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Breakdown: Michigan football at Minnesota

BY DAN FELDMAN AND NATE SANDALS
Daily Sports Editors
Published November 6, 2008

Michigan rushing offense vs. Minnesota rushing defense
Despite junior running back Brandon Minor's emergence, the Wolverines still rank ninth in the Big Ten in rushing offense. This is not only due to the running game's slow start to the season, but also because of the lack of a reliable second option. With freshman Sam McGuffie healthy this week, that could change.

The Golden Gophers have trouble defending mobile quarterbacks. Ignoring sacks, Northwestern's Mike Kafka ran for 233 yards on 25 carries and Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor had 105 yards on six carries.

With freshman dual-threat quarterback Justin Feagin expected to play, that could add an extra dimension to Michigan's running attack. The Wolverines may have three viable rushing threats against a defense that has had mixed results against the run.

Edge: Michigan

Michigan passing offense vs. Minnesota passing defense
Redshirt freshman quarterback Steven Threet isn't starting, so the Golden Gopher's pass defense won't be tested much. But for the record, the unit is 51st in the nation in pass efficiency defense and ninth in interceptions.

Redshirt sophomore Nick Sheridan hasn't shown the ability to throw downfield successfully, and Feagin hasn't seen the field at quarterback this year. Expect a lot of screens.

Edge: Minnesota

Minnesota rushing offense vs. Michigan rushing defense
Minnesota doesn’t get much of its offense on the ground, but when it does, the Golden Gophers have many different contributors. Freshman running back DeLeon Eskridge is the team’s leading rusher, but sophomore quarterback Adam Weber is also a threat.

Michigan’s big, experienced defensive line should have an edge here. But the Wolverines were supposed to have an advantage against Purdue last week. They can’t seem to find a balance between getting enough strength and enough speed on the field. If Michigan sticks with its 3-3-5 formation that it tried out last week, the Gophers should have the edge.

Edge: Push

Minnesota passing offense vs. Michigan passing defense
Where to begin with the Michigan secondary? The missed tackles, the huge cushions, the constant bites on play action? The Wolverines enter the game with the worst pass defense in the Big Ten. The Gophers' pass offense is third in the conference.

Michigan’s top priority is to slow down junior wide receiver Eric Decker. Decker has over 800 yards receiving this season and six touchdowns. Statistically, he has been the best receiver in the conference. If past games are any indication, Michigan’s secondary won’t be up to the task of stopping him. The Wolverines’ best hope is for a debilitating pass rush, forcing Weber out of rhythm.

Edge: Minnesota

Special teams
The Golden Gophers' punt and kick coverage has been solid this year, so the Wolverines' return game will likely revert back to its previous form — ineffective.

The lone bright spot has been junior punter Zoltan Mesko's leg. Michigan lead's the nation in net yards per punt.

The team's special teams should provide about equal field position, and both team's kickers have performed similarly this year.

Edge: Push

Intangibles
Nothing is going right for Michigan. Minnesota will be hungry after its last-second loss to Northwestern last week.

The Wolverines don't have a lot of experience in domed stadiums (except for the players who went to Minnesota two years ago and played in the Alamo Bowl in 2005), but it shouldn’t be a huge factor. There will be crowd noise, but no louder than Penn State was.

Edge: Minnesota

Prediction: Minnesota 31, Michigan 20


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