Michigan 42, Minnesota 13

Submitted by Ace on October 5th, 2013 at 7:38 PM

Split out wide for most of the game, Devin Funchess set career highs in receptions and yards. [Photo: Bryan Fuller, MGoBlog]

After two ugly victories against overmatched opponents, Michigan entered their game against Minnesota with a reshuffled offensive line and a pressing need to placate the fanbase by not playing down to their opponent. After a slow start, they did just that, scoring 28 second-half points en route to a 42-13 homecoming victory.

The natives were restless during a plodding first half in which the two teams combined for just eight real drives (the Gophers ran out the last 1:25 of the half), due mostly to a 16-play, 75-yard march by Minnesota—during which they converted five third downs—that saw them tie the game at seven. That came after Jibreel Black forced a fumble by Gopher quarterback Mitch Leidner on the game's opening possession; James Ross recovered and the Michigan offense capitalized with six runs in six plays, covering 35 yards and capped by an eight-yard Fitz Toussaint touchdown.

The ensuing Gopher drive ate up most of the first quarter, allowing them to not only knot up the score, but keep it close for the rest of the half. This was "old time Big Ten football" in the worst sense—slow-paced, run-heavy, and not particularly effective. Four consecutive punts followed, and the heated battle for field position eventually went in Michigan's favor—after Matt Wile's 55-yard boot was downed by Dennis Norfleet at the Gopher one-yard line, Minnesota was forced to punt it away from the nine, and Drew Dileo took a line drive kick well into Gopher territory. Four plays later, Devin Gardner hooked up with Devin Funchess—who spent most of the game lined up at wide receiver—on a post route for a 24-yard touchdown with 1:25 left in the half. Fitting the general tenor of the game, Minnesota decided to forego any chance at points, running twice and carrying three timeouts into halftime.

If that seemed questionable at the time, it looked more so after Michigan drove 75 yards in nine plays to open the second half, bolstered by an improved running game and the emergence of Funchess, Giant Wide Receiver. The first four plays of the drives were runs of 14, 5, 8, and 9 yards; a 21-yard back-shoulder throw to Funchess set up a two-yard Derrick Green touchdown to cap the drive. The Gophers could only respond with a field goal to cut the Wolverine lead to 21-10; that would be the closest they'd get for the rest of the game.

Much of the credit for that can go to Funchess, who finished with seven catches for 151 yards—both career highs—and set up a late Gardner touchdown run with a 46-yard grab on the right sideline. Even though the numbers don't bear it out, the running game looked improved as well; though Michigan averaged just 3.2 yards per carry as a team, Fitz Toussaint (right, Upchurch) had an impressive 78 yards on just 17 carries, adding a second touchdown run from 12 yards out to give Michigan a 28-10 third-quarter lead that proved insurmountable. Chris Bryant, the new starter at left guard, proved adept as a puller, which allowed Michigan to run the play they'd like to (eventually) make their offensive identity: power.

Most importantly, considering the troubles of the last two games, Michigan didn't turn the ball over once, the first time they've done so since their 58-0 win over these same Gophers in 2011, Brady Hoke's first season at the helm. After looking flustered against UConn, Devin Gardner was very sharp, connecting on 13 of 17 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown while showing a calmness in the pocket that wasn't present in previous games. Gardner wasn't needed much as a runner, carrying the ball just seven times for 17 yards and a TD; in a game like this, that's just fine.

While the defense had trouble getting off the field on third downs, allowing Minnesota to convert on 8 of 15 chances, they were otherwise solid; the Gophers mustered just 281 total yards on 4.5 yards per play and couldn't score a touchdown after their second drive. The inside linebacker duo of Desmond Morgan and James Ross combined for 19 tackles, making it tough sledding for any Minnesota run up the gut. While the Wolverines had trouble covering Gopher TE Maxx Williams, who finished with 54 yards and a touchdown on five receptions, the rest of the Minnesota passing offense generated just 91 yards. While the Gophers missed a couple chances for big completions late, Michigan made up for that when Blake Countess stepped in front of a Leidner throw and returned it 72 yards to complete the scoring with just 1:19 on the clock. The biggest concern on that side of the ball going forward may be the health of nose tackle Ondre Pipkins, who was carted off the field with a left knee injury; he's a critical backup behind Quinton Washington.

Despite the close calls and consternation from the nonconference slate, Michigan now sits at 5-0 and 1-0 in the Big Ten, and after two harrowing wins over bad teams the Wolverines beat Minnesota in a wholly acceptable fashion—the slow pace masked a dominant effort until the game broke open late. In the end, Michigan scored five touchdowns on eight offensive drives, with the defense adding a sixth for good measure while forcing Minnesota to fight for every yard. It wasn't pretty in any aesthetic sense; the score, however, speaks for itself.



October 5th, 2013 at 8:30 PM ^

78 yards on 17 carries for Fitz is not "impressive." Not even close. Maybe the best we can hope for with one of the worst run-blocking lines in the country, but not by any stretch of the imagination "impressive".

Gardner was not "very sharp". The announcers correctly pointed out that he depended on a lot of difficult catches by his receivers to bail him out on poor throws. He also completely blew an easy third down pass to Dileo that could have been critical in the fourth quarter.

Ondre Pipkins is not a "critical" anything. He hasn't made one decent play all year, and can pretty much be considered a bust, given the hype surrounding him when he came in. He's another Will Campbell/Gabe Watson type, and the sooner we can get someone else working in that position, the better we'll be in the long run.

Our O-Line is as bad as ever. They couldn't block worth beans when we needed to grind the ball and milk some clock in the fourth quarter. People will look at the score and think this game wasn't that close, but it was. A couple of plays go the other way in the 4th quarter and things could gone down to the wire.

Oh, and Ohio U beat Akron 43-3.


October 5th, 2013 at 9:48 PM ^

Lets no be so harsh on Pipkins.  I don't think it's in good taste to be so negative about a young player especially after an injury.  He is still young and it has generally been the plan to have him get snaps, but be ready to replace Q-Wash next year.  So, until we get to his junior year and he's still not producing I think it's premature to be so negative on him.  And, doing so after an injury is just in bad taste, especially to a nice kid...he doesn't deserve that.  If you don't think he's effective just say that & leave the rest of negativity alone.


October 6th, 2013 at 8:31 AM ^

no doubt, pipkens is a sophomore and has been one of the couple that actually pushes against the o-line, might not be getting sacks, but is making a push. devin's passes were at times inaccurate but most of them were there to be caught, the one that sticks out is the one he threw to taco pants (Dileo), but even that went through his hands. this team looked improved, there were definitely holes to run through, more than there has been. they are far from being a great team but if they keep improving each week, we'll be okay...8-9 wins. the running game was an improvement, still not great, but better. our oline will get better each week.


October 5th, 2013 at 8:34 PM ^

Offensively, I thought we made progress. No turnovers and very few negative plays. Funchess looks like the guy the passing game should be built around. He's going to catch just about anything he can reach. Gardner looked much more comfortable today.


October 5th, 2013 at 8:37 PM ^

In the second half, the Minnesota coaches (since HC Kill is back home in Minnesota) made two bad decisions - going for FGs when they had the ball in Michigan territory rather than trying to convert a 4th down. Their offense was actually moving the ball and they needed TDs not FGs.

We were definitely helped by these decisions - the second FG basically was conceding the game to us.


October 5th, 2013 at 11:10 PM ^

I understand why it seems reasonable at the first decision point, to try to keep it close and hope for a break since historically this team has not been able to avoid a turnover, especially a painful turnover. Watching from the stands it just seemed that they had reasonable success moving the ball, and they were inside UM territory. I guess I'm basing this on a mixture of stats (all of the historical data about going for it on 4th down and close when inside the opponent's half the field) and the emotional tenor of the game. The final score doesn't really show how iffy the game was at times. When the UM got up 21-7 there was palpable relief but Minn came back down the field but ended up settling for the FG. I know it is a big if but had they gone for it a 21-14 game may not have ended so well.

Anyway, happy for the win and hoping things go well next week in Happy Valley - PSU is probably going to up for that game.


October 5th, 2013 at 10:32 PM ^

The 2nd FG was fine, they needed 3 scores.

The one near the end of Q3 though sent them from 14 to 11.  Makes some sense if you actually have an offense, but with Minnesota taking forever to get downfield and having no pass attack, keeping it a 2-score game was a mistake.



October 5th, 2013 at 11:36 PM ^

The problem is not that the fans are "not happy" with the win.. The main issue we have had the past few weeks is dominance on the field with teams that we should have no problem scoring millions points on.

If we establish dominance and keep playing with it all along then we should do fine against good teams such as NW, OSU, Wisconsin and Nebraska.

I guess i am used the old school UM teams where OSU was our only threat the whole season, maybe Wiscy here an there.. But the past few yeas a lot of teams have broken our hearts, and i want to see UofM be dominant again, and the only team to decide our fate is OSU..

Monocle Smile

October 5th, 2013 at 11:41 PM ^

I don't understand why people think this ever will. Parity has happened. A big part of the dominance was due to "haves" and "have nots." That's largely changed, especially in the Big Ten, with recruiting. OSU cheats, so they've managed to put together a long streak of nice seasons, but even they were 6-6 not long ago.

We'll be really good in the near future, but the "good ol' days" are little more than legend now.

Also, "winning pretty" is overrated. It's the worst. 2006 opened with a struggle against Ball State. We had a scare against Iowa in 1997. That's just two examples.


October 6th, 2013 at 12:26 AM ^

I think OSU still has that "dominance" and they still recruiting just as good, fortunate for them, their high schools produce a lot of good players, who grow up as osu fans, and unfortunatly for us, RR drove us into the ground with a system that never worked...I think that there is still a great possibility where we become dominant again, but its gona take some time, we just need to make the right moves and be a step ahead

Monocle Smile

October 6th, 2013 at 12:39 AM ^

Did you not read my comment? OSU does NOT have that dominance. They're just a really good team in a not-so-good conference. Wisconsin gives them a tough run most years now, and Northwestern probably should have beat them today. Again, they cheat and we know they cheat, so our goal is not to become like them.

Also, take your Rich Rod bitching and go to MLive. It's been three years and people still treat him like a Batman villain.


October 6th, 2013 at 12:50 AM ^

A good team in a shitty conference??duhhhhhh, when has big ten ever been good? We are just talking about big ten confernce arent we? Plus This conf has always been piss poor and always had two good teams UofM and OSU, and these two teams have alway doninated it for maaaaany years... Yes sure wiscy will show up once in awhile, and Iowa had its runs for a couple of years, but please tell me who is another team that you can say it has a legacy of dominance besides michigan and osu??

As far as RR, i am not bitching i was just trying to make point that during that etra while others got better ( MSU, Wisc, NorthWestern, Iowa) we drove ourself into the ground with poor recruiting and poor system..


October 6th, 2013 at 8:58 AM ^

has been gone but he is a major reason why we are struggling to run the ball. no depth at oline and many other positions, awful job creating depth and it shows and is the reason why it will be another year or two before we can judge Hoke, we have very little depth now and though this has been spoken about numerous times, it still is a problem.


October 6th, 2013 at 12:54 AM ^

UofM better play better next week vs Penn State or they could loss. I don't know about you but Derrick Green looks slow as hell. I don't understand how he's better than Rawls and Hayes. I'm not impressed with Green he needs to lose some weight so he can get some speed back. I think his ideal weight needs to be 220 lbs. Hopefully UofM is undefeated when they play OHIO on 30 Nov. Hail Go Blue!!!


October 6th, 2013 at 9:01 AM ^

"slow as hell" is a little bit of an exaggeration especially when you mention Rawls as a comparison in the next sentence. Thomas had his opportunities in the past and it didn't work. Green has some room for improvment, no doubt, but he's a freshman running behind a line that is struggling.