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Roundtable: Time to battle for the Little Brown Jug

Michigan’s 0-2 in night games this season. Third time’s a charm, right?

Michigan v Minnesota Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Ed: Hey, guys. I realize it was just Rutgers last week, but Brandon Peters excelled in his first extended playing time of his collegiate career. This week, what are your expectations for his (likely) first career start?

Von: I expect a lot of the same as far as the offensive playbook goes: conservative passing plays with a lot of running mixed in.

Peters played very well in his first significant playing time. He showed what he can do in the pocket and on the run, as well as his ability to progress through his reads and making something out of nothing (the Ty Isaac reception for a first down).

I was at the game and everyone seemed so much more in tune with each other. The offensive linemen seemed to be playing with a bit more strength, the receivers were magically getting open and the run game was still working as it has been all season. With all that was Rutgers, who is an improving team with a pretty decent defensive line, but that’s about it. Let’s take this performance with a grain of salt.

I also expect to see a few more deep shots down the field. He really only had one last Saturday that went incomplete to DPJ, so I would hope to see a few more deep passes just to get him into the feel of things and keep Minnesota’s defense thinking.

Dan: Minnesota isn’t that great and hasn’t seen the improvement some people might’ve expected with PJ Fleck coming on board. These next couple games should be decent opportunities for him to get his feet wet before the gauntlet at the end of the year.

Solid defense or not, I don’t expect them to put up a high number of points that could pressure the Michigan offense into a ton of mistakes. I want to see things kept simple but not predictable. Roll him out, give some opportunities to McKeon to make plays. Let’s take a shot or two down the field. I thought Drevno called one of his better games last week and I think if the injury bug hadn’t scared us into a more conservative ending, we could’ve scored a couple more TDs.

My only concern is that OKorn looked similar against Purdue and we know that things changed dramatically once teams were able to game-plan for him. I saw Peters read the defense better last week than O’Korn ever did though so I’m slightly more optimistic.

Jared: Minnesota and Maryland are the perfect opponents for Peters to cut his teeth against. They will both challenge him to play smart and mistake free football, but are not going to be pounding him into the dirt all game long either.

Like Von said, the game plan is not going to change radically from what we saw against Rutgers. They are going to try and pass to set up the run, and keep the offense on schedule. Peters will have his opportunities to make some plays, and I am excited to see what he can do as the (likely) starter, under the bright lights. It can’t go any worse than our last night game.

Colman: While Peters looked like the real deal against Rutgers we all need to continue to temper expectations. There will be bumps and bruises as he goes from walking to jogging to sprinting but the trajectory looks great after game one of his career.

I definitely expect a lot of the same out of the offense this week. Lots of heavy sets, lots of power running and play action. At the beginning of the year I think we all thought that the running backs and fullbacks would be used more in the passing game and as I’m looking into my crystal ball I see visions of dump off passes and RB safety valves being utilized more. I still don’t understand why Chris Evans hasn’t been used more in the passing game but hopefully that is changing.

Michigan can win running the ball well and keeping the passing game simple. Michigan hasn’t really run many slants, WR bubble screens (or screens in general) so far this year and these are easy reads and quick passes that I would think Harbaugh and Co would roll out for a young QB to give him confidence. I also expect a lot of looks to go the TEs with play action passing.

David: It was the right time and opponent to get Brandon Peters in the game, then he exceeded expectations by making great decisions while finding the endzone on his first three drives. He looked very comfortable and the crowd was behind him.

With it likely that he'll start against Minnesota, it provides him with a chance to build on what he's started. With a cold and rainy Saturday forecast, I see the Wolverines relying on a solid run game from the backs. Both teams will keep it on the ground since that's their strength on offense, but see Peters will get opportunities to gain yards in the air. He completed passes to 10 players against Rutgers, including his first career touchdown on a pass to Chris Evans, which was also the first Michigan passing score in 15 quarters.

Illinois v Minnesota Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Ed: Granted their schedule hasn’t been particularly challenging thus far, but Minnesota’s defense has held its own, ranking No. 21 nationally in points allowed per game. The quarterback position hasn’t been the only area that’s ailed the Wolverines this season. Other than Brandon Peters, what facet of the Michigan offense will you be watching in this one?

Von: I want to see the receivers help Peters make big plays. Nico Collins got his first real playing time last weekend and made his first collegiate reception for 12 yards. He is a real red zone threat as being a 6-foot-5 receiver. I’d like to see him get the ball more often, which in turn may result in seeing a guy named Donovan Peoples-Jones get open and have an opportunity to make plays.

It’s clear that the run game is the strength of the Michigan offense right now, so to get that going will be important. Setting up the run game will set up the rest of the young offense Michigan is building around right now.

Dan: It’s got to be the offensive line. For all the heat it has gotten this year, they’ve produced a 200-yard rusher and now a game with two 100-yard rushers, both in conference play. I know Rutgers and Indiana are not Penn State or Ohio State, but those are still pretty impressive feats. The biggest issue has been consistency. I hope to see them put back to back strong efforts together.

As Von said, everything seemed to somewhat click last week. The line needs to stop up and allow this kid to go through progressions. Get good push on first and second down in order to set up manageable 3rd downs.

Jared: I have to agree with Dan that it is the offensive line. They have got to keep growing and progressing this season if we want to have any shot of upsetting Wisconsin or Ohio State. They looked really good in the run blocking phase against Rutgers, but that is Rutgers. Minnesota will be a step up in competition, so it’s another chance to improve up front.

I want to see the right side of the line improve in the pass protection moving forward. Onwenu looked like a road grader in the run game, and even Bushell-Beatty looked good, but both have really struggled at times against the pass rush.

We still need a receiver to step up as well, so I’ll be watching the youth movement at that position also. Nico Collins and DPJ are the future, it would be great to get them involved against Minnesota.

Colman: No hot takes or disagreement here, I’m definitely looking at the O-line as well. With a young, inexperienced QB you want to give him as much help as possible. Running the ball well is first and foremost in this respect and the line needs to continue to open up holes and keep the ball moving on the ground. Giving Peters a clean pocket to work from obviously helps too and it would be nice to see a consistent game in pass protection. This also falls on the TE’s and backs.

Juwann Bushell-Beatty stepping into the right tackle position has coincided with the running game really taking off, and last week with Peters, the passing game started to take off too. It’s a bit confusing still why JBB wasn’t inserted earlier but if he can continue to open lanes for the running backs and just provide average pass protection, the Michigan offense has enough playmakers to really explode. There have been flashes for this offense, but consistency has not been a strong suit.

David: I want to see how this offensive line looks against this defense and if they can perform well in blocking/pass protection, it will result in another step in the right direction. It would be nice to see some great catches by the tight end group, but also am curious to see how they use Ambry Thomas. The coaching staff is looking at inserting him somehow to the offense and likely will take kickoff returns.

Ed: This will be Michigan’s third night game of 2017. The first two didn’t go so well, being two of the sloppiest games the Wolverines have played all season — and resulting in both of their losses. What’s the key for Michigan under the lights against the Gophers?

Von: Pray to the rain gods that it doesn’t rain again.

Just kidding. The key this weekend for Michigan is simple: Don’t let Brandon Peters do crazy things early in the game. And by that, I mean keep the play calling conservative again.

Me, Kullen and Andy discussed it on Victors Valiant this week, and we all basically agreed that we want to see more conservative calls with Peters at the helm. You don’t want to make him do too much, kind of like what the coaches were expecting out of John O’Korn. The play calls were pretty complex with O’Korn at quarterback, but once we saw Peters come in we saw curl routes, short passes, etc. Easy stuff. If you keep the offensive game plan conservative, I think things will open up and Peters will get chances to make big plays.

Michigan v Minnesota Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Dan: I’m going to disagree a bit on the conservative game plan. You don’t want him making complex reads and making foolish mistakes, but I think starting all of the early drives with first and second down dives is a mistake.

Fleck is a hyper-aggressive coach and they know the 411 on this year’s Michigan team. I think it would behoove Drevno and Hamilton to take a couple early shots. Maybe a run on first followed by a play-action throw downfield or across the middle to one of the tight ends.

One of the biggest issues that this offense has faced this season is falling behind the chains. If the running game can move the chains like they did against Rutgers, you need to stick with it. However, I think Minnesota has a good enough defense to where they can key in on the run. You’ll need to trust in Peters to make some plays to loosen things up. Keep them honest early and set the stage for a big day.

Jared: Oh be still my beating heart, another night game (insert eye roll emoji). I’m all set on night games until 2021, personally.

As far as what that means for the game plan, I’ll split the difference between my colleagues and say you need to keep it simple, but also you want to see what you have in Peters. The simple drag and curl routes are good for keeping an offense on schedule, but play action deep shots are what really keep a defense honest. If he can connect on even one of those in this game, it will open up the running game and the offense in general.

If the line can give him time to survey the field, I really like what Peters brings to the table as far as extending the play and rolling out as well. I would bet that we see him take off a few times this game and scramble for a few first downs.

Colman: I am DONE with the night games. One or MAYBE two a year is a good change of pace. Three? Enough already. Mainly because I hate waiting all day for the game and the last couple were about as fun as getting punched in the nose. I get that it brings more national attention and the students show up en masse but I’d rather watch Michigan at noon. Yes, I also yell at clouds.

The Gophers can’t really pass the ball so stopping their running attack will be the key for the defense which plays to a big strength for Blue. In fact, their entire offense pretty much plays into Michigan’s biggest strength, it’s defense. They have had problems on the offensive line, bad quarterback play, dropped passes...wait, this sounds familiar.

On the other side of the ball, they play good run defense and were able to contain Akrum Wadley pretty well last week. If Michigan can push them around and get the running game going early, this one could get ugly for them.

Cincinnati v Michigan Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

Kevin: One simple ask for Michigan going forward: for the love of god use the tight ends! They haven’t been a factor in this offense at all this season. Peters can use them as a safety valve when the pocket collapses. We know they’ve been getting open because when any of us watch game replays there have been multiple times O’Korn just didn’t read the coverage correctly. I can’t figure out why Ian Bunting or even Wheatley, Jr. haven’t been called upon with all the offensive struggles. I do not want Michigan to become one-dimensional down the stretch and assume the running game is going to be there because it will be impossible to make any progress with a new quarterback.

David: I am not a fan of night games. I hate waiting all day for the game and the record over the last few years at night for Michigan has been rough. Below are the four keys to victory:

  1. Solid running game by multiple backs
  2. Solid blocking and pass protection on offense
  3. Avoid costly penalties and turnovers
  4. A dominating performance on defense keeping them under 250 total yards

Minnesota has a few playmakers and the last two opponents have found ways to create big plays on the ground against Michigan. Minnesota is averaging 338 total yards per game (182 yards on the ground). If the Wolverines can keep them to under 250 yards, especially under 100 yards rushing, that's a successful game.

Minnesota only ran for 74 yards against Michigan State in a 30-27 loss earlier in the season, and last week ran for 142 yards against Iowa. Don Brown mentioned to the media earlier this week the last two weeks of practice have been “unbelievably good” and very physical. He's liking the progression and development on defense, so knowing the Gophers will run the ball a lot, he'll have them ready.

For Michigan's offense, I would like to see Higdon rush for over 100 yards and find the endzone. I have a feeling Ambry Thomas will have a huge game with chances to get the ball on offense and on kickoffs. If Peters can make smart decisions and move the ball, he can be conservative with a lot of run plays but get a few in the air to gain yards. I'm excited to see him in his first career start under the lights.

Ed: Alright, the Little Brown Jug gets its notoriety from its unique history. Lately it certainly hasn’t been from the competitiveness of the rivalry — Michigan has won 40 of the last 44 matchups. But P.J. Fleck is running the show in Minneapolis now and his debut season hasn’t exactly been stellar so far. A win on the road against Michigan would certainly make a statement. Can Minnesota pull off the upset, or will the Wolverines keep the Jug in Ann Arbor?

Von: I mean, sure, Minnesota CAN pull off the upset. But it probably won’t happen.

Minnesota has the 110th total offense in the country, averaging 4.98 yards per play and 338.6 yards per game. Meanwhile, Michigan’s 4th overall defense is giving up, on average, 4.32 yards per play and 255.5 yards per game. It’s not looking too hot for Minnesota’s offense. Minnesota also has just one Big Ten victory at this point — home against Illinois by just seven points. Minnesota also has the 20th total defense in the country, but the highest ranked offense it has played is Michigan State (71st).

I think this is going to be a relatively low-scoring game. I see points coming at a premium in this one, much like most of Michigan’s games this season.

Michigan 24, Minnesota 9

Dan: One of my favorite memories as an undergrad was standing in Skeeps when the defense stood tall during the Wilton Speight game a few years ago. The whole bar breaking out into the Victors when Minnesota failed to punch it in is still fresh in my mind two years later.

I think Michigan gets up early and doesn’t really sweat this one. It won’t be pretty, but I think this has to be the highest high this team has gone into a game with since beating Florida. A defense ready to feast on an anemic Minnesota offense, and an offense that has some life in it for the first time in a month and a half has me feeling as good as we can.

Michigan 28, Minnesota 6

Jared: I have very similar feelings to my associates on this one. Yes, Minnesota certainly can find a way to come away with a win. The blueprint for beating Michigan is already out there.

That being said, I just don’t see them mustering enough offense to do anything against the Michigan D. Rashan Gary and Mo Hurst get better every single week, same can be said for Lavert Hill and David Long. The Wolverine run defense is going to force them into being one-dimensional on offense as they try and find something that works through the air, and I don’t like their chances.

Michigan’s offense is anyone's guess, but I side with the optimists in thinking Peters has another good game and the Wolverines (finally) get a night game win.

Michigan 27, Minnesota 13

Michigan v Minnesota Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Colman: There are three big questions that need to be answered before I start getting really confident in Michigan blowing out teams with much less talent like the Gophers. Is Brandon Peters for real or was that just Rutgers? Can the offensive line consistently pass protect against good defenses? Can the offensive line continue to pave the way for the running backs? If the answers to these are yes, Michigan will crush Minnesota. If no, Michigan will be in a dogfight again.

Last week I thought if Michigan could get 250+ rushing yards and 100-150 passing yards they would win easily. I’m going to say the same again this week. Outside of a Janarion Grant bust, Rutgers got a little over 100 total yards for the game and only put together one decent drive. Minnesota doesn’t have Janarion Grant, or a passing game, or much of an offensive line. I really wanted to predict a shutout last week but didn’t. This week I will.

Michigan 24, Minnesota 0

Kevin: Wow Colman going for the shutout! This game feels like those years when a Glen Mason team would come into Ann Arbor and do their damndest to steal one from Mighty Michigan. A few times they did, but Von has provided statistical evidence that Minnesota is in fact not very good.

There’s no star like Lawrence Maroney on this roster, and Michigan has the best defense the Gophers have seen so far this year. It’s probably going to be subpar weather but Michigan is on an upward tick in their rushing game. Control the clock, get Peters more reps under center and try to exploit some matchup problems the Gophers will definitely not notice.

Michigan 21, Minnesota 7

David: This will not end like the last time Minnesota came to The Big House in 2014 and won 30-14. That game was a disaster for many reasons and the program is in much better hands since.

The primetime matchup on Fox provides a solid test for Michigan on both sides of the ball, especially against a top-20 ranked overall defense. I don't think Minnesota has enough on offense to score over 17 points against one of the best defenses in the county, plus the weather or environment is not in their favor.

I see Michigan having a solid performance on offense in the nasty weather, primarily on the ground, and Brandon Peters gets more comfortable by making smart decisions in his first collegiate start. The Little Brown Jug stays in Ann Arbor.

Michigan 24, Minnesota 13