Gophers vs Wolverines: What will it take for Minnesota to pull off an upset?

Sep 21, 2013; East Hartford, CT, USA; Michigan Wolverines running back Fitzgerald Toussaint (28) runs the ball against Connecticut Huskies defensive tackle Shamar Stephen (59) in the second half at Rentschler Field. Michigan Wolverines defeated the Connecticut Huskies 24-21. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The Gophers suffered a disappointing loss to rival Iowa last weekend and now they face perhaps the most challenging game on their schedule – a trip to the Big House to take on the undefeated Michigan Wolverines, a team the Gophers have only beaten twice in the last 35 years.

To top it off, Michigan head coach Brady Hoke has never lost a home game. And with the Wolverines opening their Big Ten schedule against the Gophers on Saturday, Minnesota will have Michigan’s utmost attention.

OFFENSE

Minnesota Offense: Imagine how cool it would be if freshman running back Berkley Edwards burned his redshirt against Michigan — the school where both his father and brother played. The Gophers don’t have the luxury to redshirt an explosive player like Edwards. And yet, I keep hearing there aren’t enough carries to go around. I would be stunned if either Donnell Kirkwood, Rodney Williams Jr., or David Cobb averaged over 4.5 yards per carry in Big Ten play. All the backs looked good against a weak non-conference schedule, but that will change in the rugged Big Ten. As for the passing game, so far none of the quarterbacks are accurate and Minnesota has no go-to receivers. The Gophers are going to have to get creative to create offense and I believe that starts by pulling Edwards’ redshirt.

Michigan Offense:  If Devin Gardner can cut down on his turnovers, the Michigan offense will be in cruise control against the Minnesota defense. Jeremy Gallon is one of the best receivers in the country and Fitzgerald Toussaint is a very stout running back. The Gophers will have to put forth their best defensive performance of the year and Gardner will have to continue to turn the ball over for the Gophers to have a chance.

Offensive Edge: Michigan

DEFENSE

Minnesota Defense: The pass rush was nonexistent last week against Iowa. That will have to change against Gardner and the Michigan Wolverines. The best way to force Gardner into a turnover is by pressuring him. Starters in the secondary.

Michigan Defense: The Wolverines needed a goal line stand to beat the Akron Zips a few weeks ago in Ann Arbor. Michigan ranked No. 6 in the Big Ten in total defense giving up 311 yards per game. This isn’t a studded Michigan defense although Cameron Gordon does bring a pass rushing threat. The other problem is Michigan is only giving up 79 yards per game rushing. That is a bad match-up  for the Gophers. Minnesota’s offensive strength will be negated by Michigan’s defensive strength.

Defensive Edge: Michigan

SPECIAL TEAMS

Minnesota Special Teams: The Gophers have been pretty solid on special teams this year. They haven’t given up many big plays in the return game, but have provided some themselves. Peter Mortell has been solid punting the ball and Chris Hawthorne has connected on 5-of-7 field goal attempts.

Michigan Special Teams: Brendan Gibbons has been solid connecting on 4-of-5 field goals and all of his extra point attempts. Dennis Norfleet is only 5-foot-7 and 169 pounds, but he is a dangerous return man.

Special Teams Edge: Michigan

COACHING

Minnesota Coaching: I’m a big fan of Jerry Kill and I believe he is leading the program in the right direction despite what happened in the Big Ten opener against Iowa. But the bottom line is that Kill has a conference mark of  4-12 in his first two seasons in Minneapolis and is on the brink of starting 0-2 this year. Things are eventually going to have to turn around if he wants to stay around.

Michigan Coaching: As I mentioned earlier, Brady Hoke has never lost at Michigan Stadium, a/k/a the Big House. He’s recruiting at an elite level and will have Michigan in the national championship picture sooner rather than later.

Coaching Edge: Michigan

PREDICTION

Michigan 34, Minnesota 13: I believe that Michigan will play their best game of the year. Even if the Gophers put forth a valiant effort, it won’t be nearly enough. Philip Nelson will get the start but will be benched following half-time in favor of Mitch Leidner. A 28-0 half-time score wouldn’t surprise me.

Topics: Berkley Edwards, Football, Gophers, Minnesota, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Mitch Leidner, Philip Nelson

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