Each week, a reporter covering the Gophers’ opponent will be my guest to break down his or her team. This week, it’s Aaron McMann of MLive.com. He takes a look at Michigan and Saturday’s game.
Here’s the Q&A with Aaron McMann:
Q: How has Michigan recovered from its losses to Michigan State and Penn State, and what do you expect from this team in the final four Big Ten games?
A: Both losses came in different fashion, but they did have common denominators: a failure to run the football, and big plays given up on defense. Defense has been an area this Michigan football team has prided itself on all season long, and rightfully so. But chunk plays have hurt them this year: A 50-yard run by MSU's Madre London and a 69-yard TD run by PSU's Saquon Barkley on the second play from scrimmage, for example. Both times though, the defense has done a good job of refocusing and rebounding. Rutgers had a few big plays last week, but U-M was able to stop everything else to the tune of 195 yards of total offense.
As far as the final four Big Ten games go, it's going to be very much the Brandon Peters show. The redshirt freshman QB is expected to get the start this weekend and appears to have handed the keys to the offense. Now, this could go one of two ways: Michigan wins its two remaining winnable games (Minnesota, at Maryland) and gets blown out against Wisconsin and Ohio State, or Peters picks things up early, ignites this offense and gives them a chance to pull an upset. You can never count out a Jim Harbaugh team, but given all the turnover at QB, injuries and youth and inexperience at key spots, these final four games are very much a learning opportunity for everyone involved. The players, Peters and the offense specifically, and for the coaching staff, just to see what they have.
Q: Michigan's defense has been one of the best in the country. How important are Maurice Hurst and Chase Winovich on that defensive line?
A: Critical. They have the most experience of anyone on that side of the ball, and they are two guys leading by example. There have been one or two games this season where Winovich has (voluntarily) played every snap. Hurst, a preseason All-American, has been Mr. Reliable and helped along some of the younger guys behind him. They both are key cogs to that line, along with sophomore Rashan Gary, who has drawn double teams most of the season. That's helped open up things for a Winovich, who had a flurry of sacks early on.
Q: What should we expect out of QB Brandon Peters in his first start, and how has he been received by the fans?
A: Almost like a hero, it seems. Michigan's had QB troubles all season long, from Wilton Speight's fumbles early on to the three-interception game by backup John O'Korn in the embarrassing loss to Michigan State. Michigan just has not been able to get consistent production from its quarterbacks, and the fan base has grown tired of it. Hence the call for the redshirt freshman with the strong arm and greatest ceiling of them all.
As for Saturday, I'd expect nothing more than a redshirt freshman starting his first collegiate football game. Some hesitation, missed reads, overthrows and gaffes. Minnesota will be the first team to game plan against him and have real, tangible film to work with. Mistakes will likely be made -- and Minnesota will need to capitalize on them. That said, Peters has the legs and showed good instincts in his decision making last week. But he's going to need everyone around him (running backs, offensive line, receivers) to play well for him to be successful.
Q: Is the Little Brown Jug considered an important trophy game for Michigan?
A: It's funny you ask this, because it depends on who you ask. The folks who have been around the program a while (Harbaugh, former players, seniors on the team) seem to know the history behind the game. In fact, the jug was on display earlier this week during Harbaugh's weekly radio show. But if you ask some of Michigan's younger players, and there are many, they have no clue. Part of that may have to do with the fact that the teams don't play every season, taking some of the mystique off the importance. But it's a trophy and a football game, and I don't know any Harbaugh-led teams that don't want to win both.
Q: What is your prediction for the final score and how did you arrive at it?
A: I'm going with Michigan 21-10. I think Peters struggles some and Michigan has to rely on its ground game again. Defense will likely play a major factor in this game, and I think that's where the Wolverines excel. Yes, I'm aware of the stats and resume Minnesota's offensive line has put together (and they're impressive), but it hasn't gone up against anything like this Michigan defense all season long.