Michigan’s Defense

Minnesota’s offense has been a little better than their defense, however, and should be a little more competitive on that end. They are averaging about 30 PPG and have a pretty balanced attack with 180 rushing YPG and 260 passing YPG. The Gophers are led by freshman dual threat quarterback Adam Weber who has over 2000 passing yards on the year to go along with 461 yards rushing. In addition to Weber, the Minnesota zone blocking rushing attack is led by Amir Pinnix who has 560 yards and 5 TDs on the season. Most of the scoring has come from Weber however who has thrown for 19 TDs and rushed for 4. When he goes to the air he will mainly look to 6’2” sophomore Eric Decker who leads the team in receiving and 6’5” senior Ernie Wheelwright who leads the team with 8 TD receptions. Certainly the Gophers have plenty of talents at the skill positions which makes one wonder why they have only won one game this year. The answer lies in the offensive line which starts four, yes four freshman. This has forced Weber into bad decisions all year leading to 15 interceptions so far. This is where Michigan should neutralize the skill position talent of the Gophers. The front seven, coming off perhaps its best game of the year shutting down a dual threat quarterback in Illinois’ offense, should get pressure on the Gophers all day forcing turnovers. The linebackers, Graham, Ezeh, and Crable did a great job, overall, containing Juice Williams last week and should have an easier time this week with that young offensive line. So Minnesota has talent, but in the trenches Michigan has, what should be, and insurmountable advantage.

Advantage: Michigan

Special Teams

Neither team has much to brag about when it comes to special teams. Michigan continued to struggle last week on returns with freshman Junior Hemingway taking his turn on the carousel of return men and muffing two kickoffs. Michigan continues to have trouble covering kicks as well leading to good field position for opponents. Also, Illinois came close to blocking a few punts last week. However, the kicking game seems much improved with K.C. Lopata taking over the placekicking duties and remaining a perfect 6-6 on field goals. And, as always, still the lone bright spot for Michigan is Zoltan Mesko who continues to become one of the best punters in the country. This should give an advantage to Michigan in special teams against a Minnesota team that has struggled mightily. The Gophers are a combined 3-8 from field goals this year and only have one dangerous return man Jay Thomas who averages 31.3 yards per return and has scored off a kickoff this year. Still, other than that Minnesota might be the first team to give Michigan an advantage in this category.

Advantage: Michigan


Michigan has won the Little Brown Jug 17 out of the last 18 times the two teams have played for it. And these Wolverines certainly have not forgotten when the Gophers came to Ann Arbor two years ago and took it from them sending Michigan to their first 5 loss season in 20 years. A loss to Minnesota tomorrow could easily result in the same fate as the 2005 squad, but the seniors this season (whether playing or not) will not let this happen to this year’s team. Michigan still has a Big Ten title to play for, while Minnesota could make their season with a win over Michigan. Still, Minnesota is in a transition year with new head coach Tim Brewster and that young offensive line might not be ready to play in the battle for the Little Brown Jug.

Advantage: Michigan


Currently the line for this game is Michigan by 24 points. Due to the fact that I must pick against Michigan (superstition, I bleed maize and blue) I will pick Minnesota to cover the spread in this one.

Final Score: Michigan 38 Minnesota 21

Player of the game: Ryan Mallett 12-15 201 yards and 3 TDs. Michigan showed they will open up the playbook last week and against Minnesota’s terrible defense, Mallett should get a safe opportunity to throw the ball for the first time this season. Henne should rest this game to get ready for the last three and I think Mallett gets a chance to torch a terrible secondary.

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