Derrick Ryan/ November 4, 2017/ Football, Thoughts on Current Team/Season/ 0 comments

Quick recap of last week:

Michigan faced Rutgers as heavy favorites.  The game looked to be way closer than expected with the Wolverine offense struggling to find rhythm once again, until towards the end of the first half.  It was at this point when Coach Harbaugh and staff decided it was time to give RS Freshman QB, Brandon Peters, a shot.  Best decision ever.

Peters proceeded to lead his team to three consecutive TD drives, and then a couple more to win the game 35-14.  Karan Higdon had another great game and we saw Kareem Walker get his first TD, Chris Evans catch a TD pass, and Nico Collins record his first career catch.

We also saw Aubrey Solomon start in place of Brian Mone – this kid is a monster.  He is going to be very, very good.

Defensively, the Don Brown squad, did some nice things, holding the opposing QB to a little over 100 yards passing and a QBR of a paltry 13.9, as well as keeping the rushing attack from Rutgers under 100 yards.  But there were also some things to work on.  It seemed Rutgers studied the PSU game film and tried to replicate a few wrinkles that worked for Penn State when they faced this defense.

Janarion Grant lined up in the Wildcat and simulated Barkley doing Barkley-Wildcat things, and had some success with his imitation.  On 5 carries he had over 70 yards rushing, most of which came on one big run.  Coach Ash also attacked the safeties deep on routes towards the deep middle and hit on a few.  Until Michigan shows they can stop these types of plays, every team they face from here out will try those same things.

This week Michigan faces Minnesota, a team that is more like Rutgers than Penn State, but in a rivalry, weird things tend to be possible so Coach Harbagh will have his team focused and ready to play.  The Wolverines have dominated this series that dates back to 1892, to the tune of 74–25–3, but it was the 1903 game that really birthed the rivalry as we know it.  It was in that year that Fielding Yost, left behind a jug he had just purchased for water, after believing that the opposing team would contaminate the water if he were to have asked them for a little hospitality.   The 1903 Golden Gophers were quite good and beat the Wolverines that year, and painted the jug that was left behind, in their colors while also noting the sore on the side of the jug.  The Battle for the Little Brown Jug was on from there out.

These teams last met in 2015, Harbaugh’s first year as the Wolverines’ coach, and it was a narrow win for his squad who escaped Minnesota 29-26 on a goal-line stand.  The year before that, Michigan fell to Minnesota at home 30-14, ending a streak of six wins in a row over the Gophers.

Minnesota comes in with a 4-4 record (1-4 in conference play), under the leadership of new Headman, P.J. Fleck.  Fleck had previously rowed his boat into Kalamazoo, where he turned the downtrodden Broncos of Western Michigan into a legit power in the MAC, in terms of how much actual power MAC teams can attain. Fleck is a good coach but Minnesota is not yet to the level of even his previous WMU squad.

Fleck’s departure from WMU was a bit tumultuous, so I personally wouldn’t mind seeing Coach Harbaugh and team stomp a mudhole in this team, but that might just be my K-Zoo ties coming through.

This will be a chilly, possibly rainy, night game. The last time Michigan had a new QB coming off a decent performance and heading into a rainy night game was when they faced MSU this year.  Assuming Peters gets the start, it will be interesting to see how he’s able to move the team in similar conditions, albeit, against a defense that’s just a tad lesser than the one they faced against MSU.

Anyways, let’s break this down a bit to see how the match-up looks on paper, shall we?

In this corner we have the Michigan Defense vs the Minnesota Offense

First we will look at some key statistical rankings.

Minnesota Offense According to Football Outsiders (FEI) – Click here to view Football Outsiders’ webpage and to get info on what all this alphabet soup means.

OFEI
Rk
Team FBS
Rec
OFEI OE OE
Rk
ODS ODS
Rk
OAY OAY
Rk
OFD OFD
Rk
OTD OTD
Rk
OTF OTF
Rk
OTO OTO
Rk
82 Minnesota 4-4 1.98 2.04 84 .297 84 .426 80 .714 63 .231 84 .323 90 .132 86

Michigan Defense According to Football outsiders (FEI)

DFEI
Rk
Team FBS
Rec
DFEI DE DE
Rk
DDS DDS
Rk
DAY DAY
Rk
DFD DFD
Rk
DTD DTD
Rk
DTF DTF
Rk
DTO DTO
Rk
15 Michigan 6-2 1.38 1.40 13 .175 7 .277 4 .495 1 .155 13 .313 33 .082 99

Michigan has moved up one spot in DFEI from 16 to 15 and also in Total Defense, from 5 to 4 after last week.

Minnesota is not a ton better than Rutgers, offensively, at 82 in OFEI (Rutgers 103), and 110 in Total Offense (Rutgers 126). Both Minnesota and Rutgers also have 12 turnovers lost on the year.

 

PJ Fleck’s team played Iowa to a close game last week, at Iowa, which is a tough place to play.  The fact that this was a 17-10 loss should show that Minnesota is not a terrible team.  They played a decent team close, on the road, in a rivalry.  But to get a sense for how Coach feels about his team, look no further than this post game quote in his Monday Presser: “By ’19, I will be able to fix the issues, but we will be young.  We will be older with some youth, developing depth, creating depth. Then when you hit ’20, that’s when you see a spike in, ‘Holy cow, they’re good. They’re deep, and they are becoming experienced. Wow.’ Then ’21, it’s, ‘Oh my gosh.’ Then you start reloading instead of rebuilding.”

I’m not sure if this is him being guarded to temper expectations or what, but imagine the Michigan fan base if Harbaugh had come in and basically told everyone, mid-season, “we will fix all issues in 4-5 years”.  The Michigan fan base while it probably understands that realistically, a rebuild does take time, it would not have the patience to come to grips with waiting 4-5 years to become a contender.  We are seeing this play out now, in year 3, where a two loss Michigan team has some “fans” losing their minds.

The Golden Gophers have one of the worst passing offenses in college football, ranked 115 and averaging a little over 150 yards per game.  They are much better running the ball where they are ranked 47 and averaging 182 yards per game.  A rainy, cold game plays into running being your strength, and Michigan is actually better at defending the pass than the run, ranked 8th against the run and 2nd against the passing game.

This means that Minnesota’s best chance for a win will be running the ball, but they don’t have a Saquon Barkley, instead they have Rodney Smith.  Rodney Smith is a respectable runner at 627 yards on the season and averaging just over 4 per carry, but he’s only broken 100 yards twice this season, once against Illinois and once against Middle Tennessee.  Beyond Smith, the Gophers have a few others that they feature at RB, Junior Shannon Brooks, and Senior Kobe McCrary, both of which have over 300 yards, average about 5 yards per carry, and have rushing 5 TDs on the season.

Minnesota has struggled to pass the ball big time in 2017.  They made a switch in terms of starting QB after they played MSU and Sophomore Demry Croft has taken over since then, but has not exactly lit it up.  Croft has been sacked 7 times on the year and has only completed around 43% of his passes.  His adjusted QBR is 21.3.  Croft is fairly nimble and can run a little bit.  He has 157 yards rushing and has ripped off a 64 yard run this season.

Fleck will probably utilize this to his advantage and try to do PSU type things with some read-option looks, while trying to get Michigan to commit to stopping the RB while leaving the QB free to gain yards against the over-aggression.  Their success here will depend on how disciplined the Wolverines defense can be after PSU killed them with this and after Rutgers tried to replicate it.

Michigan may lose contain a few times, but the overall outcome should look a lot like last week in terms of points and yards allowed.

Players to watch on Michigan Defense: Aubrey Solomon (the youngster should have a big game today), Tyree Kinnel (Tyree has struggled a bit in deep coverage, I’m looking to see what adjustments are made to fix this), Mo Hurst (Mo will look to clog up running lanes all day, and may end up with a few sacks).

Players to watch on Minnesota Offense: RB Rodney Smith (the workhorse), RB Kobe McCrary/Shannon Brooks, QB Demry Croft

Edge: Michigan

And in this corner we have the Michigan Offense vs the Minnesota Defense

Wolverine offense vs Rutgers defense statistical ranking comparison:

Michigan Offense According to Football Outsiders (FEI)

OFEI
Rk
Team FBS
Rec
OFEI OE OE
Rk
ODS ODS
Rk
OAY OAY
Rk
OFD OFD
Rk
OTD OTD
Rk
OTF OTF
Rk
OTO OTO
Rk
78 Michigan 6-2 2.05 1.94 89 .299 83 .412 90 .701 74 .206 102 .294 102 .134 87

Minnesota Defense According to Football Outsiders (FEI)

DFEI
Rk
Team FBS
Rec
DFEI DE DE
Rk
DDS DDS
Rk
DAY DAY
Rk
DFD DFD
Rk
DTD DTD
Rk
DTF DTF
Rk
DTO DTO
Rk
33 Minnesota 4-4 1.78 1.58 19 .258 28 .360 19 .656 33 .183 24 .279 23 .183 9

The Wolverines improved by 11 spots in OFEI after the game last week, moving from 89 to 78.  After a slow start and a QB change, the offense actually looked pretty solid.

Minnesota is extremely similar to Rutgers, defensively, coming into this game.  Rutgers was 34 in DFEI before last week and as you can see above, the Golden Gophers are 33.

On paper, the big thing to watch is the turnover margin in this matchup.  Minny causes turnovers at a rate that puts them in the top 10 in this category, where Michigan gives the ball away enough to push them to 87th in terms of OTO ranking.

Brandon Peters and the Michigan offense must protect the ball.

Coach Pep Hamilton said recently that the offense has had to be more simplified due to losing key players on that side of the ball, and we’ve seen that for sure.  With a young QB, this is likely going to continue to be the case until he’s able to get a full grip on the playbook which may be easier now that he’s getting first team reps.  Even with the simplified offense, it looked to have the most rhythm last week with Peters at the helm.  Yes, O’Korn had a good game against Purdue, and then seemed to lose it after Penn State, but things just felt different once Peters came in.

We’ve also heard this week that Kareem Walker should continue to get more looks, and rightfully so.  He looks more and more like the highly ranked RB he was recruited as with every touch he gets.  Karan Higdon also has a shot to break 1000 yards on the ground this year if he keeps up his recent pace.

Against Minnesota, especially with the potential weather situation, expect lots and lots of running.  Michigan may rush for 250+ yards today while facing a team that is 23rd against the pass but 36th against the run.  There shouldn’t be too much risk taking unless Michigan is able to build a lead, and get some breathing room.  It would be at this point when Michigan may look to open it up and see how the young QB can handle things like throwing a wet ball, and or being more aggressive looking downfield.  Running has been Harbaugh’s staple so far this year and frankly the pass protection vs. run blocking has really helped solidify this decision making.

Michigan will still pass the ball some – Minnesota is not bad on defense and needs to be kept guessing somewhat, by mixing up the play calling a bit.  However, the Wolverines know that they can likely score points while being heavy on the run side of the run/pass balance.

One thing to note is that the Gophers are ranked 101 in Team Sacks.  They cover pretty well, but do not typically have that much of a pass rush.  Minnesota also hasn’t played anyone with a really great passing offense, Buffalo is the best they’ve faced ranked 32 in passing offense.  This is not to say that Michigan is a great passing team, but it’s said to mean this still could be a game to try some things in, in terms of testing out the young QB to see what he can do.

I see this as a typical 65-35 run/pass ratio game, where the Wolverines look to control the clock, wear out the defense, and open up some passing lanes.  I see Michigan rushing for around 250-300 yards, throwing for 200 on 25ish attempts and scoring 35-38 points.

Players to watch for Michigan Offense – QB Brandon Peters (Should get his first career start), Kareem Walker/Karan Higdon (Both over 100 yards rushing?), Nico Collins (curious to see how much he’s targeted this week after seeing playing time increase over the last couple weeks)

Players to watch for Rutgers Defense – LB Thomas Barber (Hands down the leader of this defense), LB Jonathan Celestin (60 Tackles 1 INT 1 TD 2 PD), DB Antonio Shenault (41 tackles and 3 PD) DB Jacob Huff (3 INT)

Edge: Push (Minnesota might have the edge statistically but against Michigan on the road with a QB that doesn’t have a ton of film makes this harder to read)

This game should be similar to last week with about the same result both offensively and defensively.  Where Michigan handcuffed themselves offensively for practically the entire first half, they still put up 35 points.  Against a similar but slightly better defense, but with “hopefully” consistent QB play all game, it should be a wash in comparing opponents.  Offensively, the opponents are similar as well so the Michigan D should be continuing to move back towards the top of the defensive rankings.

Final Score: Michigan 38 Minnesota 17

 

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Derrick Ryan
What's up guys. I'm Derrick Ryan, the Webmaster for this site. I'm also an editor and blogger for The BluePrint Blog. Aside from these responsibilities, I also work full-time at a Fortune 500 company in IT, in my not-so-spare time. In addition to the above, I also love spending time with my family. I have a beautiful wife and was blessed with twin children, a boy and a girl. Our children keep us busy with sports, school and music, but I also enjoy video games (hit me on on XBox Live: DertyDoc), movies, music, camping, and cooking (I'm a goon with the spoon). Lastly, I'm extremely passionate about the University of Michigan and Michigan Athletics. GO BLUE! P.S. -Thank you RaSean aka Michigan Man Ray for giving people like me a platform to express my interests and opinions.
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