A few thoughts and notes as the Gophers prepare for Michigan at the Big House…
Spotlight on passing game
Offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover gave an answer honest when asked if the Gophers can be successful in the Big Ten using the model they unveiled Saturday against San Jose State: 58 rushes, 1 completion.
“Probably not,” he said. “When we do throw the football, we've got to get better. I'm not going to say we need to throw it more. But when we do, we need to make sure that it's spot on.”
The Gophers didn’t announce a starter, though Jerry Kill said Mitch Leidner still hasn’t done any work on the field as he recovers from turf toe. My guess here on Tuesday is that Streveler will get the start. Again, that’s strictly a guess at this point.
If so, it will be interesting to see Limegrover’s game plan. Michigan is No. 3 in the Big Ten in rushing defense at 80.2 yards per game. The Gophers likely will need to rely on their passing game at some point.
That could be a problem. The Gophers completed only 30 passes total in four nonconference games. They average 99.8 yards passing per game. They basically ignored their passing game Saturday.
Streveler took his performance in good humor. He joked on twitter about having only one completion and admitted that he’s taken some ribbing on campus.
“Some of my buddies in class have been like, ‘Hey, nice completion,’” he said. “It’s just funny. I like to joke around about it because we got the win.”
David Cobb averages 134.8 yards rushing per game and 5.9 yards per carry. Those numbers are good for fourth in the conference.
That speaks to the talent at running back in the Big Ten. Indiana’s Tevin Coleman leads the nation in rushing at 189.7 yards per game.
Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah is at 156.2 yards and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon at 143.7.
All four running backs rank in the Top 10 nationally in rushing.
“You see those guys week in and week out – Coleman, Abdullah, Melvin Gordon – you see their big numbers, as a competitor, you feel like you’re one of the best so you have to go out there and top that,” Cobb said. “It’s great competition. If I can do my part, I know our team has a good chance of winning.”
Cobb carried the ball 34 times for 207 yards on Saturday. He said he’s never carried the ball that many times at any level.
“Nah,” he said. “I didn’t play the first two years so I’m pretty fresh.”
The Gophers rank second nationally in takeaways with 13. Michigan ranks last nationally in turnover margin at minus 10.
Different factors contribute to a defense's ability to create turnovers: Speed, pressure on the quarterback, pursuit to the ball, aggressiveness, even luck sometimes.
“Speed is one factor,” defensive tackle Cameron Botticelli said. “A great play by [linebacker] Damien Wilson comes to my mind. The ball carrier is going down and he makes a strip attempt. Some other player might just be thinking about getting the guy on the ground. Damien Wilson and other members of our defense are actively trying to create turnovers.”
San Jose State converted 8 of 15 third-down opportunities on Saturday, which dropped the Gophers to 11th in the Big Ten at 39.7 percent. And that includes holding TCU to 2-of-12 on third down the previous week.
Keep an eye on that area this week. The Wolverines have issues on offense, but they had success on third down against the Gophers last season, converting on 10-of-13 chances.
“You want to be successful 70 percent,” defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys said. “If you can do that, games go pretty good for you. … You go back a year ago, we played terrible on third down versus Michigan. Couldn't get them off the field. We have to play much better on third down against them.”
Four in a row?
Here’s an interesting stat from the Gophers SID office: If Streveler starts, it would be the fourth consecutive game at Michigan that the Gophers have started a freshman quarterback.
The others: Leidner (2013), Max Shortell (2011) and Adam Weber (2007).
The Gophers were outscored in those three games by a combined score of 134-23.
I’ll be at the Big House on Saturday as part of the Strib contingent. This will be my fourth trip to the Big House (2004, 2005, and 2007).
I’ve covered some wild games in the Little Brown Jug rivalry:
The 2003 Friday night meltdown at the Metrodome.
The 27-24 loss at the Big House in 2004 when the Gophers blew a late lead.
And then the following year when Gary Russell’s 61-yard run on third-and-long with 1:27 left set up a game-winning field goal, the Gophers last victory in this series.