Gophers Football: With Gardner struggling, Minnesota needs to attack offensive line


Sep 28, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers defensive back Brock Vereen (21) celebrates after intercepting a pass in the second half against the Iowa Hawkeyes at TCF Bank Stadium. The Hawkeyes won 23-7. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The University of Minnesota Golden Gophers look to bounce back from their loss against Iowa as they travel to Ann Arbor to face the Michigan Wolverines on Saturday in the battle for the Little Brown Jug.

This game may feature a trophy, but it’s hardly a rivalry game as Michigan has completely dominated the series. Michigan has won 21 of the last 22 games against Minnesota and have won the last five by an average margin of 28.2 points.

Michigan started their season off well, beating Central Michigan and Notre Dame. But after two big wins, the Wolverines struggled, despite victories, against Akron and Connecticut — two teams that are a combined 1-8. Michigan had a bye week leading into the game against Minnesota and have used the time off to make changes to their offensive line.

The Gophers need to do their best to attack the new-look offensive line of Michigan and force pressure on quarterback Devin Gardner. The keystone to the attack will be defensive end Ra’Shede Hageman.

Minnesota has shifted Hageman around on the line this season in an effort to exploit weaknesses. Expect more of that on Saturday as Hageman will play a major role in containing Gardner in the pocket.

Despite a 4-0 record, Gardner has struggled. The junior has eight interceptions along with seven touchdowns this year. Michigan fans can only hope Gardner has been able to work out his kinks during the bye week.

If the Gophers are able to put pressure on Gardner, they can force him into making key mistakes. The Gophers secondary will have their hands full and the linebackers will have to contain Gardner, who is very dangerous when he escapes the pocket.

On offense, the Gophers need to find a way to get any sort of passing game going. It seems that coach Jerry Kill is leaning with Philip Nelson as his quarterback, but don’t be surprised to see action from Mitch Leidner. With a rushing attack that’s sub-par in the conference, Minnesota needs Nelson to develop into a passer if they want any shot of winning the game.

Overall, the Gophers need to do all the little things right. They need to play strong, fundamental football and keep the mistakes to a minimum. Fans have been looking for a signature win — beating Michigan in the Big House would be that win.