Breakdown: Michigan rush defense to be tested against Minnesota

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Fifth-year senior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint will likely share more carries. Buy this photo

By Matt Slovin, Managing Editor
Published October 3, 2013

This is not the Minnesota football team that Michigan has beaten by a combined 80 points the past two seasons. In that same span, the Golden Gophers have won just four Big Ten games.

In the 100th edition of this series, Jerry Kill’s Minnesota team will be hungry to give its seniors at least one win over the Wolverines for their college careers. Here’s where each team will have an edge on Saturday at the Big House.

Michigan pass offense vs. Minnesota pass defense

Nowhere have the Wolverines’ struggles been more evident in the two nail-biting victories over Akron and Connecticut than in the play of redshirt junior quarterback Devin Gardner. Long stretches of incompletions and mystifying decisions by Gardner have cost Michigan deeply in the past two weeks.

Minnesota’s defense presents some ball hawkers — five different players have intercepted passes this season. Gardner has repeatedly said he is excited to get back on the field Saturday after turning the ball over seven times in the last two games.

Gardner made his first-ever start as a Michigan quarterback against the Golden Gophers last season. He threw for 234 yards, going 12-for-18, with three touchdowns, two through the air.

The tone will be set early. As Gardner goes, so likely will Michigan (4-0). If he struggles, it’ll once again be closer than necessary.

Edge: Minnesota

Michigan rush offense vs. Minnesota rush defense

The Wolverines will display a new offensive line, with redshirt sophomore Chris Bryant joining it at guard and redshirt junior Graham Glasgow sliding over from guard to center. Space for redshirt senior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint to run through hasn’t come easily in four games. Whether or not the new-look line will have more than a negligible impact remains to be seen.

In the Michigan backfield, Toussaint should have company Saturday. Freshmen running backs Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith were given an increased workload during the bye week, and the coaching staff hasn’t kept secret its intentions to give them more carries going forward.

Edge: Michigan

Minnesota pass offense vs. Michigan pass defense

The Golden Gophers (0-1 Big Ten, 4-1 overall), who are coming off a 23-7 loss to Iowa, have split time at quarterback between Phillip Nelson and Mitch Leidner. Minnesota’s offense focuses on the read option, so don’t expect many fireworks from the Golden Gophers’ aerial attack — it’s ranked 114th in Division I.

Meanwhile, the Michigan secondary has been adequate so far. It will be nice for it to get a breather from what has been a heavy workload. The Wolverines have defended the pass more often than all but 12 Division I teams. Saturday, the secondary will be able to commit to stopping the run.

Edge: Michigan

Minnesota rush offense vs. Michigan rush defense

Michigan’s rush defense, which hasn’t allowed a touchdown on the ground yet this season, should make things difficult for a team without a passing game. The Wolverines are ranked 18th in the nation in rushing yards allowed per attempt.

Golden Gophers running back Donnell Kirkwood has dealt with an ankle injury but will likely get plenty of carries Saturday. David Cobb leads the team with five rushing touchdowns.

Edge: Michigan

Special teams

Minnesota opponents are averaging just eight yards per punt return, while the Golden Gophers average 14.8 per attempt. Kicker Chris Hawthorne is 5-for-7 on field goals so far. However, both misses have come from distances of at least 50 yards. Michigan’s Brendan Gibbons has connected on four of five.

Jeremy Gallon is still a threat to break a punt return for a touchdown every time.

Edge: Michigan


Michigan will be eager to show its home fans that this team is more like the one that handled Notre Dame than the one that probably should’ve lost to Akron. Seventeen consecutive home wins never hurts, either.

Edge: Michigan

Prediction: Michigan 34, Minnesota 14