With an interesting match-up on Saturday, the floundering Michigan Wolverines who are desperate for a win will face-off against its rivals in Minnesota for the Little Brown Jug.
Although this rivalry has primarily gone in Michigan's favor, some believe that the Gophers could come in to Ann Arbor and pull off the upset.
To preview the team, we sat down with The Daily Gopher's JDMill to talk about the incoming Gopher squad.
MnB: Minnesota's offense so far has seemingly relied heavily on the shoulders of the running game and David Cobb five games into this season. Do you think this is a recipe for success going forward?
David Cobb has proven to be an incredibly sure-handed and durable RB with great vision. You have to keep in mind that prior to 2013 he was almost unused, taking only 11 carries in his first two seasons in Minnesota, so it's not as if he's got that many miles so far.
JDM: Having said that, if Cobb continues to be the only weapon in the Gopher arsenal, we're going to be in a heap of trouble. Against possibly the best defense we'll see all season, TCU, Cobb was virtually shut down (41 yards on 15 carries) and the Gopher offense struggled big time.
It's not a secret that Minnesota has made almost no effort to throw the ball in 2014 and when we did, against TCU, it was damn ugly. The coaches would have you believe that they haven't thrown much because they haven't had to. I'm not sure I quite buy that line of thinking and I have a tendency to think that if a team can shut down the run game they can shut down the Gophers.
Then again, I've been a Gopher fan my entire life, so being jaded and cynical is kind of part of my shtick.
MnB: I look at statistics on ESPN and see that Minnesota is ranked 124th in passing offense and averaging just under 100 yards per game, why has the passing game not been successful? Is it because the running game has done so well?
JDM: The biggest reason the passing game hasn't been successful is because it hasn't been utilized. The Gophers are averaging only 16 pass attempts/game. I mean, the Gophers have effectively turned in to Georgia Tech this year: we pass only as much as it is absolutely needed and we complete less than 50% of those attempts.
Clearly there's a "chicken or the egg" argument to be had here, but OC Matt Limegrover has shown in the past (see 2013 vs. Nebraska) that when it's needed he can open up the play book and make things difficult on a defense. Can and will are two different things however and... see my comment about being jaded and cynical.
MnB: It appears that many teams could take advantage of Michigan's fragile system that's operating this season. How can Minnesota exploit this and come away victorious on Saturday?
JDM: The Gophers are a fairly opportunistic from a turnover standpoint and they are 20th in the nation in turnover margin at +4. Because our passing game has struggled to score (just 3 passing TD's), they need help in other areas. Short fields are our friend.
We're going to need the defense to continue to go after the ball and give us short fields, but we're also going to need special teams to play a role. I can see this game being a bit of a field position battle early and if the Gophers can get the upper hand in that battle, then the run game could be enough to get us a W in Ann Arbor.
MnB: How do Golden Gopher fans view this rivalry? Granted, Michigan has had success in this rivalry, but is this still a game that fans circle on the calendar every year?
JDM: The answer to this depends on who you ask. I think some older fans still consider Michigan to be our premier rival going way back, but for the most part I think it's safe to say the rivalry ranking for Minnesota goes 1)Wisconsin 2)Iowa 3)Michigan. It's an important game. The Little Brown Jug is a trophy we badly want in our trophy case, but it doesn't quite carry the water (see what I did there?) that beating Wisconsin and Iowa do.
MnB: I've always admired Coach Kill's strength and ability to bring the team together when he has to miss games due to complications of epilepsy. How is his health heading in to this season?
JDM: By all accounts Coach Kill is as healthy as he has ever been and he's back to being able to drive (which requires him being seizure free for a prolonged period). Coach Kill's health is not something that we discuss much around here. It is not an on-going concern.
MnB: Why has Kill been able to be so successful at Minnesota? What does he bring that other coaches in the past have failed to do?
JDM: Staff continuity and and unwillingness to cut corners. Minnesota has one of the longest tenured staffs in the entire country, so the players are hearing the same message from the same people for the fourth year in a row now, which is a huge advantage. Our previous coaches had a bit of a revolving door in the coordinator ranks.
The most important thing is that this staff has done this before. They've taken programs in disarray (Souther & Northern Illinois) and turned them into model programs. The road at Minnesota is longer and the competition in recruiting and on the field is much stiffer, but most fans are very comfortable that Jerry Kill and his staff are up for it.
MnB: How does Minnesota plan to use Berkley Edwards on Saturday? He has an Ann Arbor connection with his brother being Braylon Edwards.
JDM: Berkley has been kept under wraps a bit, but a lot of people think this is the game that he'll be unleashed. You talked about circling games on the calendar and I can assure you that Berkley Edwards, who was not recruited by Michigan where his father and brother played, is anxious to show the Wolverines who they missed out on.
In little we've seen Edwards he's been used as a regular running back, but a lot of that has to do with the fact that the offensive play calling has been as vanilla as it gets. I would expect to see Berkley on on jet sweeps and potentially in some slot situations, all with an eye on getting him in space and letting him use his legs.
MnB: Staying true to our name, we are all about the local beer scene. Do you have any local beers that are your favorite?
JDM: I'm not the beer snob at The Daily Gopher by any means, but we've got some great breweries in the state. A couple of my personal favorites are Shell's Amber & Grainbelt's Nordeast. The Surly Brewery in Minneapolis has also become incredibly popular in recent years, so can't really go wrong with anything from them either.