Michigan (7-2, 4-2) hosted Minnesota (4-5, 1-5) this past Saturday night and left the Gophers’ greasy, grimy guts strewn all over the Michigan Stadium field. The Wolverines walked away with a dominating 33-10 win to keep their Big Ten title hopes alive.
Any time Michigan faces a team that cannot throw the ball, the ending is never in doubt. The only question is whether or not they’ll eventually get tired of toying with the mouse and just start eating it. On Saturday, it wasn’t a mouse, but it was still a rodent, and the Wolverine defense ate them whole — bones and all.
If you’ve ever wanted to see three hours of P.J. Fleck’s “distraught face”, then this was the game for you. His entire team was powerless to stop anything that was happening on Saturday and he knew it. All he could do was pace the sideline and watch the clock slowly tick down.
It was like watching the varsity team scrimmage the junior varsity.
No, it was even worse than that. It was like watching Iowa host Ohio State.
When Michigan Was On Offense
I don’t want to make it sound like Minnesota’s only problem was their offense, because that’s just not true. Their defense was just as bad.
Michigan passed for 56 yards and rushed for 371 yards. No, they are not a triple-option team.
Right now, the Wolverines don’t have much of a passing attack, so the Gophers knew to expect the run, but it didn’t matter. Their back seven was frequently out of position. I’ve seen sharper angles from a hula hoop. They missed tackles on every drive. Running back Chris Evans was even trucking dudes, which is all you need to know about the Gopher defense.
Michigan averaged 10 yards per carry and 4.3 yards per pass. Minnesota should have been able to hold up better against the run, but the Wolverine offensive line was too much for them, as were running backs Karan Higdon and Chris Evans.
Higdon rushed for 200 yards on 16 carries, while Evans added 191 yards on 13 carries. They both hit several home runs — Higdon’s long carry was 77 yards and Evans’ was 67 yards.
Higdon continues to progress into one of the Big Ten’s best running backs. Evans provided the big hits that the offense needs from him.
Starting right guard Michael Onwenu was out this week, so he was replaced by true freshman Cesar Ruiz. Ruiz is the center of the future and I was very impressed with him, until this happened.
Liked a lot of what I've seen from Ruiz in this game…until this. pic.twitter.com/hXvDWTgCMh
— Tony Gerdeman (@TonyGerdeman) November 7, 2017
Ruiz was pulled for a couple of series after this play, but returned and looks like he’s going to be pretty solid down the line.
The impressive part about Michigan’s rushing attack is they did it without needing a passing attack.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Brandon Peters got his first career start and completed 8-of-13 attempts for just 56 yards. He had one touchdown and no interceptions.
This was the second good look at Peters this season and he again showed a long delivery. He missed a couple of open receivers short as well. They didn’t need to rely on him, so they didn’t. He did enough to keep the offense out of trouble, but I continue to wonder how he’ll do under pressure, or when Michigan needs him to throw the ball in order to win.
And keep in mind, he was sacked on three of the 16 times he dropped back in this game. That’s a lot. So for as well as the offensive line played the run, they need to pass block much better moving forward. One of those sacks was on Ruiz, who probably won’t be in the lineup much anymore, but protection will still be something to watch with an inexperienced quarterback moving forward.
When Michigan Was On Defense
Linebacker Khaleke Hudson finished with 8.0 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks, and this isn’t fair to him at all, but any time a player gets 8.0 tackles for loss, the offense is at complete fault. The Gophers spoon-fed Hudson most of the evening and he gobbled up everything they had to offer. They didn’t even have to do the old “Airplane in the Hangar” game. He just kept asking for more.
Minnesota rushed for 90 yards and passed for 74 yards. It was the third time this season that the Wolverines have held an opponent under 100 yards passing.
Gopher quarterback Demry Croft had a rough outing, completing just 5-of-12 passes for 74 yards. The performance was especially disappointing considering just one week earlier he led the Gophers to a near-win at national power Iowa. The Hawkeyes eventually pulled it out 17-10 because that’s what championship-caliber teams do, but it was touch-and-go for a while.
Croft was sacked five times, and it would have been more, but he’s got some mobility to him.
Five of Minnesota’s drives actually lost yards. (Three of Michigan’s drives lost yards, by the way.)
Defensive tackle Maurice Hurst continues to be a monster who does things that would make for awesome fight scenes in a Road House remake.
— Tony Gerdeman (@TonyGerdeman) November 7, 2017
There isn’t really much else to talk about because Minnesota was not equipped to play in this game. They could not throw the ball, and if you can’t throw the ball against Michigan, you’re probably not going to be able to run on them either.
This isn’t me racing through an edition of Michigan Monday because it’s already a day late, this is me having nothing else to say.
I will say that Michigan’s safeties are still not great in coverage.
The Michigan Special Teams
Kicker Quinn Nordin missed an extra point and a 49-yard field goal. Punter Brad Robbins only put two of his five punts inside the 20-yard line.
Freshman cornerback Ambry Thomas is getting close to hitting a big kickoff return. I don’t know if it will go the distance, but something is about to happen. Might be something to watch when Michigan hosts Ohio State.
Michigan’s kick coverage, meanwhile, gave up 64 yards on five returns, which is exceptional.
What Does It All Mean?
It means that you can’t really learn much about Michigan from a game against Minnesota. Just like you can’t really learn much about Iowa from a game against Ohio State.
Michigan’s offense did everything it needed to, but we have no idea if it can do what it must do when it has to. Brandon Peters is still a mystery, and that’s only if you assume he is the answer. For others who don’t see him being the answer, there is no mystery to it. Eventually, a defense will force him to move the ball, and that’s when we’ll find out what we need to know.
Of course, that may not happen if Wilton Speight continues to heal at the rate he is apparently healing right now.
Imagine if Peters leads Michigan to four-straight wins leading up to the Ohio State game, and then Speight is given a full bill of health. Which way would Jim Harbaugh lean? And how short would the leash be on whichever guy he chooses?
If there’s anything I’ve learned covering Ohio State, it’s that quarterback controversies are always good for wins and morale.
It also means that the Wolverines have one more tuneup before they can start making waves in the Big Ten standings. Unfortunately, the way the tiebreakers are falling right now, it may not matter. That won’t keep them from wanting to beat both Wisconsin and Ohio State at the end of the season, of course.
Next week for Michigan is Maryland, who is getting better at throwing the ball, but not good enough to put much fear into Michigan. The Terps may have some confidence in them, however, considering they have been one of the few teams over the last couple of years who have moved the ball on Michigan without any passing game.
Will that continue on Saturday? I have my doubts.
The Road to The Game
Sept. 2 Michigan 33 – Florida 17 (1-0)
Sept. 9 Michigan 36 – Cincinnati 14 (2-0)
Sept. 16 Michigan 29 – Air Force 13 (3-0)
Sept. 23 Michigan 28 – Purdue 10 (4-0, 1-0)
Oct. 7 Michigan State 14 – Michigan 10 (4-1, 1-1)
Oct. 14 Michigan 27 – Indiana 20 (5-1, 2-1)
Oct. 21 Penn State 42 – Michigan 13 (5-2, 2-2)
Oct. 28 Michigan 35 – Rutgers 14 (6-2, 3-2) (Rivalry Game)
Nov. 4 Michigan 33 – Minnesota 10 (7-2, 4-2)
Nov. 11 Michigan at Maryland
Nov. 18 Michigan at Wisconsin
Nov. 25 Ohio State at Michigan