Whether it’s the shovel option or the fake punt, opposing
teams seem to always come into their game against Michigan this
season with a trick up their sleeve.

Michigan Football
Minnesota running back Marion Barber III leads the Gophers with seven touchdowns this year.(TONY DING/DAILY)

But this week, the Wolverines know exactly what’s coming.
It’s just a question of whether they can stop it.

“We know they’re going to try and run the
ball,” Michigan linebacker Lawrence Reid said. “We just
have to go out and try to defend it.”

There are currently two running backs in the Big Ten that
average more than 100 yards per game on the ground.

Both will be on the field this Saturday, and both will be
wearing maroon and gold.

The Golden Gophers’ “starter” at running back,
junior Marion Barber III, is a 215-pound power back that likes to
run between the tackles and plow through his offensive line. He
averages 120.4 yards per game, good for 11th in the nation.

The Golden Gophers’ “back-up,” sophomore
Laurence Maroney, is Barber’s speed counterpart, and happens
to average almost 14 yards per game more than Minnesota’s
starter.

Either Barber or Maroney has had a 100-yard first half in four
of the first five games the team has played this year.

“(They have) maybe the best running game I’ve ever
seen in 25 years in the Big Ten conference,” Michigan coach
Lloyd Carr said. “When you look at the yards per game,
it’s outstanding especially in a day and age when people are
having trouble running the football.”

Carr said that what makes the Minnesota running game so great is
the running pair’s ability to see the field, and the
offensive line’s ability to create necessary green space.

“They’ve made a lot of plays where the ball cuts all
the way outside to the tight end to the left, which really takes
great blocking and great vision on the part of the ball
carrier,” Carr said.

The Wolverines come into the week as the No. 1 rush defense in
the nation, giving up just 47.2 yards per game. But they came into
last year’s matchup with Minnesota also doing very well
against the run. Then the Golden Gophers ran for 424 net-rushing
yards, with Barber picking up 197 yards on 21 carries.

No team had ever run for that many yards against the
Wolverines.

For Michigan to prevent a repeat performance, it’s going
to have to fight off the excessive number of chop blocks that
Minnesota throws at opposing defenses.

“That’s what happened to us a year ago,” Carr
said. “We had too many guys on the ground – or
turf.”

While the Wolverines implement the same strategy on occasion,
most teams typically try to block defenders high in. The Golden
Gophers, on the other hand, want to take would-be tacklers out from
underneath. This allows for the two-headed Minnesota running attack
to have plenty of room to storm down the field.

“The instinctive thing to do is to look up,” Carr
said. “You know there’s a guy back there with the ball.
When you look up, now you’re vulnerable, and he gets to your
legs. Once he gets to your legs, you’re on the ground and
you’re done.”

Despite the fact that the Denver Broncos have made the scheme
famous in the NFL, not many of Michigan’s opponents have that
philosophy.

“The difficulty, even if you use that scheme, is how do
you teach it without getting a lot of guys hurt?” Carr said.
“A lot of credit goes to their coaching staff. They’ve
done a great job of being able to get that system taught and
implemented. Nobody has enough players that you could go out
Tuesday and Wednesday and do those blocks live, where everybody is
on the ground. If you’ve got a guy 300 pounds, and he goes to
the ground 50 times a day, something is going to give.”

The Wolverines have tried to prepare for the scheme with
occasional drills throughout spring practice and this fall, but the
team understands the task at hand.

“I think we’ll know a lot more about our defense
after we face the challenge that this Minnesota team
presents,” Carr said.

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