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Michigan Wolverines vs. Minnesota Gophers: Preview, predictions and prognostications

When: Sat., October 31; 7:00 P.M. 
Where: Minneapolis, MN; TCF Bank Stadium (50,805)
TV: ESPN
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 69-23-3
Last Meeting: Minnesota win 30-14
Line: -13.5 Michigan

What a backdrop we have for the next installment of the battle for the Little Brown Jug. Not only are we playing this game on the tails of the Jerry Kill abrupt retirement, but on the other sideline, Michigan must go on the road after a bye and try wash the bad taste out of its mouth from giving the game up to Michigan State in the most improbable of fashions as time expired.

There is still a lot at stake for both teams. The Wolverines are still hopeful of its ability to win the East division and subsequent trip to Indy for a shot at the conference title, while the Gophers are looking for a couple more wins to get bowl-eligible. Minnesota is in possession of the jug after embarrassing the Wolverines last year, and the Maize and Blue would love to take what they feel is its rightful resting place in Ann Arbor.

It should be great theater.

1 Burning Question:  Can the Gophers win one for coach Kill?

You know the Gopher players would love to come out and provide an emotional statement for a guy that has led them and the Minnesota program to respectability. Jerry Kill has the respect of many football circles around the country, but he also has the players squarely in his corner. Michigan is sensitive to all the raw emotion and gravity of the situation, but they have goals still before them to take care of. Don’t be surprised if Minnesota finds a way to make a game of this at home, at night, in honor of Kill’s memory.

2 Key Stats:

23.0: That’s the number of points Minnesota is averaging per game, 103rd in the country. The Gophers have shown a strong defense at times, but not getting much in the way of support from the offense has taken its toll. There just aren’t that many explosive play-makers on the outside, so they have to play solid, mistake-free football to have a chance at beating teams with a little better athletic ability. Michigan fits that bill.

— 5: It’s the lowly number of touchdown passes Jake Rudock has thrown this year, good for 116th in the country. Iowa didn’t want him, but he’s the best that the Wolverines have according to Jim Harbaugh. He hasn’t asked Rudock to do more than manage the game because of the nation’s top ranked defense, but if he needs to make plays at critical times, can he? His six interceptions to a five touchdowns, and 119.9 passer rating doesn’t bode well. Can Minnesota shut down the run and make a limited quarterback beat them?

3 Key Players:

Shannon Brooks, Minnesota RB: The freshman burst onto the scene against Purdue on the road, but he fell back into the shadows a bit two weeks ago against Nebraska with some nicks and bruises. Brooks has a strong and punishing running style that will be needed against a nasty Wolverine defense that doesn’t give up real-estate easily. The Gophers need him to get the tough yards to control the game and move the chains to have a chance.

Antonio Johnson, Minnesota CB: Johnson is the leading tackler for Minnesota from the secondary spot. He’s made some plays in the pass-coverage, but he’s also has a nose to be able to come up and find ball-carriers in the ground game. Michigan will follow its formula for winning by trying to establish the running game first and foremost, and Johnson has to dissect the plays and be that extra hat in the box when needed to slow down the game-plan of an angry Michigan team.

De’Veon Smith, Michigan RB: A Jim Harbaugh game-plan starts and ends with a punishing running attack. His latest cog in that wheel is Smith. Though carries do get spread out a bit, it’s Smith at the forefront and others spelling him when he’s tired or banged up. If he can tote the mail about 20 times, that means he’s finding some running lanes and wearing down the Gopher defense. If not, then this could be a game.

4 Bold Prognostications:

— Minnesota will make a game of it. The contest is at night, in the great state of Minnesota, and the team has an emotional bullet to discharge for Jerry Kill who is riding off into the sunset because of health reasons. Michigan is the more talented team, but the same heart and perseverance that Kill showed in his personal life will be there on Saturday night for his former team.

— Jake Rudock will throw a couple of interceptions. The Michigan QB has thrown one more interception that he’s thrown touchdowns on the season (6 to 5), and it’s come in games where he has been forced to try and throw the ball down the field. The Golden Gophers have a solid secondary, and they’ll have some success slowing down the Michigan running attack and bait Rudock into a couple of ill-advised throws.

— Jabrill Peppers will break one in the return game. He’s been oh so close, and I’ve called this before to no avail, but Peppers will get one too many lanes in the return game on Saturday and take one to the house for a big, big special teams play for Michigan.

— The Minnesota defense will hold Michigan to under 30 points. It seems to be a foregone conclusion that the Wolverines will be able to wear down the Gopher defense and beat them into submission at will and rack up some points. It won’t happen. Remember, this is the same Gopher defense that held TCU to 23 points and has only allowed Nebraska to score more than 27 through seven games.

5 Staff Predictions:

Andy: Michigan 31-20 (65-15 overall; 35-44 ATS)
Dave: Michigan 38-6 (65-15 overall; 43-35 ATS)
Greg: Michigan 34-13 (59-21 overall; 44-34 ATS)
Matt: Michigan 34-10 (64-16 overall; 48-30 ATS)
Phil: Michigan 26-17 (19-8 overall; 9-15 ATS) *joined in Week 5

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