TV Schedule: Saturday October 31, 7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
Stadium: TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minn.
Line: Minnesota (+14)
The Michigan Wolverines (5-2) are coming off one of the craziest, most infamous losses in history, while Minnesota (4-3) is just plucking along with what amounts to a disappointing season given their expectations based on a year ago. So there is plenty to play for with both sides when they square off for the Little Brown Jug on Saturday night.
The No. 15 Wolverines still have a shot at taking the Big 10 East and making it to the conference title game with some help. They would also still then have a shot to play in a New Year’s Six bowl game instead of one of the countless other less prestigious postseason games. So Jim Harbaugh and his bunch should have plenty of motivation to come out strong. Also working as motivation for the Wolverines is the fact that last season, the Golden Gophers defeated Michigan and claimed the Little Brown Jug trophy for the first time since 2005. You know Michigan will want that trophy back on their campus for the next year.
The key for Michigan, like it is every week, is to run the ball and control the line of scrimmage with their grind it out attack. Running back De’Veon Smith, who is their leading rusher with 436 yards this season, will have to find success on his carries. Quarterback Jake Rudock has to protect the ball and have success when he does throw it. They throw the ball very little, so when they do air it out, they have to be able to hit the plays. That means pass catchers Amara Darboh, Jake Butt and Jehu Chesson have to make the plays when the ball comes their way.
Minnesota certainly has their work cut out for them in this one; the only thing helping them is the game being at home. They’ve only scored more than 30 points once this year and that was against a lousy Purdue team. With an offense that lacks play-makers and explosiveness they will certainly struggle against a stout Wolverine defensive unit that already has three shutouts to its credit this season.
Quarterback Mitch Leidner must find a way to somehow make plays with his arm. He has seven touchdowns to six interceptions this season. Minnesota is good running the ball as they have two runners in Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks who are over 300 yards rushing. However, things will be tough as Michigan boasts the second-best run defense at just 64.7 yards per game and only 453 total rush yards given up this season.
Playing at home and under the lights in a big rivalry game may give the Golden Gophers some hope in this game. However, Michigan is playing at a different level with Harbaugh at the helm this season. The key is going to be mindset of the Wolverines. Are they over that devastating loss? Did the bye week help? Or have they given up? I think they still know they have plenty to play for, and I’m sure their coach will have them fired up and ready to play.
Prediction: Michigan 23, Minnesota 10